Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson visited New Zealand last week, meeting with Helen Clark and delivering a lecture at Vic on Swedish economic and social policy.
In a joint press conference last Monday, Persson and Clark noted the similarities between Sweden and New Zealand in terms of values, policies and “outlook on international affairs”. Clark described Sweden and New Zealand as the “most like-minded countries on Earth”.
Persson is the leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party (SAP) of Sweden, which has been in power for all but 9 years since the 1930s. The SAP is politically very similar to the NZ Labour Party, who want to replicate the SAP’s electoral dominance in this country.
Clark also announced changes to the Working Holiday Scheme with Sweden that will allow an unlimited number of young Swedes to take working holidays in New Zealand.
The pair discussed reforms of the United Nations, developments in Ukraine, tsunami relief and the Kyoto Protocol.
Although the Kyoto Protocol only officially came into effect last week, Persson said that “there is [the] need for like-minded countries to start to press for a new negotiation round for what will follow after the Kyoto protocol”. The Kyoto Protocol will finish in 2012.
Persson emphasised the need to bring Australia and the US into any future agreements. The US account for 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. “I am convinced that they will be on board, because everyone would realise we have to tackle this problem. No one can hide.”
Women in the Workforce
Persson talked about initiatives to bring women into the workforce in Sweden. Though it was important to promote equality, Persson also noted that it was economically important.
“The new jobs are all emerging in sectors where we will need the best educated workforce. We can’t afford losing half of the population, to lock out the women from education, from professional careers. They have the right to attend, and we need every one of them.”
In Sweden, childcare is mainly financed by the public sector, with a fee of 1% of income per child. “We look upon it as an early part of the school system.”
Persson was also asked about tertiary education by Vic student Greg Stephens. Sweden has no tuition fees for tertiary education and students are entitled to approximately NZD$345 per week, of which 3/4 is in the form of a loan.
The Swedish government has a goal of 50% university participation rate. “We must be able to reach everyone… who are capable to do so,” said Persson, “and the capacity doesn’t always link to the parents’ income. To lose those who cannot afford the tuition fee [for] education is very short-sighted.”
“The older generation who fulfilled their exams, have a good job, they pay for their debts. The young generation, they have generous loans with little interest rates, and that system is financed by the older generation’s payment. [It’s] a revolving system. On top of that, we also add a contribution that you don’t need to pay back.”
“You inherit your parents’ social behaviour, no doubt, and very few of us are strong enough, on our own, to break with the old pattern. And it’s obvious we still have a problem where we don’t see many enough from ordinary working-class homes going to the universities. Even so we can see now that it is going in the right direction quite quickly, not least the immigrants, who belong to [the group] who are most vulnerable on the labour market. Their daughters and sons are coming to the universities. That might be the crucial advantage for Sweden in the coming years.”