January 16, 2018

Ardalan Shekarabi speaks to the Herald

Friday, May 12, 2017

Swedish minister proclaims faith in mixed economy on trip to BA

By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor

Visiting Argentina at a difficult stage in its transition from a government heavy on state intervention to one professing (if not always applying) free-market principles, Swedish Public Administration Minister Ardalan Shekarabi proclaims his faith in a mixed economy — Swedish experience shows that the free market and a high level of public services are compatible and there is such a thing as public-sector efficiency, he insists.

On this subject he had an especially interesting meeting with Modernisation Minister Andrés Ibarra (loosely his local counterpart), discussing such things as public employment levels, relations with the unions, public procurement (his own academic specialty) and transparency — he did not enter into further details. He also met up with Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra (due in Sweden next month) among other senior officials. Shekarabi is impressed by the strong relations between Sweden and Argentina going back to the 19th century, including trade and investment.

Ardalan Shekarabi does not sound like a typically Swedish name and nor is he of Nordic origin. He represents the face of a newly multi-ethnic Sweden without the blue eyes and blond hair of the country’s flag colours (adopted by Boca Juniors, he points out) — over 20 percent of today’s Swedish population has an immigrant background, the minister estimates.

Shekarabi was born in Manchester (England) in 1978 because his Iranian family had left their country before rather than after the 1979 revolution but within six months of his birth they were back in Tehran — he moved to Sweden at the age of 11, following an elder brother.

His interest in public life was awakened at the age of 14 by hearing a Liberal politician but it was the Social Democrat Party he joined, becoming its national youth leader in 2003 (the year of Sweden’s referendum on the euro, which he unsuccessfully supported). Party infighting forced him out a couple of years later, fuelled by accusations of “irregularities” (a charge easily made in Sweden where standards are so high), and he left politics for his legal studies. But in 2009 he was a candidate for the European Parliament and in 2014 Stefan Löfven returned the Social Democrats to power, appointing him to his current portfolio.

This life story made him a natural candidate for a question about the surge of anti-immigrant feeling in Europe (with France’s National Front reaching last Sunday’s run-off) — a feeling represented by the nationalistic Swedish Democrats in his country.

Such feelings reflect a more general insecurity about all aspects of globalisation, replied Shekarabi carefully — the challenge facing modern and progressive parties was to move ahead with change while making people feel more secure. These feelings need to be taken into consideration. Thus under the same Social Democrat government, Sweden has moved from the most generous Syrian refugee policy in the European Union in 2015 (along with Germany and Austria) to announcing last year that it would take neither more nor less refugees than its fair EU share, calling for fuller regional community co-ordination on this problem — these changes were needed in order to ensure that immigration continues to receive popular support.

Immigration into Sweden did not begin with the Syrians, the minister explained — there have been various waves over several decades, enriching Sweden’s cultural variety. In the 1950s and 1960s the immigration was mostly from other European countries, then the wave of Latin American military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s brought in many from that region (including thousands of Argentines), followed by further waves from the Middle East and then the Balkans.

Today Shekarabi is not the only immigrant in Löfven’s Cabinet — a Syrian Christian holds the Energy portfolio and an African Culture.

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