Government crisis as budget talks break down
Sweden faces a political crisis after talks between the government and opposition broke down in the early hours of Wednesday morning. This follows the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party announcing it will vote to support the opposition’s alternative budget.
Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Löfven says he will wait until after Wednesday’s budget debate in parliament before taking further action, but a likely alternative is that a snap election will be called.
The government will not pursue the alternative to sending the budget back to committee.
Mattias Karlsson, acting leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party announced Tuesday that his party will vote for the opposition’s budget. That’s instead of following tradition and abstaining, which would have let the minority government’s budget pass.
Approval of the opposition budget puts the government in an untenable position, with a snap election the likeliest alternative.
In an effort to avoid a crisis, the government held late night emergency talks with the conservative Moderates, the Christian Democrats, Liberals, and Center, looking for a compromise. But there was none to be had, and at midnight Prime Minister Stefan Löfven held a press conference.
“You can say you’re ready to negotiate”, he told the press, “but to do so you have to sit down at the table and be ready to compromise. There’s no one on the other side of the table,” he went on. “They don’t want that kind of discussion.”
What’s the opposition’s take on the midnight meeting? Conservative Moderate Gunnar Hökmark is a member of the European Parliament, and a high profile party activist. He told Swedish Radio News Wednesday morning the Social Democrats have not been reaching out to the other side.
He says what’s need is “A majority in parliament for a budget that doesn’t raise taxes on jobs for young people and didn’t include the rather major shift in politics that Löfven has made together with the Greens and Left Party”. Gunnar Hökmark says “Politics that aren’t based on a majority in parliament are always doomed to failure.”
The impasse comes as all of the other parties say they are not working with the Sweden Democrats, who many accuse of racism.
There was a similar situation in Swedish politics in the 90’s, when a very similar anti-immigrant party called New Democracy entered parliament. All the other parties refused to work with them. But when the Social Democrats failed to gain a majority, the Liberal Party crossed the political divide and gave its support in parliament.
The two leaders responsible for that landmark agreement, the Social Democrats’ Ingvar Carlsson and Bengt Westerberg of the Liberals, were interviewed on Swedish Television last night. And they both called on today’s parties to adopt a similar approach.
“The only way to keep the Sweden Democrats from playing this game they’re playing,” former Liberal leader Bengt Westerberg says, “throwing their support to first one side and then the other, is to put together a majority government. And I don’t see many alternatives other than the Social Democrats and the conservative Moderates working together. Those two parties are big enough to do it,” says Westerberg, who notes his own Liberals have grown too small to play that role.
Former Social Democrat Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson agrees.
“We went from a spirit of cooperation to this extreme block politics,” Ingvar Carlsson says. “And that’s where we are today. So I’m pleased to hear Bengt Westerberg say that block politics must end and we have to work together across the divide.”