Löfven sets Sweden's agenda for the next year

3:24 min

Europe's refugee crisis featured heavily in Tuesday's State Opening of Parliament. Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf described "a tragedy that has touched us all," while the Prime Minister said that the responsibility for refugees 'must be shared'.

At 2 p.m., before prime minister Stefan Löfven stepped up to deliver his legislative agenda for his second year in office, the King took the opportunity to address the nation. As expected, he spoke of Europe's refugee crisis.

"It is a tragedy that has touched all of us emotionally. It has created a new awareness of the lives of the people who have been forced to leave their homes."

"We can convey our tradition of democracy and human rights," he said, before formally declaring parliament open.

The King's words were echoed by Social Democrat prime minister Stefan Löfven, who delivered his Statement of Government Policy for the coming parliamentary year.

"What should the blue and yellow flag symbolize? As polarization increases and unrest spreads, we need to unite around what kind of Sweden we want," he opened.

"I believe in a Sweden we can create together, where people's dedication and willingness to work is what builds a strong society, where we welcome people fleeing wars and oppression."

He said that humanitarian efforts must be strengthened - "We will be a strong voice in the world, for freedom, peace and human rights and solidarity."

On foreign policy, he said that Sweden's security situation and that of its neighbours had deteriorated.

"The Russian aggression and destabilization of Ukraine is the most serious challenge to the European security arrangements since the Cold War. Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimea is a violation of international law."

Domestically, the Prime Minister addressed the cross-party agreements made during the past year, his first as head of the Social Democrat and Green Party coalition government. Agreements he said, on defence, arms exports, grades and pensions.

On education, he said that heavy invetsments would be made in raising teachers salaries, lowering nursery school class sizes and improving after-school care.

On jobs, he gave this promise: "Sweden will have the lowest unemployment rate in the EU in 2020."

The Left Party leader, Jonas Sjöstedt, had spoken on Tuesday of his hopes that the climate will be this autumn's burning issue. Stefan Löfven did address the climate in his speech.

"More than 1.1 million square kilometers of the Arctic have disappeared. It corresponds to the area the size of of Sweden, Norway and Finland. Climate change is here. It is serious and it affects everyone.

"It is possible to stop climate change if we want to. It is our time-critical issue."

He said that the government is developing a climate policy framework."Sweden will become one of the world's first free-fossil welfare lands. Emissions should be reduced at the rate needed for global sustainable development."

Earlier, the 349 members of parliament from the eight parties gathered at 11 at the Riksdag building, in scenes reminiscent of the first day back at school.

It was also a chance for the leaders of the parties to present the hopes and views of the prime minister's speech and the coming year.

Anna Kinberg Batra, leader of the opposition conservate Moderate Party, called for a clear statement from the prime minister on how sweden should respond to the refugee crisis at EU level, and how more non-native Swedes can enter Sweden's labour market. She also wanted to hear about Sweden's security policy, particularly where the government stood on membership of Nato, in what she called 'troubled times' when Sweden 'needed to stick together' with others.

The refugee crisis was also the theme as the MPs moved on for the traditional noon day service at Stockholm cathedral.

Dean Hans Ulfvebran began with the poem "The name of Man" by Stig Dagerman. The poem is about refugees and starts; "They have no names. They are refugees. They have no profession. They are refugees. They have no home. They have camps".

Author and journalist Göran Rosenberg made the main speech in the Cathedral.

The keynote speech has attracted added significance in recent years following the 2010 walkout staged by the leader of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson, and his colleagues. They were upset by the then bishop Eva Brunne's speech about the rise of xenophobia.

On Tuesday, Göran Rosenberg began by talking about how his father came to a camp in Småland 70 years ago. A camp for survivors of the concentration camps.

Rosenberg said that the new Europe is increasingly beginning to resemble the old, and warned of division and self-destruction. 20 years ago, he had high hopes that Europe would overcome its history.

"I wish I could be as optimistic today when the cohesion of society is facing its greatest challenge."

Jimmie Åkesson, the Sweden Democrat leader, whose party enjoyed another rise in the polls on Tuesday, said earlier in the day that his party was the only real opposition party with the other parties joining together in a power cartel.

He told news agency TT that he had no answer to the question of how the refugees already here must be handled. He said that his party's starting point is still that refugee relief should be directed on location in the area concerned. "One should follow the principle of first asylum," Åkesson said.