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.
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.
Australian 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.
Swedish 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
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.
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.
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.
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.