Swedish MPs look to Norway for votes

Sweden's general election campaign has spilled over into Norway as political parties pursue votes among the tens of thousands of mostly young Swedes emigrating to find work with their Nordic neighbour.

Swedish MPs look to Norway for votes
Stefan Löfven (left) and current Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on SVT televised debate to decide who will be the country's next leader. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / NTB Scanpix

One in three voters have not yet decided who to vote for, according to a poll for Sveriges Radio on Thursday. High youth unemployemnet has seen a migration of 80,000 to 100,000 young Swedes into Norway, and it is these marginal vote-holders politicians are chasing for the September 14th election.

The Swedish economy and its AAA credit rating might be envied by most European countries, but unemployment among people aged 15 to 24 has been
swinging between 20 and 25 percent over the past years — about three times higher than overall joblessness.

"In Sweden, they require experience to hire you. But how can we get experience if nobody gives us a first chance," said Angelica Bergh, one of the 80,000 to 100,000 Swedes who have moved to Norway looking for a better future.

Bergh, 25, is about to become the deputy operations head of a cafe chain in Oslo, where she started two years ago as a waitress.

"What is cool here is that you can quickly climb the ladder," she said.

Close to full employment, Norway is seeking foreign workers to meet labour shortages, and neighbouring Sweden, with its cultural and linguistic similarities, seems like a perfect fit.

Swedish waiters, nurses, dentists, engineers and au pairs have become common on the other side of the border.

Companies see them as hard-working and relatively cheap employees, in contrast with young Norwegians, who grew up under the wing of an oil-rich economy and are regarded as demanding and picky towards unqualified jobs.

"If an employer had to choose between hiring a Norwegian fresh from business school who'll ask for 500,000 kroner (some 61,000 euros, $79,000) and a Swede with 10 years of experience who'd be happy with 400,000, it wouldn't be a hard choice," said Nino Vojvodic, the founder of a recruitment agency.

Since its creation ten years ago, he claims his agency has doubled its size annually and found jobs for a total of 4,000 people, 75 percent of whom were Swedish, according to Vojvodic, a Swede himself.

"Here, it's easy to find a job, working days are shorter and salaries are 40 percent higher, on average," he said.

Soederhamn, a Swedish municipality with 12,000 inhabitants, even gave subsidies to encourage young unemployed people to cross the border.

The incentives, which attracted 150 young residents, expired at the beginning of 2014.

"All our young people had already been to Norway," said Carola Persson at the Swedish Public Employment Service.

Norway's importance has made Oslo almost a compulsory campaign stop for the Swedish political leaders ahead of the September 14 general election.

Jimmie Aakesson, leader of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, was there to argue that the reason so many Swedes have to emigrate is that foreigners are taking their jobs back home.

"When Sweden grants twice as many residence permits as it creates jobs, that's what you get," he said.

However, Malin Sahlen, an economist who has written a book on the issue, believes that the reasons for the high unemployment are different.

She argues that low-qualification jobs are rare in Sweden's economy and that high protection of employees on permanent contracts make employers resort to hiring temporary workers, which tends to create frequent gaps of unemployment when those workers change position.

"According to Eurostat, 14 percent of the jobs in Europe are low-paid, and that figure is only 3 percent in Sweden," she said.

Johan Hoegsten, 36, spent the last 16 years in Norway after falling through the cracks in his native Sweden.
"I dropped out of school, so I never managed to enter the labour market," he said.

His partner Erica Staal is a nurse who also left northern Sweden.

"Like all the rest, the hospital were I was working had to close down because of the politicians," Staal said.

"I even took a snowmobile mechanic course, but it didn't lead anywhere. I have two children to feed, so I came to Norway."

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