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Pulling the plug on social media? (Ethernet Cable by Petr Kratochvil, via

In the wake of the fact that more and more Swedish communes are using Facebook and Twitter for ‘citizen communication’, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) today published a set of guidelines (in Swedish) for the use of social media.

The guidelines stem from a judicial inquiry, which has given the ‘all clear’ for Swedish communes, local authorities and regions to use social media. Given that over 60 communes in Sweden already use twitter, including local politicians and public servants, it was just a matter of time before guidelines were published.

But will this spread to Brussels?

When our friends over at Fleishman-Hillard looked into how MEPs use the internet, including social media, they found that 21% of MEPs use Twitter, among others. Couple that with the amount of Commissioners who run their own blog, MEP assistants and Commission officials active (and visible) on Facebook, etc, and you could almost be surprised that there are no official guidelines for how elected officials (and EU civil servants) are to tweet and blog!

Will there be guidelines for the Brussels-based politician and civil servant? Should there be…?

– Emil

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Mona Sahlin at the Progressive Governance conference in London (CC/image via Socialdemokrater on flickr)

Sweden is oft hailed as a progressive country in terms of gender equality and women’s rights. For instance, Sweden elected its first female Prime Minister in 1962, only two years after Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and years before Lady Thatcher was elected in the UK (1979) and Gro Harlem Bruntland in Norway (1981).

Alas, if only this were true (We had you going there for a while! – ed)… The Lobby, for one, finds it quite surprising that Sweden has yet to elect a female Prime Minister, and with elections coming up in September of this year, a lot of commentators are asking: varför?

First things first: the closest Sweden came to electing a female PM was in 1995, when the then Social Democrat PM Ingvar Carlsson was widely seen as grooming his left-hand woman, as it were, Mona Sahlin for the position. However, scandal ensued (the so called ‘Toblerone affair’) and Sahlin was forced to throw in the towel. Since then she’s returned in force and became the Social Democrat’s party leader in March 2007.

Some of the major hurdles that Sahlin faced in 1995, disregarding the chocolate issue, can still be encountered 15 years later. The Swedish electorate has had an issue with young women in politics in the past, and recent events have shown that this is not necessarily a thing of bygone days. In addition, despite Sweden’s egalitarian approach to gender issues, women do seem to face a harder time when it comes to ‘paying their dues’ in Swedish politics compared to their male counterparts.

Today there is talk of the next Swedish PM being a woman. “It’s time” says Swedes whom The Lobby has spoken to in Brussels. The same mood seems to permeate the capital, Stockholm. But is Sweden ready for a female PM? We’ll have to wait and see, hopefully on 19 September Sweden will join the ranks of countries having elected female leaders, but this depends on what she has to offer, whom she’s up against, and whether she’s any good! After all, Sweden has done well in terms of female politicians in Brussels – just think of Wallström and Malmström! – and perhaps this is the problem; Sweden’s best female politicians aren’t even in Sweden!

– Emil

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As already mentioned by The Lobby in June (see Pirates could secure two seats in new European Parliament) the Swedish Pirate Party has secured another seat in the European Parliament following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Amelia Andersdotter, 22, is on her way to Brussels, thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps ironically, a Treaty she is personally not in favour of. But as she says herself in an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, “if it now has to enter into force, it’s good that the Pirate Party gains another seat…[as] two people can perform double the amount of work” (free translation).

She effectively becomes the European Parliament’s youngest MEP.

Well done, say we at The Lobby!

– Emil

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With only 2 months left of the Swedish EU Presidency and winter already closing in on Sweden, The Lobby thought it would be fitting to mark the coming 20th anniversary of the world’s largest ice hotel – the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel.

Many have heard about it, few have been and the place actually only exists for about five months a year. But if you happen to be in Sweden in late December to mid April, pop up to the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel, it’s just above the arctic circle. Check-in to an ice-room, have a drink in the ice-bar, watch the sky at night in the hope of enjoying the Northern Lights (It’s amazing! –ed (though better in Finland – Ed ed)), and discover what darkness actually means. What’s more, the Ice Hotel has taken the carbon footprint concept to the extreme since they plan to be CO2 negative (!) by 2015.

If that’s not cool enough, wait another year or two. Ice Hotel Travel, the travel agency that’s linked to the Ice Hotel, has teamed up with Virgin Galactic, and space tourism is set to take off from Space Port Sweden starting in 2012, courtesy of Richard Branson.

