Parliament Open - Next Stop: Election

On Tuesday the Swedish King opened the parliament to a new parliamentary session, the last one before Sweden goes to the polls again next September. The Prime Minister presented his Statement of Government Policy for the coming year, which did not really contain much new.

According to the tradition, the presence of the king and the royal family caused the whole parliament to stand and sing the royal Anthem. But the opening of the parliament was mainly dominated by the Prime Minister and his predictions for the coming year. It was a cautiously optimistic Prime Minister that addressed the parliament.

"There are ever more signs now indicating that both the global and the Swedish economies are beginning to stabilise. We seem to have weathered the worst of the storms. The risks of a substantial economic downturn have abated."

"However," he said, "the picture on the labour market remains a very gloomy one."

The Prime Minister put the blame for the economic crisis on greedy and irresponsible actors in the financial quarters of New York and London, but claimed his coalition government offered a responsible way out of this. The word "responsible" being one of the most frequently used in his speech.

He was careful to paint the picture of the government alliance as focusing on what he calls the "work-first principle" and contrasting it to what he claims is the Social Democrats "benefits principle", where a lot of people are excluded from working life - and stuck on benefits even when the economy turns around.

The speech did not include any new announcements. In fact, the government coalition has over the last few weeks leaked such a barrage of new initiatives and proposals of increased funding here and lowering of taxes there - ahead of the budget that is supposed to be presented next week - that they have been criticised by the opposition for not respecting the role of the chamber, as a central scene for the democratic process.

With this strategy, the government has managed to maintain the initiative, and the opposition has been left a bit on the back foot. The leader of the opposition, Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin, was however scathing in her criticism of the Statement of Government Policy.

"It is a surprisingly satisfied Prime Minister who sounded as if the mass unemployment did not exist and as if the number of people in exclusion had not increased." She pointed out that Sweden has a higher unemployment than many other countries in Europe and that the youth unemployment is among the highest in the EU and she blames the Government for worsening the job situation is Sweden.

Instead Mona Sahlin would have liked to hear the Prime Minister say: "I deeply regret what we have done and realise now that lowering the taxes for those who already have a job was wrong. I regret it and will change my policies so that we invest in new jobs, welfare, climate investments, and see to that we who already have a job carry the burdens more than those who are excluded."

One year left to the elections, and the debate is sure to continue and get hotter. The one person, who is sure that 2010 will be a year to remember, is the Swedish King,"at least" he said "in my family". He was referring to the planned weddings of his two daughters in 2010.