World News

Swedish government faces crisis over job centre privatisation

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s Left Party said on Thursday it will call a vote of no-confidence in Employment Minister Eva Nordmark in a move that could derail the deal between the ruling centre-left coalition and two centre-right parties that keeps the government in power.

Without the support of the Left Party, the government lacks a majority in parliament.

But the administration has promised its centre-right backers, whose support it also needs, to push ahead with privatisation as part of their so-called January Agreement that ended months of deadlock in forming a government after inconclusive 2018 elections.

The Moderates, Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats have said they would back the Left Party’s no-confidence motion, meaning it would pass.

“It is remarkable that the Left Party together with the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Sweden Democrats are prepared to bring down a Social Democratic minister that only took office three months ago,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a written comment to Reuters.

“The next step for me is that the parties that stand behind the January Agreement now discuss how we move forward in the current situation.”

Fellow Social Democrat Annelie Karlsson, leader of the party’s parliamentary group, told daily Expressen that it was possible the government could resign, but that it was too early to say if this would be the case.

“The alternatives are that we carry on and nominate a new employment minister or say that it is not possible to govern with the structure we have today,” Karlsson said.

A date for the no-confidence vote has yet to be set.

The Left Party wants to stop the government’s plan to privatise part of the Public Employment Service, which matches employers with people seeking work and organises training schemes for the unemployed.

The minority government has cut funding for the Employment Service and closed offices around the country to keep the centre-right sweet after agreeing a wide-ranging policy programme with the Liberal and Centre parties in January.

The Left Party says this has made it harder for the unemployed to find jobs and saddled local authorities with increased costs.

“The government is responsible for the chaos in the Employment Service,” Left Party leader Jonas Sjostedt told Swedish news agency TT.

Despite the no-confidence motion, the Left Party is unlikely to want to bring down the government. To do so it has to cooperate with the centre-right and the Sweden Democrats, a nationalist, anti-immigration party.

However, it is not clear how the Left Party can back down.

Opinion polls show the Sweden Democrats neck-and-neck with the Social Democrats as Sweden’s biggest party, raising the possibility they could get a role in government for the first time ever if there were a fresh election now.

Analysts have long warned the minority coalition was on shaky ground, relying on support from both the centre-right Liberals and Centre Party and the Left Party, whose policies are diametrically opposed in many areas.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; additional reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Angus MacSwan