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.

“Highest respect for Islam”

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.

Parties fail to impress electorate

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.

Vattenfall close to striking deal

Damberg: Any deal must be commercially sound

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.

Persson on way out

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.

Greens under pressure over lignite mines

imagesIn 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.

New submarines ordered

Sweden orders subs

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.

Government invites leaders to meeting

images-1Following 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.

Peace movement on the warpath

Thailand purchases military equipment from Sweden

The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS) has welcomed the Swedish government’s decision to cancel the defence deal with Saudi Arabia and is now calling on the government to scrap other agreements, such as the one Sweden has with Thailand. The co-operation agreement is linked to Saab’s sale of an integrated air defence system with Gripen fighter jets and the Erieye radar reconnaissance system.

Following the military coup last year, Thailand’s PM, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised elections will be held but Human Rights Watch recently noted that the country is descending deeper into dictatorial rule. And, for officials at the Swedish Ministry of Defence, the situation in Thailand is problematic.

“We are preparing the question, on what form of co-operation we should have,” a ministry spokesman says.

Sweden currently has military co-operation agreements with 32 countries.

Saab hopes to sell to Bulgaria

imagesDefence and security group Saab is currently developing the next generation of the JAS 39E/F fighter jet; the first of the 60 new JAS Gripen 39E fighters will be delivered to the Swedish Air Force in 2019, the same year that Brazil will take delivery of the first of the 36 JAS 39E/F fighters it has ordered.

At the same time as the first test plane is being assembled in Linköping, Saab is also trying to find buyers for its current version of the fighter, the JAS Gripen C/D, which is currently flown by the Swedish, Czech and Hungarian air forces, among others.

Jerker Ahlqvist, head of business unit Gripen, says the group wants to exploit its strong standing in central Europe as a number of countries aim to replace their outdated Russian planes. Saab is in talks with Slovakia (where a decision is expected some time this year), and Bulgaria has expressed interest.

Ulf Nilsson, head of business area Aeronautics, believes Bulgaria is looking at 14-15 fighter jets and that Lockheed Martin with its F-35 will be the defence and security group’s main competitor in years to come.