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Elisabeth Svantesson is Sweden’s new Minister for Employment
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Elisabeth Svantesson is Sweden’s new Minister for Employment

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: Martina Huber

On 17 September Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt appointed Elisabeth Svantesson as his new Minister for Employment. She replaces Hillevi Engström who became Minister for International Development Cooperation. The reshuffle was announced during the Prime Minister’s government declaration.

The Ministry of Employment is important to the government coalition, and the choice of Elisabeth Svantesson created instant debate. Because the position represents one of the main issues for the Moderate Party and the centre-right coalition, being Minister for Employment is considered a heavyweight political position. During Hillevi Engström’s tenure, Sweden’s Public Employment Service was in big trouble and its Director General was forced to step down. This was seen by many as one of the reasons Hillevi Engström was moved to a different ministry. 

“Elisabeth Svantesson possesses the combination which is useful here. She has her own experience from working life, a solid, relevant academic background – not least dealing with how to get immigrants into Swedish working life – and she enjoys a very sold political background,” said Fredrik Reinfeldt about his choice of Minister for Employment during the press conference at his office after the reshuffle. 

Elisabeth Svantesson, born in 1967, is a member of parliament for the Moderate Party and has been been leader for the parliament’s labour market committee. But the debate around her being chosen did not stem from her lack of government minister experience or her views on labour market politics. It was because of her religious beliefs. Elisabeth Svantesson is a former member of the controversial movement ‘Livets ord’ (Word of Life) and the anti-abortion movement ‘Yes to Life’, and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt stressed that her previous religious choices had nothing to do with her new job. Yet the much of the debate which followed would centre on this.

Elisabeth Svantesson herself pointed to the right politicians have to belong to different religions or to have no religion at all. She said she was looking forward to her new position.

“This is a job I think will be fun and very though, and I am prepared and want to win next year’s election,” said Elisabeth Svantesson during the post-reshuffle press conference.

In a comment in the daily Svenska Dagbladet a few weeks later, headlined ‘There will be more jobs which will benefit more people’ she outlined her vision for employment policies. 

”Sweden should be a country where everyone who can work should have a job to go to. This is my employment policy. To get there we need to continue to protect and develop arbetslinjen [‘the employment line' - a policy central to the coalition, meaning the need for able people to actively seek work or education before they apply for state benefits] towards a labour market which is both including and flexible.

“I will work to create wider roads into the labour market,” she writes.

She wants to protect existing reforms, but she has also identified important future challenges. One of them is to continue reviewing the situation for young people and immigrants who find it harder than others to enter into the labour market. Another important challenge according to Elisabeth Svantesson is to improve retraining and matching.

Five areas have been made priorities and this is where thresholds will be lowered and where wider roads leading to jobs will be created. Firstly young people should receive support at an early stage and help to finish their education. Young people are most at risk if they become unemployed for longer periods of time, and must therefore be prioritised and get extra support early on – for instance through work experience and training or matching and contacts with employers.  

Elisabeth Svantesson also wants to improve the links between education and jobs, she wants improved matching and to improve people’s chances to retrain. The aim for all these focus areas is a growing labour market offering more jobs. People’s skills must be looked after and this will be done by creating more jobs. 

”As Minister for Employment it is my most important task to work towards creating a labour market with space for everyone,” concludes Elisabeth Svantesson in her comment.

The Public Employment Service is a central player in many of the prioritised areas, but the authority has experience real problems which resulted in Director General Angeles Bermudez Svankvist stepping down in August this year. During the press conference at the Prime Minister’s office, Elisabeth Svantesson was asked what she would do to sort out the problems at the Public Employment Service.

 “This is my first day at work, but I want to look closer at this and make sure we simply find a solution,” she answered.

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