Translation of analysis of DN Debatt 9 December 2014

This is a translation of my analysis of DN Debatt 9 Dec 2014 (the original article is translated here). See here for a description of the project as a whole.

Some background notes for non-Swedes: in September 2014, the centre-right Alliance government (consisting of the Moderates, the Liberal Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats) lost the elections and a red-green government consisting of the Social Democrats (S) and the Greens (Miljöpartiet; Mp), supported by the Left party, took over. The latter three parties do not, however, constitute a majority in parliament, and their budget proposal was downvoted 3 December, since the far-right Sweden Democrats decided to support the Alliance’s proposal (against established praxis, which is to abstain from voting in further votes once your own proposal is down-voted). Prime minister Stefan Löfven then called for extra elections.

DN Debatt 9 December graded 4/10

In today’s DN Debatt the party leaders of the four Alliance parties writes that the budget voting rules should be amended to make it easier for a minority government to have its budget accepted. They write as follows:

The starting point would be that the budget alternative that has the strongest support in Parliament actually becomes the winning budget. Changes to voting rules could be implemented by an agreement between the parties or through a change in the Parliament Act regarding the budget vote.

My emphasis. They thus think that the voting rules could be changed either formally by amending the Parliament Act, or informally by a party agreement. It seems unnatural, however, to call the latter a “rule change”, which is probably one reason why this proposal seems to have been forgotten in the debate in favor of the formal solution proposal. It is in any case important to note that they mention both of these proposals.

These proposed solutions would differ from each other on one important point. If the Parliament Act would be amended, they would probably formalize the praxis that the Sweden Democrats violated, namely that those parties whose proposals have lost a vote abstain in subsequent votes. (The Sweden Democrats voted in favor of the Alliance budget despite the fact that their budgets lost in a previous vote.) This is a proposal that has been discussed before.

If the informal agreement option would instead be chosen, it would in all probability be reached between the Alliance and the red-green parties, while Sweden Democrats would be left out. That means, as I understand, that such an agreement would not be able to influence how the Sweden Democrats vote. Instead, the agreement would merely concern how the Alliance and the Red-Green voted in the budget vote. For example, such an agreement could say that the whole, or parts of, the smaller of the two party groups are to abstain from voting (e.g., a number of members of Parliament equal to the number of Sweden Democrats in Parliament could abstain from voting; a proposal that’s been put forward before).

If this is the Alliance’s proposal (which I am not sure of, but it seems like the most reasonable interpretation), one may well ask themselves why they did not abstain from voting in the budget vote that just occurred. They should have made it clear why they would not consider abstaining from voting to facilitate for a minority government in this budget vote, but may consider doing so in the future. Since they do not do this, they come off as rather inconsistent.

Another question mark concerns the question of why the government did not receive a majority of their budget. The authors seem to suggest that this is partly due to Stefan Löfven not having been sufficiently cooperative, but they seem to also think that they were bound to vote for their budget no matter what Löfven said. If this is true, they are inconsistent on this point too.

As the reader may note, the article is also rather vague on several crucial points, making it difficult for the reader to know exactly what the arguments are. In addition, a series of statements misleading or inaccurate.

The overall grade on the article is 4/10. More comments follow below.

The authors write as follows in the first two paragraphs:

After just two months as Prime Minister of Sweden, it is clear that Stefan Löfven has failed.

The main cause is that the Sweden Democrats chose to violate praxis, but the fact that the government has not taken responsibility for the parliamentary situation has also contributed.

My emphasis. This means neither more nor less than “we think that the Sweden Democrats should not have violated praxis, and we also think that the government has not taken responsibility for the parliamentary situation.” The talk of “causes” adds nothing beyond that. These opinions they should, in turn, have given reasons for.

They should also have made clear in which way the government has not taken responsibility for the parliamentary situation. One interpretation is that they have not been sufficient cooperative to reach a majority for their budget. Another is that they announced an extra election, instead of allowing the Alliance to form a government (something they previously have been critical against). Possibly the authors intend to say both of these things here.

Furthermore, they write:

Instead of earnestly inviting the entire Alliance to concretely discuss how the country is to be governed, Löfven has again and again talked about collaboration in vague terms. Most recently, when it became clear that the government’s budget was highly likely to fall. The only offers that were given concerned how the Alliance could provide support for his leftist government.

My emphasis. Here they are actually saying two things. The first is that Löfven should have invited the whole Alliance to talks. The second is that he should have been more specific. The authorus try to link these things to each other, but they are completely separate: one can of course be concrete without inviting the entire alliance to talks (and vice versa).

