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Gunnar Hökmark MEP: Polly Toynbee should take a closer look at Sweden

Gunnar_hokmark Gunnar Hökmark, an MEP for the Swedish Moderate Party and Vice-Chairman of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, rebuffs Polly Toynbee's recent article.

Apparently reporting from Stockholm, The Guardian's Polly Toynbee has given her British readers an interesting portrayal of Swedish politics. Her objective, to associate the Conservatives with allegedly failed policies of a centre-right government. However, Ms Toynbee provides her readers with nothing but inaccuracies and misconceptions.

She claims Swedish GPs are "free to charge for the first time", which has caused them to move out of poor areas to richer places where they can earn more. The truth is a reform has been introduced in Stockholm, where tax money now follows the patients. Patients can choose which GPs they want to see and GPs are paid by the Stockholm County Council per patient they treat. GPs have not moved from poorer areas, on the contrary services have improved and the number of visits to GPs in some of the poorest areas of Stockholm have gone up by 30 percent.

Curiously Ms Toynbee asserts that "state-owned liquor stores are about to be sold off" in Sweden. One might wish this was the case, but in fact a review commissioned by the Government has proposed the sale of a limited number of pharmacies, not liquor stores, a move long awaited by pharmaceutical staff now employed by a state monopoly. This monopoly is unique in Europe and has left Sweden with fewer pharmacies per capita than most other countries.

Polly Toynbee's main attack on Swedish centre-right politics is focused on a system with so-called free schools, by many viewed as a role model, but by her claimed to be a failure. According to Ms Toynbee the Swedish Government has given up on the "free schools" and has now directed its energy to improving ordinary state schools. This makes one wonder whether she has ever set foot in Sweden.

It is true the Swedish Government is improving ordinary state schools and education in general, due to years of Social Democratic neglect, but not even Swedish Social Democrats would describe the "free schools" as a failure. The "free school" reform, introduced by a centre-right government in the early 90's, is a success story, and this is why the Social Democrats did not dare to abolish the reform during twelve consecutive years in power. 

The "free school" reform provides parents and children in Sweden with a choice of school suitable for their specific needs. Tax money set aside for education is divided per child and can be used for any school following the national curriculum and approved by the authorities, whether it is a state school or a "free school", i.e. a private school. Out of approximately 6,000 schools in Sweden, about 900 are now "free schools". The "free schools" have become an excellent option for parents not satisfied with the education provided by state schools and their numbers are likely to rise. All research that has been done has demonstrated that where there are “free schools” the municipal schools perform better and give better education.

If Polly Toynbee bothered to take a closer look at Sweden, she would find a country where taxes have been cut and numerous reforms have been introduced since the change of government in late 2006. She would find a country where growth is stronger than in most Western European countries, where unemployment is down, and where the Government, unlike in the UK, can show a record budget surplus in its finances.


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