Borg: "more refugees will affect the budget"

3:16 min

The situation in Ukraine and the Middle East has entered the Swedish election debate, with the leading government party, the Moderates, warning that an increased influx in refugees will affect Sweden's finances.

Speculation in one newspaper on Wednesday, that it would force the government (which has lowered taxes several times during its 8-year reign) to now raise taxes resulted in  Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Finance Minister Anders Borg calling a press conference.

Borg said the expected increase in the number of refugees would reach a cost of 12 billion kronor annually by 2018, which is double that of today. But he also said they were not planning any higher taxes or cuts in expenditure this year or next, since the real effect comes later.

Since Borg presented his spring budget, the Migration Board has decided to add another 20,000 to the expected number of asylum seekers this year, making it 80,000 in total this year. Only once before has more asylum seekers reached Sweden, and that was in 1992 during the war in Bosnia, when 84,000 applied for asylum in Sweden.

This is a "substantial increase" said Borg. In budget terms, he said, this means a shift for the worse from one budget to the next, the likes of which he claims he has "not seen" since he became Minister of Finance.

The press conference follows Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's speech on Saturday, where he, also speaking about the financial effects of increased immigration, said that "we must open our hearts and realise that this will be a challenge... for Sweden."

Just like Reinfeldt, Borg emphasised that Sweden will meet the challenge and that the country will not shy away from its humanitarian duty. "We are able to meet this situation, and to do it better than we did in the 90s," said Borg.

The Social Democrats have however warned that emphasising the increasing costs for asylum seekers only serves to benefit the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. The party's economic spokesperson Magdalena Andersson told TT she was surprised by the whole press conference.

"For this year, we are talking about a billion kronor in extra costs, which is a normal fluktuation with a budget of 800 billion kronor. And in the coming year, the costs are very uncertain, as so much else," she said, comparing it to changes in unemployment or the number of people on sick leave.

And Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfvén told TT that he found it "strange" to put the cost for receiving and integrating refugees against the welfare of people in Sweden."We have many costs in Sweden that go up and down, like the sick leave which is going up with ten billion every year now. To just emphasise this cost as particularly difficult, that goes against the grain for me," he said, adding that the government ought to have known that the prognosis regarding refugees would go up.

At the press conference, asked by reporters if their intention was to try to get the Swedish electorate more crisis aware ahead of the election, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, fresh back from visiting refugee camp in northern Iraq, spat back: "We did not invent the terror in Iraq". He also said that a more unsettled world must also affect the debate in Sweden.

In an analysis, Swedish Radio's political commentator Tomas Ramberg wrote on Wednesday evening that the upsetting pictures on TV gives the government a chance to change the subject. "The strategy is to create crisis awareness and unity around the government. the alliance did not the least win the election in 2010 because many voters thought it was best at dealing with the economic crisis in Europe," he wrote.

"But," wrote Ramberg, "the election debate this year is about other issues. Welfare, schools and jobs; areas where the opposition has a stronger support among the voters, than the government has. The sense of crisis from 2010 is nowhere to be seen."