Löfven: "better" if Wallström had arranged housing some other way
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (Social Democrat) said Sunday night during a debate on SVT Agenda about the Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (Social Democrat) it "would have been better" if she had found other living arrangements for herself, rather than signing a contract to rent an apartment owned by the labor union, Kommunal - but he also said he trusted her word.
On Friday, it was revealed that Wallström had been renting her 89 square-meter apartment in central Stockholm from the Swedish Municipal Workers' Union (Kommunal). Aftonbladet reported that the rental company Polstjärnan, which manages Kommunal's apartments, has kept the units off Stockholm's official rental market queue so that they could be handed out to officials instead.
Monday news agency TT reported that according to the rental contract, use of the apartment was connected with Wallström's position as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The contract states that Wallström would not have the right to live in the apartment "if the tenant terminates their employment...." Spokespeople for Wallström and Kommunal confirmed that the contract was connected with her time as minister. A prosecutor for the Swedish Prosecution Authority announced via press release that he would consider whether a preliminary investigation should be initiated.
While the union is not required by law to make these apartments available to the public, it has come under fire for acting in a way that could be seen to contradict the values of a union.
According to Kommunal's website, the union has not signed onto a voluntary agreement in which private property owners make half of their apartment holdings available on the public housing queue. Instead Kommunal has its own policy, in which it aims for half of its apartments to house people who are involved with the union, and Kommunal claims that today, 65 percent of its flats have been signed by renters via the open market.
Wallström has indicated that she did not believe she was getting special treatment from Kommunal in getting the apartment and that she was assured she was not going ahead of anyone in their internal housing queue. "But it seems there isn't even any (internal) queue," she reflected to Aftonbladet.
According to Aftonbladet, Wallström has given notice on her flat.
Löfven said he has confidence in Wallström, and TT reports that the prime minister does not believe that she exploited her position as foreign minister to get the rental contract.
The prime minister is a former union man himself. He chaired IF Metall before being elected to lead the Social Democrats. Löfven told Swedish Radio News, "What the problem has been, according to information, is that Kommunal has not made half of its apartments available to the public housing queue."
Stockholm's official rental market queue is notoriously long. To get a first-hand contract for a new rental apartment, it takes an average of eight years, while getting an older apartment takes almost double that - more than 15 years. More than half a million people are waiting for apartments through the queue.
The Swedish Anti-Corruption Institute wants to see whether the issue with Wallström's apartment may constitute bribery, reports news agency TT.
Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the opposition conservative Moderates, wants the issue to be investigated. "Not just anybody can call up Kommunal and immediately get an apartment in inner Stockholm," Kinberg Batra was quoted in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter as saying. "It's important that people can feel confidence that their politicians aren't getting advantages that others can't have." Even her economic-political spokesperson, Ulf Kristersson, has been criticized on two occasions for having gotten rental contracts through personal contacts.