Even if Almedalen is the biggest political show in Sweden, it is not de rigueur for party leaders to participate. Göran Persson, for one, was never a friend of Visby.
On the other hand, it may be worth considering why the Centre Party was represented by Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren instead of the party leader, Industry Minister Maud Olofsson.
Does the choice of person send a signal?
It could. From the early 1970s onward, the Centre Party profiled itself as a green party – the anti-nuclear power policies under Torbjörn Fälldin gave the party record levels of support, but Fälldin’s successors Olof Johansson and Lennart Dahléus also tried to present themselves as modern green politicians, albeit with less success among voters.
Since taking over as party chairman in 2001, Maud Olofsson has put less emphasis on environmental policies and more on promoting the interests of small businesses. Today, the Centre Party is often seen as more “rightist” and less “green” compared with the Centre Party of the 1970s or 1990s. (Just in passing, we should note that the Swedish Green Party hasn’t been entirely negative to some of the proposals in business and industrial policy put forward by the Centre under Olofsson’s leadership).
Carlgren, on the other hand, has generally worked with “softer” policy issues during his political career: Before being appointed Environment Minister, he was the director of the now defunct Integration Agency.
And sure enough, almost all of Carlgren’s speech addresses environment policy – the issue, political opponents claim that the Centre Party has forgotten about since 2001.
The speech as such didn’t really introduce problems or solutions, that hadn’t been discussed in environmental policy before – media attention was concentrated around Carlgren’s proposal to fight algae-blooming in the Baltic Sea and more or less realistic threats to raise petrol prices to 20 SEK/litre – but if you read Carlgren’s notes carefully, there was a political message which to the best of my knowledge has not been discussed by the national media yet and I’ll concentrate my comments on this point.
Since 1980, Sweden has – at least in principle – stated the closing of all nuclear power plants at some time in the near future as a goal in energy and environmental policy. For a number of reasons, the exact time for the closing of the final reactors has never been decided and with the increasing awareness of the consequences of CO2-emissions, the energy industry aided by some politicians and media like DN have presented nuclear power as the perfect solution to all CO2 and energy problems. (Ask DN’s editorial board and nuclear power will surely also cure acne and bad breath).
There have even been signs that the Centre Party would abandon its traditional anti-nuclear power policy – which on the one hand would make cooperation with the other centre-right parties in the government easier but on the other hand make the party vulnerable to attacks from the Green Party.
Carlgren only indirectly addressed the issue in his speech, but the manner was very interesting: In his notes, he first contrasts bio-fuel production with nuclear energy and argues that bio-fuel energy resources are 50% larger than the amount produced by nuclear power (I haven’t checked the figures for energy production and Carlgren is a little fuzzy in his notes). Carlgren then goes on the argue that wind-power combined with bio-fuel based electricity in 2016 would provide an amount of energy comparable to three nuclear reactors.
It seems that the nuclear power question is not yet and open-and-shut case in Swedish energy policy – at least not as long as the Centre Party holds the Environment and Energy portfolio.
DN has an interesting analysis of Andreas Carlgren’s speech from a rhetorical point of view. It seems that Carlgren performed quite well – at least for a Scandinavian politician.
Also of interest
Ulf Bjereld’s take on Carlgren’s speech (in Swedish). You may want to note that Bjereld is a card-carrying Social Democrat ðŸ˜‰