Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt at a European Union leaders' summit at the EU council headquarters in Brussels last month. Photo: Reuters/Laurent Dubrule
When you think of Sweden do you flash on blonde supermodels, Ikea, or the blood-spattered thrillers of Stieg Larsson?
What you probably won’t think of are happy taxpayers. But unlike America’s Republicans, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives or Ford Nation, Swedish politicians who want to be on the right side of electoral history are trending toward tax hikes.
According to Bloomberg news, in the upcoming September election voters are preparing to punish the current centre right coalition of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt for his eight-year tax cutting agenda aimed at letting Swedes take home more of their pay.
Say what? Unlike the North American tax trouncers, who have battled for decades to put taxes in the same category as terrorism, Swedes would rather pay now for benefits later. A December poll showed that nearly six in 10 Swedes “opposed further income tax cuts.” They seem ready to press the delete button on the neo-liberal trend that has left millions in the West scrambling for survival.
Their Scandinavian brand of social democracy has made Sweden the best place in the world to grow old, and is rated best for government and global information technology. It’s second on the Democracy Index and close to the top of the international income equality scale. Children from 1-5 are guaranteed a place in a public kindergarten, university fees are state subsidized – and for school kids, there is free lunch.
Not surprising, then, that Swedes have looked southwards anxiously as other European countries were eviscerated by austerity after they were overwhelmed with debt. Spiking unemployment followed, along with a shredded social safety net, resulting in public unrest and anger at political systems that had palpably failed to contain corporate and personal recklessness.
Swedes are also worried by a recent slide in education standards and escalation of the jobless rate to 8 per cent.
The most popular solution so far is to chop the tax cutters who would undermine social programs and the all-important social contract. Some polls put the opposition more than 10 points ahead of Reinfeldt’s coalition. The voters are looking at the cost of his cuts – shrunken unemployment and sickness benefits – and saying “read our lips.”
Olivia Ward has covered Europe, the former Soviet Union, Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.