Christian Democrats reject December Agreement

1:49 min

Sweden’s small opposition Christian Democrat party has voted 151 to 103 against observing the so-called December Agreement that has allowed the minority center-left government to stay in power. In response the leaders of the conservative Moderate, Center and Liberal parties have said the agreement is over. But the Liberals say they will keep their promise under the pact.

In last year’s elections, the center-left parties received more votes than the four center-right parties of the previous coalition. But the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats held the balance of power, and broke with protocol to vote down the new government’s first budget.

Faced with the threat of a snap election, the center-right and the two governing parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, adopted the December Agreement, which allows a minority government’s budget to pass.

But there have been voices against the agreement in some of the center-right parties, notably the conservative Moderates, and now among some Christian Democrats. At the party’s biannual conference in Västerås Friday, delegates voted against continuing to respect the agreement.

Even with the party opposing the agreement, the Christian Democrats are so small the pact should still hold, as political scientist Magnus Hagevi of Linné University tells Radio Sweden. But, he says, there might be consequences:

“What might happen, if one could speculate,” he says, “is that the other opponents of the agreement among the other center-right parties might feel a surge of support, and there might be some kind of domino effect.”

Following the Christian Democrat decision, Anna Linberg Batra, leader of the conservative Moderates, told a press conference: “I think that the Christian Democrats’ decision means that the December Agreement is over. We in the alliance must go further with our political message, and we are also ready to shoulder the responsibility of government and meet the voters together.”

She was echoed by Liberal leader Jan Björklund, who has commented that the agreement in its current form is over. Earlier he told the newspaper Dagens Industri that any party abandoning the agreement would trigger a new election, which would be unfortunate in the current refugee crisis.

"What happens now is an open issue," Björklund says. "The Liberal Party wants to avoid having Sweden thrown into political chaos, but unfortunately that can't be avoided."

To avoid a new election, Björklund says the Liberals will keep their promise and only vote for their own budget and will not support any vote of no confidence introduced by the Sweden Democrats.

And in opening the door to a possible new election by moving to abandon the pact, observers say the Christian Democrats may be playing with fire.  All the recent polls show the party falling well below the minimum threshold to stay in parliament.

Before the vote, the new party leader, Edda Busch Thor, said she would prefer to keep the agreement, but she would be prepared if the party voters to abandon it. Magnus Hagevi says this leaves the situation open:

“It was the Christian Democrats and former leader Göran Hägglund who took the initiative for the agreement,” he says, “but Ebba Busch Thor was not part of the party leadership then, so she may not feel loyalty to it.”

The Christian Democrat delegates also voted in favor to the party seeking membership in the Westen military Alliance NATO.

Meanwhile, the party has other considerations while it holds its conference. On Thursday Ebba Busch Thor announced that the party’s first deputy chair, Jakob Forssmed, will no longer be representing the Christian Democrats during parliament’s party leader debates. Busch Thor can’t do so because she isn’t a member of parliament; when she was chosen she was a city councilor in Uppsala.

Instead Andreas Carlsson will be speaking for the Christian Democrats in parliamentary debates. Magnus Hagevi says this reflects both personal and ideological conflicts within the party:

“After Ebba Busch Thor’s selection she has consistently chosen to appoint people who are close to her, and who belong to her group within the party, which is more conservative,” he says.