Money before morals

In 1998 the EU adopted a code of conduct on arms sales containing eight criteria, including one of respect for human rights, and in 2013 the EU-28 signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits the trade in conventional arms to countries that violate human rights or that use the arms against their civilian populations. Despite this many European countries rank human rights in second place when it comes to arms trading, reports Svenska Dagbladet. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, no less than eleven European countries have sold heavy weapons to Saudi Arabia over the past five years.

Commercial interests, and the arms industry which generates thousands of jobs, far outweigh the risk that arms are being used to violate human rights and to torture people. Economic policy takes precedence over morality, jobs take precedence over war crimes, writes SvD.

Some argue that the arms trade strengthens security in critical regions, and that business is a way to influence countries in the right direction in terms of human rights. Other condemn the trade: spineless, ethically objectionable and in some cases illegal, argue the critics.

There are competing views, and the controversy over Sweden’s Saudi deal is unlikely to narrow the perception gap, concludes the newspaper.

Reactions to diplomatic snub

karin enströmSaudi Arabia’s snub has stirred a reaction from Swedish MPs with Karin Enström, the Moderate Party spokeswoman on foreign policy, placing some of the blame on the Swedish government.

“It’s a serious matter if Sweden’s voice is stopped or weakened. There is a risk of relations getting burned with countries in the region. First of all Margot Wallström was not welcome in Israel and now her speech has been blocked,” Enström said to TT.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven did not wish to comment on Monday, but it is quite clear that Saudi Arabia’s move came as a shock, according to Ulf Bjereld, a professor at the University of Gothenburg.

Valter Mutt, the Green Party spokesman on foreign policy, believes Saudi Arabia’s decision to block Ms Wallström’s speech is “the final nail in the coffin” for the agreement.

The Green Party, the Left Party and the Christian Democrats are all keen for the deal to be torn up, while the Liberal Party is calling for a decision to be taken at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting.

“There is absolutely no reason left to sell arms to such a country. I believe we should seize the opportunity now that this has happened. We might as well cancel the deal straightaway,” Liberal MP Maria Weimer has said.

Click to read articles in Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet.


Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador as row deepens

sauditoppSaudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Sweden as the diplomatic dispute between the two countries grows. The news emerged a day after Sweden tore up the decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Officially Sweden has said that the Saudi ambassador was summoned to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Tuesday where he was informed that the agreement would be cancelled.

However, Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reports this morning that the Saudis had received advance information ahead of the Arab League meeting in Cairo that Sweden intended to tear up the agreement. The MFA had apparently told the Swedish Embassy in Riyadh to pass along the news to the Saudi government.

The newspaper has not been able to receive confirmation as to when the meeting took place, or the Saudis’ reaction to the news.

The paper also reports that the Saudis has already informed Sweden that their ambassador was being recalled.

“We took the opportunity to express the hope that the ambassador would soon return and stressed Sweden’s interest in having good relations with Saudi Arabia,” Erik Boman, Margot Wallström’s press secretary tells the TT news agency.

Left Party sent funds to pro-Russian separatists

According to the tabloid Aftonbladet, the Left Party’s international forum, VIF, has sent several hundred thousand kronor in development aid to the Ukrainian Borotba organisation, which is said to have links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The exact sum is uncertain, but it is known that between 2010 and 2012 a total of SKr 219,000 was channelled to the Organisation of Marxists and Borotba, which was formed in 2011 by former members of the aforesaid Organisation.

VIF describes Borotba as a left-wing movement opposed to neo-Nazism and or feminism, but according to Jakob Hedenskog, a security policy analyst at FOI, the defence research agency, Borotba is “a pawn in President Putin’s power game”. The organisation is coloured by Soviet nostalgia and separatism, Hedenskog says.

“As an active part of the anti-Maidan movement, they are in practice on the same side as the pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass. The long-term aim is to divide Europe,” he tells Aftonbladet.

The tabloid also reports that SKr 250,000 was paid directly from VIF to a bank account belonging to one of the Borotba leader’s girlfriends. This goes against Swedish regulations; recipients of aid must be classed as organisations. After the irregularities were discovered, SKr 128,000 has been paid back to VIF. The last payment was made in 2012.

Ann-Margrethe Livh, VIF chair, stresses that the organisation has ceased its co-operation with Borotba. According to her, Borotba’s main goal during the years of co-operation was the fight against the neo-Nazi Svoboda group.

“They were young people who were not at all warlike, but renounced violence. I do not know what happened after 2011-2012, when we ended the co-operation. If someone has flipped out or things have gone wrong, I can only express regret,” she says.

Left MP Hans Linde is critical, saying this is an unacceptable attitude. “We defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity. If Borotba takes this type of stance then it underlines how important it is that we no longer co-operate with them,” he says.

Sweden ends co-operation deal with Saudi Arabia

Peter Hultqvist, the defence minister, said late Tuesday evening that Sweden was cancelling the decade-long military co-operation agreement with Saudi Arabia because “in practice, the military co-operation is not ongoing”. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Sweden had been informed of the decision on Tuesday morning.

The agreement has been subject of intense debate in Sweden in recent weeks with the Green Party, the junior party in the coalition government, wanting to wind it up.

