Mon, Dec 29, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Political deal in Sweden avoids immigration issue

AFP, STOCKHOLM

Sweden might have narrowly avoided snap elections that would have been dominated by a debate on immigration, but with asylum seekers arriving in record numbers the issue is unlikely to stay off the agenda for long, analysts say.

The Sweden Democrats, a far-right party holding the balance of power in parliament, had said it wanted the polls to serve as a “referendum on immigration” — and it almost succeeded.

“If we had ended up with snap elections, we would have talked a lot about immigration and it would have been on the Sweden Democrats’ terms,” said Camilla Sandstroem, a political scientist at Umea University.

The Sweden Democrats, who came third in parliamentary polls in September, this month pushed Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven to call early elections after they refused to back his budget, a signal of discontent with his generous immigration policies.

However, on Saturday, Lofven, a Social Democrat, announced a surprise deal with the center-right opposition that enables him to stay in the job without seeking a new mandate from voters.

He unveiled a wide-ranging agreement that aims to ensure political stability until 2022 by allowing the traditional parties to govern without asking for support from the Sweden Democrats.

One word was absent from the accord: immigration.

“It’s a bit surprising that the immigration issue is not part of the deal,” Sandstroem said. “We urgently need to discuss it.”

Sweden, with a population of 9.6 million people, has one of Europe’s most liberal immigration policies and is expected to receive up to 105,000 asylum seekers next year, according to official estimates.

This record number is partly due to a sweeping gesture announced last year to grant permanent residency to all Syrian refugees who make it to Sweden.

Most Swedes are proud of the tolerance associated with their country. However, many also insist on the need to discuss the consequences of their immigration laws.

“We have to talk more about immigration and integration. No one talks about it and that gives the protest parties more room,” said Jakob, a 35-year-old IT consultant, who declined to give his last name.

Anders Widfeldt, an expert on Swedish politics at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said Swedes were having the debate already.

“There is talk about unemployment. There is talk about integration. There is talk about crime,” he said. “What on Earth is it that is not being debated? It’s just that it’s being debated on different terms.”

What Swedes really want to avoid is a debate that opens up “negative, stereotyping, stigmatizing feelings about people that come from other countries and have fled for their lives,” he said.

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