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Swedish PM: no immigration backlash, no EU presidency and no tweets

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Swedish PM: no immigration backlash, no EU presidency and no tweets

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Sweden is in the spotlight in this month’s Global Conversation, a country that has managed to steer itself relatively unscathed through the economic crisis and where its people are among the happiest in the world according to various indices and surveys. Yet youth unemployment, immigration and a rising far-right are a growing cause for concern. To discuss this and more, Euronews’ Isabelle Kumar was joined by Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt as part of the Global Conversation

Isabelle Kumar, euronews:
Would you agree that there is a growing disconnection between the image we have of Sweden and the reality of the ground?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt, Swedish Prime Minister:
“I think we are more a reform orientated economy that could act as an example for many others. If you look at today’s Sweden, we have been able to have higher growth than many other European countries. We are affected by the financial crisis, but not nearly as much as many other European countries.”

Isabelle Kumar: “I would like to quote the World Economic Forum here in their competitiveness survey they say “Sweden is one of the most productive and competitive economies in the world” – but you are socially in difficulty, youth unemployment is very high, it stands at 1 in 4, would you take responsibility for that, does your government take responsibility for this failure?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“I agree it is a combination of very competitive business life,
but we have seen a slowing of our education results for nearly 20 years. I think in the past we did not look thoroughly enough into what kind of knowledge people actually got in the education system and we are re-shaping this now.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“When do you think the effects of those measures take effect, when will you see those figures start dropping?

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
FR I think it is already happening. But you also need growth in the economy. The Swedish economy is forecast to grow 2.5% in 2014 that is one of the best projected growth figures in the European Union. But it still needs to materialise. With better growth it works. Because a lot of these young people are not the first choice of employers seeking the perfect employee, with the perfect experience and the perfect education. These are the easy ones to get into the labour market, but the drop outs, those who don’t have the experience and this is what we are working on now. This also explains the high figures for youth unemployment.

Isabelle Kumar:
“If we go back to this idea of image and reality. The image we have of Sweden is of a fair and tolerant society has also been thrown into question. When you look at it from the outside, from my perspective, when the immigrant neighbourhoods blew up in May that was very shocking for a lot of us. Suddenly Sweden seems like a very polarised society would you say you are seeing a polarisation across Sweden?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Partly, but that is not new. We have had that polarisation debate in our suburbs since the 70s.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“The rioting, the rioting to this extent that was new…?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Well what we see is a group of young men, without jobs, very often related to criminal activities, also drug trafficking, a lot of them believe in using violence, violence against others, against police, against firefighters, and of course they are in themselves problematic. But you should also see that throughout these riots 95% of the population living there, said don’t destroy our neighbourhoods, don’t destroy this suburb.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“But some people are saying that the Swedish model is being pushed to its limits, there is a very high level of ethnic mix in Sweden, I think it stands at about 15% and people are saying Sweden cannot withstand this anymore.”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“I would disagree. I think we have shown that we have generations of immigrants coming into Sweden, coming into Swedish society making this a very interesting multi-ethnic society in a way which I think is the way forward for the future. The thing I think that has happened since the 70s and onwards is that generations have come, and not entered the labour market as easily as before. That is because the complexity of the labour market has grown. It is not as easy as it used to be. A lot of the refugees, the people coming now have very little educational background at all. But what I am saying is that we solve this. We can increase the hours in learning English and in the school system, because we need them. We have an aging society we do not have enough children born in Sweden, so we need these extra people coming to Sweden to lift up and keep our welfare ambitions.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“Sweden stood out because it was one of the few countries to give blanket refugee status to Syrians, but its also going to stand against you in terms of the rise in populism. Was it something that you considered.”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“This year 7000 have arrived from Syria. We should acknowledge that already we have a lot of people of Syrian origin in this country so a lot of them know people, have relatives who are actually coming to Sweden.
In the past the Syrians have been very easy compared to other groups in terms of integrating into the Swedish society, they are good entrepreneurs they often find their way into the labour market.
Yes, there are of course those in the Swedish political system who say close the borders,don’t let anyone in. I think it is correct to say that they are still in the margin with smaller support than the big majority of the Swedish population which has shown an increase in the idea that we should be open to immigration.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“They are in the minority but its a growing minority. I think at the last election, the Sweden Democrats, the anti-immigration party position has doubled. They were at 5% then, they are 10% now – that must be something you take into consideration is it not, when you look at the immigration situation in Sweden?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“They are double in the opinion polls, that’s not the same as delivering a result in an election.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“But you must consider the opinion polls.”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Yes but I will not as we have seen in other parts of Europe.We will not use their language, we will not give them influence. We will isolate them, and say we believe in our open model. I made an agreement with my four party centre-right coalition with the Green Party which is liberal and open on these issues, saying that we should have even more open alternatives for people who want to work in Sweden. We probably have the most open
system for labour migration in the world which you can see in the world and its actually working. We have a large increase people with both low skills and high skills coming into the Swedish labour market. This is also showing now in our figures, a growing part of the workforce which is actually born out of Sweden.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“If we look across the border in Norway, the anti-immigration party there garnered 16% percent of the vote, you don’t think that that is something that is going to take place in Sweden, you are coming up to elections next year?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“I don’t believe in their answers to the solutions we need in Sweden. I can’t say that I want to follow the road map we have seen in other countries, to start to use their words, their descriptions, then I would say something other than I believe. I believe in an open society, I believe that people from different religions can live together and I believe you think can make that society work.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“Some are saying they could become king-makers in the next election, your coalition is trailing in the polls, you under no circumstances would negotiate with the Sweden Democrats?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“We will isolate them from influence because the only influence they are interested in is where they want to hit on immigrants and I don’t believe in those kind of political answers.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“But some argue that this approach is given them more air to breathe, because if you don’t negotiate with them their arguments can run free…”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Yes but also in countries that have done the opposite, that have given them negotiations, have given them political influence they have also had a tendency to grow. So, it more reflects the nervousness, in our time, when you are confronted with change, when you are also confronted
with the fact that it is not only linked to immigrants, it is also part of Sweden where they believe the future is not here, it is somewhere else, it’s also a kind of populism saying all the political leaders are crooks and they don’t want anything good out of life, they are the force that gathers all these people who are discontent, who dislike Sweden, who dislikes politicians…”