Åsa Romson, deputy prime minister and member of the Green Party, said on hearing the news: “This is a win for a clear foreign policy based on respect for human rights and a moral compass where this type of far-reaching military co-operation agreement simply does not fit”.

The announcement came just after Saudi Arabia had blocked Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, from speaking about human rights and democracy to a summit of Arab leaders in Cairo. She had also condemned the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi to a “medieval” punishment of 1,000 lashes (ed.). On Monday evening, Arab League foreign ministers expressed condemnation and astonishment at Wallström’s remarks, which were incompatible with the fact that “the constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on tolerant Sharia law that has guaranteed human right and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity”.

Peter Hultqvist has told Dagens Nyheter (DN) that the events of the past two days have not influenced the government in its decision to cancel the agreement. Asked to assess the possibility of signing new civil contracts with Saudi Arabia after what has happened, he said: “The Ministry of Enterprise and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have responsibility for these matters. The government has presented to the Saudi ambassador that we want to proceed with the civil partnerships and develop them”. He then added: “As I understand, the foreign minister is prepared to visit Saudi Arabia despite what happened at the Arab League meeting”.

The European Commission said Tuesday it would be taking measures after Margot Wallström’s speech was blocked.

Kiribati seeks aid

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati, a chain of 33 atolls and islands, is likely to become uninhabitable in the future because of sea level rise. The nation’s President Anote Tong is now seeking a global partnership to combat climate change and on Monday met International Development Cooperation Minister Isabella Lövin in Stockholm.

Both the President and Ms Lövin will take part in the third UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Sendai, Japan, this weekend.

Speaking to SvD, President Tong says that what is happening is a tragedy, and that initially technical equipment is needed in order for the population to feel safe the next time water sweeps across the islands.

Ms Lövin points out that natural disasters are now costing the world up to 300 billion US dollars annually in economic losses, while the annual global aid budget is 150 billion US dollars. Lövin notes: “This is how it is today. How will it be in 20 years, if we do nothing and temperatures continue to rise?”

Fall from grace

The Swedish Riksbank has gone from being the best among its peers in 2008 and 2009 at forecasting inflation to lagging behind its peers in two-thirds of the predictions, writes Bloomberg after comparing forecasts by six central banks between 2008 and 2013. The Riksbank’s errors can be traced back to 2010 when Governor Stefan Ingves raised rates despite Europe being in the midst of the worst economic crisis since WWII, states Bloomberg.

Sweden keen to step up pressure on Putin

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will land in Kiev later today for talks with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseenyuk. He will also meet the leader of the Crimean Tatar community in order to highlight the fact that Sweden does not accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

During his day-long visit, Mr Löfven will sign a bilateral agreement to boost reform but much of the Swedish PM’s day will be spent discussing the situation in Eastern Ukraine and what EU member states can do to put pressure on Russia to establish a permanent ceasefire.

Mr Löfven will present the findings of his meeting in Kiev when EU heads of state and government meet next week to discuss Russia and Ukraine. Despite pressure from some members to ease or drop sanctions, the EU is currently united in its stance to maintain sanctions against Russia. Sweden’s stance is that the sanctions should remain in place as long as there are no tangible signs that the situation in Eastern Ukraine is improving. Sweden also believes that member states should be prepared to ratchet up pressure on Russia, with further sanctions.

Deal unlikely to be extended

Just hours before Margot Wallström was due to address the Arab League in Cairo on Monday, Saudi Arabia blocked the Swedish Foreign Minister’s plans.

“The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights, and that is why they do not want me to speak,” Ms Wallström told the TT news agency.

The minister has told Swedish public service broadcaster Sveriges Television that she “ does not know if this will have any repercussions for the Swedish military co-operation agreement”. Additionally, it is clear that Saudi Arabia will not support Sweden’s candidacy for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Thord Jansson, a professor at the University of Gothenburg, who is an expert on Saudi Arabia, describes the snub as “exceptional” and suggests that Riyadh probably feels the arms deal will not be extended, following the criticism expressed by some Swedish politicians of the Kingdom and in the media in recent weeks.

“After this it would be odd if Sweden prolonged the deal … Sweden will probably be forced to break off the deal,” he has said.

Baylan promises end to controversy

Nuclear power has been politically controversial in Sweden since the 1970s, but Energy Minister Ibrahim Baylan (S) is now hoping to bring an end to the dispute, and get all sides to agree on how best to meet the country’s future energy needs.

In a directive, the minister has charged the newly appointed Energy Commission to present ways to ensure a steady supply of power to the grid, as more and more electricity is generated from renewable sources that are dependent on weather conditions. The Commission has until 1 January 2017 to present its proposals so that a cross-party agreement can be reached ahead of the 2018 general election.

The government’s vision is that Sweden should have an energy system that is 100 per cent renewable by 2050, but Ibrahim Baylan has deliberately not stated this in the Commission’s directive.

“We want to create the best possible conditions for the talks, so we cannot begin by saying what the outcome will be,” he says, stressing the need to provide industry with long-term solutions.

The centre-right parties promise to be constructive, but the Moderates and the Liberal Party are already calling on the government not to propose raising taxes on nuclear power capacity in the spring budget.

Lars Hjälmared, the Moderate spokesman on energy policy, says his party would be concerned, were the government to unilaterally change the game rules, and that the right thing to do would be for the Commission to discuss the matter.