Talking to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Saturday, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said it was regrettable that the Swedish government took so long before deciding to cancel the military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia.
The political debate in Sweden about the deal began to heat up in January but it took 40 days of talks before the government announced it was terminating the agreement.
“A lot of other things happened and that also affected the debate. Things also happened in Saudi Arabia, which I believe influenced developments,” she told the paper.
On Friday, Wallström told parliament repeatedly that Sweden wanted to have a continued civil exchange with Saudi Arabia and claimed that the Swedish criticism of the way in which “the regime handles human rights must not be interpreted as an attack on Islam” and that “we have the highest respect for Islam as a religion and its contribution to our common civilisation”.
The minister also admitted she is worried that Sweden is now being portrayed inaccurately. “An incorrect claim is being made that we have attacked Islam as a world religion. We have very many Muslims in Sweden. We evaluate that we can have both an inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue,” she said.
She also told MPs that the government was doing everything in its power to restore relations with Saudi Arabia.
Just one-third of voters believe the coalition government is doing a good job, according to the latest DN/IPSOS poll. The government’s approval rating is lower than that of the former Reinfeldt-government, and the electorate is unimpressed, says IPSOS manager David Ahlin.
He believes the low rating is explained by the weakness of the minority government, and by the fact that voters believe it is incompetent. “The government has had a shaky start with much focus on the fact that the Social Democrats and the Greens actually have different stances on a variety of issues”, he tells DN.
The alliance does not fare well in the poll either, with just 36 per cent saying they believe the centre-right parties would do a better job than the government.
“Many voters are cautious . Many questions are unanswered right now. The government has not yet managed to pass a budget through parliament and it is unclear what path the alliance will tread in the future,” comments Ahlin.
Sweden’s state-owned Vattenfall said in January this year that the utility would be run as six business areas from April 1, and that lignite power would be left outside this reorganisation (ed.).
Today Danske Bank analyst Jacob Magnussen tells business daily Dagens Industri he believes the exclusion of lignite power from the reorganisation indicates that Vattenfall has come a long way in the process to sell its lignite power plants and coal mines in Germany.
Two Czech power giants, EPH and CEZ, have expressed interest in the business on a number of occasions in the past six months, and recently Poland’s PGE has eyed Vattenfall’s German assets. A price tag of between SKr 20 and 40 billion has been mentioned.
Simultaneousy, Germany’s RWE and E.On are pressing ahead with the sale of their lignite businesses.
Just how the government will react, if an offer is made, is unclear. The Green Party has called for the closure of the lignite mines, while Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised that the utility will not strike any more bad deals, such as the one with Nuon.
Meanwhile, during parliamentary question time on Thursday, Enterprise Minister Mikael Damberg said he would not take any stance until a bid has been made. Talking to DI afterwards, the minister said that any deal struck would have to be commercially sound.
Russia seeks to influence political groups in Sweden to take a stance on the conflict in Ukraine. However, Wilhelm Unge, head analyst at the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO), did not want to say who these groups are, when he presented SÄPO’s annual report on Wednesday. “It’s a sensitive issue…, but there are parties that receive visible support from Russia. It’s a problem we’re aware of,” said Unge, pointing out that Russia has turned to both ultranationalist and left-wing groups elsewhere in Europe.
The SÄPO report highlights Russia as the most active country followed by Iran and China when it comes to illicit intelligence operations in Sweden. According to SÄPO, one in three of Russia’s diplomatic staff in Stockholm is in fact working for the Russian intelligence service.
“These are highly trained agents who cost a lot of money. Their main task is to recruit agents,” said Unge, who listed the Russian embassy in Stockholm, the Russian trade office on Lidingö and the Russian Consulate General in Gothenburg as the three places where the Russian intelligence officers are based.
Within counter terrorism, SÄPO has lately begun to see a changed pattern as to the individuals travelling to conflict zones to join in the fighting.
“Today these people are slightly older, well educated and from more advantaged social backgrounds. It’s no longer not just people seeking adventure,” said Johan Sjöö, deputy head of SÄPO.
