End to Sweden’s crisis with Saudi Arabia

imagesAt a press conference on Saturday morning Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said that the government had sent its official emissary Björn von Sydow, the former (S) defence minister and Riksdag Speaker, to Saudi Arabia last Friday for talks with the Saudi government and King Salman. The government’s emissary had handed over two letters; one from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and one from Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
Immediately afterwards Saudi Arabia is said to have decided to normalise relations with Sweden.
A happy and relieved Margot Wallström told the press meeting that the Saudi ambassador to Stockholm would be returning as soon as possible, but her and Stefan Löfven’s response to journalists’ repeated question “Has Sweden has apologised?” appeared rehearsed:
“We’ve been able to sort out misunderstandings that we have criticised Islam or slighted the Saudi government,” was the reply both Wallström and Löfven gave.
At Saturday’s press meeting, neither Wallström nor von Sydow wished to comment on the content of the letters, but von Sydow said that it was evident in his talks with the Saudi authorities that the relations between the Swedish and Saudi monarchies are good.
Arab News reported on Sunday that “Sweden has apologised” for the “insulting statements by its foreign minister, and hoped for better relations between the two countries”.
On Sunday evening Wallström clarified on SVT’s Agenda programme that Sweden had not apologised, but that the government had via its emissary conveyed its regret over the breach in diplomatic relations between the two countries, and explained that Sweden had not wished to attack Islam or insult Saudi Arabia.
According to the Swedish foreign ministry (MFA), the issue of halted business visas for Swedish citizens in Saudi Arabia has still not been resolved, but the hope is that the situation will “return to normal”. Erik Wirkensjö, press officer at the MFA, was unable to confirm at the weekend whether the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador would also be returning, but said the MFA hoped and believed he would.

Government raises taxes

Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson and Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund called a press conference on Friday to say that the government intended to raise employer contributions for the under 25s. The government also proposed a hike of 0.44 kronor per litre on petrol tax and of 0.48 kronor on diesel, as well as an increase on the tax on nuclear power generation and on certain types of savings. A cut in the deduction on household services, RUT, and in the deduction on home renovations, ROT, will also be made.

As of 1 August, the government will start raising employer contributions for the under 25s – from 15% to 25%, which will generate an additional SKr 5.6 billion in revenue for the Treasury.

However, the main changes, which will bring an extra SKr 22 billion into the state coffers, will come into effect on 1 January 2016.

Magdalena Andersson is still keen to introduce a bank transaction tax but this is unlikely to come into effect before 2017, at the earliest.

Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the main opposition party, the Moderates, said on hearing the government’s plans: “Heavy tax hikes on households, transport and companies – how does that make Sweden stronger or create more jobs?”

Meanwhile, Erik Ullenhag, the Liberal Party spokesman on economic policy, accused the centre-left government of breaking one election promise after the other, thereby damaging its credibility on economic policy.

ID fraud soars

images-1The number of reported, suspected cases of perjury/forgery such as hijacking someone’s identity or using fake passports has surged from 350 in 2012 to 2,209 in 2014, show fresh figures from the Economic Crime Authority (SECA).
The trend is similar for accounting fraud and embezzlement, where the number of reported suspected cases, which totalled 2,705 in 2012, increased to 11,194 in 2014.
Eva Fröjelin, director general of SECA, describes the trend as a “brutal” awakening.

Supreme Commander on defence needs

Supreme Commander
Supreme Commander

Sweden must make up its mind about its level of defence, Supreme Commander Sverker Göranson has said from New York, where he will attend later today a conference on the challenges facing the UN’s peacekeeping forces.

With last autumn’s submarine hunt in the Stockholm archipelago in recent memory, MPs are currently discussing Sweden’s future defence needs. MPs will need to weigh up domestic defence requirements and the need to take part in peacekeeping missions overseas when drawing up a budget.

Asked how to resolve the problem, the Supreme Commander says jokingly: “There is a simple solution, all they have to do is inject more funds”.

He then goes on to say the government and the Riksdag must decide the level of defence Sweden should have – whether the country should choose to send a ship to take part in the operation off the coast of Somalia, or a unit to Mali, or whether the Armed Forces should have more of a presence in Sweden. If the situation in Sweden’s ‘near abroad’ deteriorates further, then the Armed Forces must be allowed to bring home key functions from overseas, he concludes.