Isabelle Kumar:
“As I was saying your coalition, and you were saying you don’t necessarily look at the polls,but your coalition is trailing in the polls at the moment. Your name is being mentioned more frequently as a possible European Commission President. Those elections are coming up in May 2014 – is that a position that interests you?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“No I am standing to win a third election and that’s in September of next year. And I should also be clear that last mandate period my coalition was behind 44 out of 48 months, and we still got ahead when we got to election day. It’s not the same what you can see in an opinion poll, what you can actually see on election day.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“So you won’t stand for Commission President, you are not interested in becoming the future President of the European Commission?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“No I am standing to try and win a third election in September so that’s not possible to combine.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“If we look then at Europe, and what’s going on in Europe, you’ve streamlined the government in Sweden,the running of society, if you look at he European apparatus, do you not think it is time the EU started practicing what it was preaching.”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“I believe Europe should be strong where we need Europe, but there is absolutely a tendency for more bureaucracy, for more centralisation of decision making to Brussels, which actually has no big support outside of Brussels, when you look through Europe and this is also true for Sweden.
Though more focusing, on efficiency, more focusing on streamlining would be good, that’s not saying that we don’t get a Europe that is strong when we need it. you can combine these two.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“Do you get frustrated when you look from your vantage point and you see southern European countries taking maybe more time than is necessary to put essential reforms into place?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Well I have been to southern Europe I was in Portugal in the spring, I have been discussing with my colleagues in southern Europe, I have the deepest respect for what they are doing. I follow also the protests.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“But do you find it frustrating?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Well I think they have done a lot. I think Spain has now come quite far the reforms the unit cost for labour is shrinking both in Spain you will see this in Greece, there is an increase of reforms indeed in Italy. But it is a politically tough situation for the Letta government.
so I think they have done a lot, the frustrating thing with Europe at the moment is the world economy is reshaping and we are not competitive at the moment.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“If things are improving slowly, would you say the austerity measures were a success. A recent poll showed most Europeans had thought they had failed.”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Yes, because there feeling is that the measures have been hurting them, and their economy.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“You would align yourself with Germany?”

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“I would absolutely say that you need public finances in good order. You need to have good order in public finances and you need to do other things, structural reforms to increase your competitiveness, when it comes to research and development, labour market flexibility.
So I definitely mean a combination of austerity measures and a shrinking unit labour costs which have been done is a good way to increase your competitiveness.”

Isabelle Kumar:
“And the Greeks who have been on the streets on a pretty much daily basis, you must appreciate their perspective?

Fredrik Reinfeldt:
“Absolutely, that is what I say. They are very frustrated and it has been ongoing for many years. Sweden was hit by a very tough contraction of our economy in the early 90s it took us nearly 10 years to come back.
I think this is what we are seeing in Greece as well. So I understand their frustrations,but they have also done a lot of their reforms but their debt level is very high, so it is still a fragile situation when you look at Greece.”