Olof Persson succeeded Leif Johansson as chief executive of AB Volvo, Sweden’s largest industrial group, in 2011. Shortly after his appointment, Persson announced his intention to improve the group’s operating margin, which in 2011 was 8.7%. Instead, however, the operating margin has shrunk and Volvo shares have underperformed.
Dagens Industri now suggests that the Volvo board is planning to recruit a new chief executive and that Persson will be forced to step down within the next few weeks.
In the run up to last September’s general election, the Green Party said one of the first measures of a centre-left coalition government would be to stop Vattenfall from enlarging its lignite mines in Germany. Six months on, it’s business as usual at Vattenfall. Even if the Social Democrats and the Green Party have agreed that the state-owned utility must cut its carbon emissions, no new directives have been issued to halt the expansion plans.
So, what does the government intend to do? While the Green Party has called for the closure of the German coal operations, the Social Democrats have welcomed Vattenfall’s plans to divest the German coal business.
Moderate MP Lars Hjälmered is now demanding clarity from the government as to what it intends to do with the German business.
Sweden’s biggest intelligence threat last year came from Russia, states the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) in its annual report for 2014. Russian espionage is extensive and has grown apace with the Ukraine crisis, finds SÄPO.
“Illegally – and under the cover of diplomatic postings – Russian intelligence officers gather information about Swedish defence, politics, the economy, technology and science, and political refugees. One example is the Russian military intelligence service (GRU),” writes SÄPO.
GRU seeks to purchase equipment that is classified or subject to embargo to raise the technical standard within the Russian defence, according to the Swedish intelligence service, which claims to have blocked several attempts to buy “export-banned products”.
GRU has also sought to recruit agents and hack into IT systems and “shows interest in” the military, police and other “expatriate personnel”, according to the report.
Meanwhile, SÄPO estimates that around 150 Swedes have gone to Syria to join Islamic State or similar organisations, and at least 50 suspected jihadists have returned to Sweden.
Cyber attacks are becoming more commonplace, and Sweden should therefore raise the threshold against such attacks and build up the technical capabilities to launch its own cyber attacks against foreign powers, according to Peter Hultqvist, the defence minister.
He reveals to Dagens Nyheter (DN) that Swedish companies and authorities are the target of daily and varying forms of often very precise attacks, with the potential to cause major damage. In several cases it has emerged that foreign intelligence organisations are behind the attacks.
Hultqvist sees cyber attacks as a way to exert pressure on foreign countries before the situation reaches the point of armed conflict, and says this has happened in both Estonia and Georgia, and most recently in Ukraine where the attacks trace back to Russian interests.
Out of the ten countries currently conducting espionage activities in Sweden, Russia followed by China are the two most active intelligence gatherers, according to the Swedish Security Service.
The minister, who sees Denmark as a role model in beefing up its cyber security capabilities, says Sweden must be able to protect vital Swedish systems from attackers.
The government will today present proposals to the alliance parties at the defence budget talks, which aim to put in place stronger controls to protect against cyber attacks and build up Sweden’s own active capabilities as a deterrent against attacks.
“We believe this to be a very cost-effective way to raise the threshold for a power contemplating an attack on Sweden, or to exert pressure,” says Hultqvist, who does not wish to go into the cost aspect or which authority should be responsible for the active cyber attack capabilities.
Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist has told public service broadcaster SVT that the government will be placing an SKr 8.2 billion order for two new submarines from Saab Kockums. The minister announced the news while visiting the Karlskrona shipyard on Tuesday, although a formal decision will not be made until Thursday. The submarines will be delivered in 2022.
Following Sweden’s cancellation of the defence co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Enterprise Minister Mikael Damberg have invited some 40 business leaders to a meeting on Thursday to discuss how export companies can develop their business in the Gulf States.
Dagens Industri (DI) reported last week the diplomatic row has meant that a number of companies have seen contracts being terminated. However, Swedish industrial group Sandvik has not been affected, according to chief executive Olof Faxander, who have been invited to the meeting, but who is unable to attend. He says to the business daily: “We believe that trade, openness and a presence in many countries around the world leads to economic development and improves conditions in those countries”. He expects Swedish firms will continue to develop their businesses in the region, which offers significant opportunities for growth.