“Reform creates jobs”

Löfven announces new strategy
Löfven announces new strategy

Sweden’s centre-left government yesterday unveiled its strategy to tackle the nation’s housing crisis, pledging the construction of up to 15,000 properties to rent annually.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised that the government will invest SKr 3.2 billion a year in the project, as of 2016. The reform will be financed through the lowering of the tax relief on home repair and maintenance – ROT – from 50 per cent to 30 per cent.

Prior to the general election last year Stefan Löfven promised he would leave ROT well alone. On Wednesday, the PM said that soaring ROT costs lay behind the U-turn. He also argued that the reform would create jobs.

“This means we will be able to build more new apartments and shift the emphasis from repairs to new construction. We have a housing shortage in 150 of Sweden’s 290 municipalities,” he said.

Ulf Kristersson, the Moderate Party’s spokesman on economic policy, is highly critical of the plans, saying it was a poor idea to re-introduce subsidies on the Swedish housing market and that it could pave the way for a black market.

Emil Källström, the Centre Party’s spokesman, has warned that the reform would in fact cause construction costs to soar. “We know that building subsidies end up in the pockets of the construction firms in the form of bigger profits,” he said.

Australia opens up for Swedish involvement

Sweden orders subsAustralian Labor leader Bill Shorten has called for Sweden to be involved in the tender process together with Germany, France and Japan to build the new fleet of submarines for the country. Prime Minister Tony Abbott initially excluded Sweden in the process to make proposals, citing its “lack of recent experience”.
Sweden’s submarine maker Saab Kockums, which last summer acquired its submarine business from German Thyssen Krupp last summer, has declined to comment the news.

Wallström in U-turn

SU27 fighter jets flew with transponders switched offSwedish military jets identified and tracked four Russian combat planes flying near Gotland and Bornholm on Tuesday morning. The aircraft – two TU22M bomber planes and two SU27 fighter jets – were flying in international airspace with their transponders switched off.

Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said to the TT news agency that Russia had not violated international aviation rules, but added that Sweden had previously pointed out to Russia that this was inappropriate behaviour. “Flying without transponders in the way the Russians do is generally unsuitable,” he remarked.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström first said it was unacceptable for Russian planes to be flying with their transponders shut off, calling it a violation of international aviation rules.

“We must have respect from Russia for the existing rules and regulations and an end to what has been incredibly challenging and downright dangerous for civil aviation. We are tired of always having to protest against this kind of … breach of rules.” she said.

However, later in the day Erik Boman, the Foreign Minister’s press secretary, called TT to clarify that Wallström and Hultqvist were in agreement. “Formally it is not a breach of rules, but it is inappropriate behaviour,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Swedish military said the threat against Sweden had not grown but that the Armed Forces were watching the “increased activity” in the region.

SU27 fighter jets flew with transponders switched off

Skanska faces bribery scandal probe

Swedish construction company Skanska is under investigation for allegedly participating in a cartel and for paying bribes to Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras. According to Swedish Radio’s Ekot, Brazilian prosecutors will formally charge Skanska within the next month.

“Skanska’s employees have personally paid bribes to Petrobras senior managers,” Prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima told Ekot.

Evidence of Skanska’s involvement, including witness reports, telephone bugging and documents is said to be convincing.

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Some 25 firms are so far suspected of being part of the cartel, and took it in turns to pay bribes to Petrobras executives.

One of the Petrobras senior managers is said to have told police investigators that he received millions of kronor in bribes from Skanska’s representative in Brazil.

Skanska’s senior management has previously denied any knowledge of the bribery scandal.

Åkesson returns to politics

Åkesson returns to politics
Åkesson returns to politics

Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats, will return to politics in April after a five-month sick leave for burnout.

“My aim is to come back and start work after 31 March,” Åkesson said during the taping of a talk show to be aired on SVT on Friday evening. He also said that he would return to work in stages and would initially participate in “work training”.

Dagens Nyheter notes that it is uncertain as to whether Åkesson will be re-elected party leader at the party conference in November. Instead, Mattias Karlsson, who has acted as party leader during Åkesson’s absence, may well take over the role.

According to the newspaper’s sources, Åkesson, Karlsson and party secretary Richard Jomshof have drawn up a plan whereby Åkesson will speak in Visby on 1 July and hold his traditional summer speech on 29 August. After this, Åkesson will propose that Karlsson takes over the reins. However, this plan is now being questioned by a number of senior party members who have criticised Karlsson for trying to cooperate with the Swedish anti-racist Expo magazine, in order to uncover the extremists in the party.