You see, there is actually more to Sweden than meatballs and IKEA.

– Emil

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The Swedish-Israeli row that broke out over an article published by Swedish daily Aftonbladet on 17 August, relating to alleged organ harvesting from dead Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, today reached new heights.

Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt made a public statement on the dispute, rejecting demands from Israel to condemn the claims made in the article.

Previously, on 20 August, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt gave a discreet and diplomatic response to Israeli calls for intervention against Aftonbladet in a statement on his blog, declaring that “this is not how our country works – and this is not how it should work either” (free translation by The Lobby). Bildt also made reference to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad carton controversy.

In a similar vein Reinfeldt today stated that “It’s important for me to say that you cannot turn to the Swedish government and ask it to violate the Swedish constitution”. The comments by Reinfeldt and Bildt are a far cry from statements made by the Swedish Ambassador to Israel, Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, who expressed anger and indignation in the wake of the publication of the article.

Others have joined in on both sides of the argument; the Editor-in-Chief of Aftonbladet Jan Helin, former Israeli Ambassdor to Sweden Zvi Masel, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to name but a few.

So what conclusions can one draw from this debate on press freedom, freedom of expression, and self-censorship (and more!)? Perhaps the fact that whether you are a blogger, journalist, government, or simply an individual expressing an opinion, we should all be aware of the fact that the public debate today, whether online or offline, often enters the political arena and can be used as a political bargaining chip!

Surely the Israeli government did not expect the Swedish government to condemn an article in the Swedish press, most notably because of Sweden’s long standing tradition of press freedom which is very securely protected by the Swedish constitution. Carl Bildt will be visiting Israel in two weeks time, let’s hope this story will not hamper constructive talks!

– Emil

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When The Lobby last cast its eyes upon Sweden, the present holder of the EU Presidency, we dispelled the myth about rampant levels of suicide in Sweden and confirmed that Swedes keenly engage in eating fermented herring (no really, it’s true). So what’s next? Exceptionally long holidays and husbands that stay at home taking care of the kids? Well, yes actually, if one is to trust recent research.

A new study by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) shows that Swedes enjoy on average 33 days of collectively agreed annual paid leave – the largest number of days in Europe – the runner-ups are Denmark and Germany with 30 days, and Italy and Luxembourg with 28 days. At the other end of the spectrum you find Cyprus and Estonia with ‘only’ 20 days per year. Furthermore, the study shows that Swedes are among those that spend the least amount of time at work each week, almost an hour below the EU average (Working Time Directive anyone?).

Sweden’s long-standing tradition of promoting gender equality is based on the idea that a more just and democratic society results from women and men sharing power and influence equally. This all sounds well and good, but is it true, and do Swedish men make good husbands?

According to research conducted by Oxford University economist Almudena Sevilla-Sanz Swedish men make for great husbands. According to Sevilla-Sanz’s research, outlined in an interview with Swedish online paper The Local, Swedish men are much more willing than many of their international counterparts to do the cooking at home or the laundry. In addition, the study shows that men in more egalitarian societies are more willing to take on what may traditionally be regarded as “women’s work”.

So is the solution to all our woes a move to Sweden? Most probably not, but the promotion of gender equality is and should remain an important pillar of the European construct and Sweden should keep leading by example, yet strive to always keep improving.

– Emil

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Long gone are the days of salary differences between Bulgarian and Italian MEPs of up to €9,000/month. When MEPs met in Strasbourg this week for the first plenary of this new European Parliament, for the first time they are all being paid the same – and being paid by the EU.

So what’s the big deal? Well, in most Member States it isn’t a big deal, except perhaps in Sweden, Germany, and the UK. High salaries for politicians are simply not compatible with Sweden’s tradition of equality and are generally frowned upon. To illustrate this, Swedish MEPs will, if they choose to enter into the new salary regime, make a whopping 36% more than a Swedish MP. For instance Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt “only” makes around €11,940/month, while Swedish MEPs will now make around €7,840/month.

In an article published by the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, Swedish MEP Marit Paulsen says “I cannot tell you I’m worth this kind of monthly salary. But at least now it’s taxed and transparent”. This attitude is echoed by Eva-Britt Svensson who says that she only uses part of her salary (the same amount as when she was employed in the Swedish public sector), approximately €2,050/month, and donates the remaining €5,800 to, among other things, women’s shelter organisations. Christian Engström of the Greens has said he will donate part of his salary towards the Pirate Party-movement.