I understand it is true that Löfven mainly wanted to cooperate with the Centre Party and the Liberal Party, rather than with the whole Alliance, although he discussed with all Alliance leaders the night before the budget vote. As regards the allegation that he was “vague”, in the nature of things the first feelers to the effect that one is interested in co-operation (such as this) tend to be quite general.

Furthermore, they write:

We welcome an extra election that can enable a government that takes its starting point in the political center – the normal situation in Swedish politics – to come to power.

This is a misleading picture of Swedish political history. In Swedish politics a right-wing block has almost always been pitted against a left-wing block, and the government has been either a pure left government (1957-1976, 1982-1991, 1994-2006, 2014-; all except the last pure Social Democratic governments) or a pure right-wing government (1976-1982, 1991-1994, 2006-2014). None of these governments can be said to have been governments which took “its starting point the political center”. Rather, their starting point has been either clearly to the right or clearly to the left of the center.

Furthermore, they write:

The basis of our government has throughout been to present our policies beforehand to the Swedish voters, so that everyone should know how our political alternative looks. Therefore, the Alliance announced in advance of the election that we would vote for our budget option, regardless of election outcome.

My emphasis. Regarding this, one interpretation of “the government has not taken responsibility for the parliamentary situation” (above) is, as stated, that the reason that the government failed to get a majority for their budget was a lack of willingness to cooperate. The authors also criticize, as we have seen, Löfven’s calls for co-operations as being too vague.

However, if the Alliance claims to have promised to vote for their budget option come what may, which it seems like they do here, it would not have mattered however co-operative the government had been (unless they would have chosen to co-operate with SD, something both the government and the Alliance has excluded). The Alliance cannot both claim that they had a duty to vote on its budget option and that the government’s budget fell because the government was not sufficiently co-operative.

Furthermore, they write:

Sweden now has a budget that applies to 2015. It is a budget which means that the successful policies that have created over 300,000 new jobs, secured the government finances and increased resources for our common welfare, remains unchanged.

As I have previously pointed out, it is not particularly meaningful to talk about the number of jobs, since the population has increased quite a lot. I quote what I wrote in the linked post:

Instead, [the authors] should have talked about employment or unemployment as a percentage of the labor force. These numbers do not, however, sound nearly as impressive, which of course is why [the authors] do not use them (employment rates have gone up slightly, but so has the unemployment rate, according to the links).

As regards public finances, government debt as a percentage of GDP decreased slightly during the Alliance’s years in power, but the budget deficit has increased. As regards “the resources for our common welfare”, it is normal that they increase over an eight-year-long reign (since GDP normally increases). Also, this expression should have been further elucidated.

Furthermore, they write:

The Alliance has governed Sweden both as a majority government and a minority government. We managed to do this by negotiating in Parliament with the Social Democrats and the Green Party. For instance, we came to a broad settlement on migration with the Green Party. We made an agreement with the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party on the Fiscal Policy Council. In the Free School Committee, the Alliance, the Social Democrats and the Green Party came to an agreeement. In the Defence Committee the Alliance and the Social Democrats agreed on the basics of defense policy. Sweden has participated in international efforts in Afghanistan, Libya, in the waters around the Horn of Africa and soon in Mali, based on decisions made in broad agreement in Parliament. Within the framework of the Pensions Group important decisions to increase the stability of the pension system were reached.

These agreements have been reached with the parties that are part of the current government, S and MP. These agreements are therefore no evidence that the Alliance is more cooperative than those parties, which this passage would have us believe.

In addition:

The alliance government, too, was at times forced to back away from its policy proposals. This was usually done without fanfare in negotiations in the parliamentary committees. That is how it works when you run a minority government. That is how negotiations in the Swedish parliament works.

My emphasis. This is a not quite right. For instance, the Alliance leaders were so angry over the red-greens’ defeat of the Alliance’s proposed higher cut-off point for state tax (with the support of the Sweden Democrats) that they recently demanded an apology from Stefan Löfven. This must qualify as “fanfare”.

Furthermore, they write:

For several reasons, we reject the ideas of grand coalition put forward from different directions. To begin with, the political differences between the two party groups are wide, but we may also observe that most of the countries that chose this path thereby strengthened the conditions for extremist parties to grow even stronger.

There are many examples of parties which have co-operated even though they were far apart politically. The cooperation between the German Social Democrats and Christian Democrats is one such example. The authors should have tried to rebut this obvious objection.

As regards the second claim – that “that most of the countries that chose this path thereby strengthened the conditions for extremist parties to grow even stronger ” – it should be supported with empirical evidence. If we again look at Germany, extremist parties are rather weak there.

This second assertion is absolutely central to the argument, and it is therefore strange that the authors do not support it with scientific evidence.

In addition, a cross-political government does not necessarily have to consist of a “grand coalition”, but it is sufficient if it has the support of more than 50% of MPs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s