HOT TOPICS IN SWEDEN

I’ve just returned from my second trip to Sweden this summer and both visits were marked by hot weather.  We’ve been lucky in that most of our summer visits to southern Sweden have coincided with reasonable weather, but this year has seen extremes.  In a country where 23C is a normal summer temperature, Sweden recorded the hottest July for two hundred years.   In a land dominated by forests, inevitable fires have followed as temperatures soared.  Amazingly, these fires stretched from the south to beyond the Arctic Circle.  According to officials, 25,000 hectares of forest have been burned.  Unable to cope with events that the country isn’t equipped to handle, Sweden turned to neighbours Norway and Denmark as well as Italy, Poland, Germany and France for firefighters.

The heat has also had an impact on one of Sweden’s favourite pastimes – the barbecue.  A national ban on lighting outdoor fires and home barbecues was brought in at the end of July.  (This has since been relaxed in some areas.)  One man in Skåne was fined 19,500 kronor ($2,187/£1,665) for starting up a barbecue in his own garden.  That’s a lot of money to go up in smoke.  Now Swedish retailers are proposing a permanent end to the sale of disposable grills.

Like in the UK, the drought has also affected farmers, and the Swedish government announced 1.2 billion kronor in aid to help those hit hardest by the drought.

Interestingly, the weather has impacted on the other storm that is raging in Sweden at the moment: the September General Election.  Suddenly, climate change has shot up the list of voters’ priorities and become the second most important issue after immigration.  Not that Sweden’s deputy prime minister, Isabella Lövin, thinks they aren’t mutually exclusive.  She told Expressen newspaper: “If we don’t do something about the climate threats then we’re going to have hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing hurricanes, drought and crop failures.”

At the moment, the government is made up of a coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party under the prime minister, Stefan Löfven.  Unlike the UK’s first-past-the-post system, Sweden has proportional representation; therefore a number of parties can find themselves in parliament and coalitions invariably follow.  Long gone are the days when the Social Democrats spent decades in power.  The system has allowed the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a very right wing organisation with strong anti-immigrant views and the third largest party in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament.  At the other end of the spectrum is the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet), originally the communist party until 1990.  In between, you have every shade of political thinking – the Christian Democrats, the Moderate Party, Liberals, Centre Party and the Feminist Initiative (which doesn’t have an MP in the Riksdag but has one MEP).  There are a host of minor parties which are unlikely to garner a high enough percentage of votes to get a seat in the next parliament.  Most of the leading parties were busy canvassing in the centre of Simrishamn when I was there the other week.

Immigration is the hot topic with so many migrants coming into Sweden over recent years.  Some Swedes feel proud of their record of welcoming these people; others hold the opposite view and blame them for many of the country’s perceived ills.  Much the same debate is raging in the UK, Europe and America.  Many fear the Sweden Democrats’ brand of nationalism.  Though the Sweden Democrats are riding high, there has also been an upsurge in support for the Left.  This has prompted Stefan Löfven to promise to tax the very rich.  As usual with political campaigning, it’s tit-for-tat.  We will discover the way Sweden is going on September 9th.

I have no idea which way Anita Sundström is going vote this time, though I’m pretty sure about which parties won’t get her endorsement.