It’s easy to put a positive spin on this, but shouldn’t taxpayers have a say when a politician chooses to systemically donate a significant part of their EU salary (taxpayers money don’t forget) to an outside organisation?  If they don’t want to receive the full amount, can’t they give it back to us?!

– Emil

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In Sweden everyone is blonde and polar bears roam the streets. No really it’s true. Sweden also has the highest suicide rate in the world, and Swedes eat rotten fish (willingly!).

There are many myths about Sweden, and in light of the Swedish EU Presidency The Lobby thought it should dispel some of them.


The idea of Swedish sin stems from Swedish films in the 50s, 60s and 70s featuring nude scenes. Sure, Swedes have a more laid back attitude to sexuality and nakedness than many other nationalities. In terms of hard facts however, Sweden is usually at  the bottom of international comparisons when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies.


Actually Sweden is in 15th place on the European suicide table. This myth originates in a speech given by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960 in which he claimed that “sin, nudity, drunkenness and suicide” in Sweden were caused by welfare policy excess. The truth is that Sweden was the first country to start keeping honest statistics about suicide.

A taciturn people

Many foreigners find Swedes lacking in humour, and some even go as far as calling Swedes boring. The fact is that Swedes tend to like low-key humour, subtle references, or sly allusions, something that is often lost in translation for non-Swedes. In addition, Swedes prefer to listen rather than speak which can sometimes be interpreted as arrogance. The truth is that Swedes find boasting and showing off to be highly contemptible human qualities.

Rotten fish

‘Surströmming’ or soured herring is a delicacy in Sweden and consists of fermented Baltic herring. The herring is caught in spring, when it is in prime condition and just about to spawn. The herring are fermented in barrels for one to two months, then tinned where the fermentation continues. Half a year to a year later it’s ready to be served up with a special bread, chives, potatoes, and the obligatory glass of ice cold aquavit. It’s not bad actually, but certainly an acquired taste.

Luscious blondes

Yes, it’s true. Brunettes and redheads too for that matter. No surprise here. (and all Swedish men look like Björn Borg in 1976!)

The Lobby will keep bringing you information about Sweden during its EU Presidency, hopefully casting some new light on this often misunderstood nation.

– Emil

(UPDATE 03/07/2009: Kick off party of the Swedish Presidency tonight at Place Flagey in Brussels:

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The Swedish Pirate Party snagged an impressive 7,1% of Swedish votes in last week’s EU elections giving them one seat in the new European Parliament. The Pirates are set to be led by the party’s Vice-Chairman Christian Engström in Brussels and party leader Rickard Falkvinge in Stockholm.

But there’s already talk of two seats in the new parliament for the Swedish Pirates. According to the Swedish Electoral Authority’s latest simulation the Pirate Party is set to gain one of Sweden’s two ‘extra’ seats awarded under the Lisbon Treaty. If this is the case 21-year old (also see ‘EU elections’ youngest candidate is a pirate‘) Amelia Andersdotter (the party’s second top candidate) will most certainly travel to Brussels as an ‘extra’ MEP armed with observer status but with no voting rights until the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

Meanwhile the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, and online journal The Local, reports that the Stockholm District Court today announced that the judge overseeing the case against the famous file-sharing website The Pirate Bay was not biased, despite being a member of a copyright protection organisation. Now it’s up to the Swedish Court of Appeal to decide whether there will be re-trial for the four men behind the website. It may be worth noting that the initial guilty verdict against the Pirate Bay helped propel Pirate Party membership to over 44,000 in Sweden…

– Emil

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Pirat Partiet

Pirate Party

Ellen Söderberg is only 18 years old and is still in high school.

She’s also a pirate…

Ellen is an MEP candidate for the Swedish Pirate Party, the second most popular party in Sweden among voters aged 18-29 years. In an interview with The Local she says she hopes “to get a more open EU Parliament, to speak about integrity, surveillance and piracy. Knowledge is a right as a human. I want knowledge and culture to be free”.

Despite being presently predicted to gain up to two seats in the European Parliament the Swedish Pirate Party still has an uphill struggle ahead of them. They might have the election’s youngest candidate on their side, as well as up to 6% of Swedish voters backing them, but the key for a party that has so much young support, is to make sure theses youngster actually cast their votes on the big day.

Perhaps Ellen’s aspirations and young age will motivate other young voters?

– Emil

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