28th Nov 2020


Coronavirus: the Swedish model was worth emulating

  • Until very recently, the media of Britain, France, Germany, and neighbouring Denmark and Norway, have all been highly vocal in dismissing Stockholm's strategy (Photo: Jernej Furman)

Fuelled by its long and uninterrupted history of statehood as well as its unique geographical location, Sweden has been steadfast in its intent to preserve a healthy dose of its sovereignty and decision-making autonomy from the very moment it joined the EU.

In other words, it has always sought to preserve its ability to chart its own path and avoid total dependency on a supranational body by delicately balancing its regular contributions to various EU-led initiatives with occasional divergencies.

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Today, one can see a clear manifestation of this duality in Stockholm's response to Covid-19; an unorthodox set of policies which has received a faire share of analysis and criticism but not praise.

Until very recently, British, French, and German media have all been highly vocal in dismissing Stockholm's strategy as have been the media, and indeed the governments, in the neighbouring countries of Denmark and Norway.

In fact, the latter states managed to surprise outside observers and irritate a good majority of the Swedish public and officials by imposing an entry ban on Swedes due to Stockholm's allegedly misguided containment strategy.

Amongst the former, one could not help but to notice an exceptionally cynical reporting on Sweden in the British media. BBC's coverage in particular mounted to nothing but a pile of highly unbalanced and one-sided accounts with almost all its reports ending with a warning and/or pessimistic tune; that things were going to get much worse and that Swedish authorities would regret going their own way.

Recent events and developments point to the opposite direction, however.

Not only Swedish officials are not regretting their decisions but they can in fact seek credit for the articulation of one the most effective response plans across Europe and beyond.

Today, it is neither the Swedish public that is staging anti-lockdown protests nor is it the Swedish government that is threatening its population with draconian fines as high as £10,000 [€10,900].

To the contrary, confidence in the government's handling of the situation as well as the public spirit and sense of national pride are enviously high.

Numbers of confirmed cases and patients in intensive care as well as death rates are all on a welcomed downward trajectory, and that the government has managed to achieve its priorities: ensuring the psychological welfare of the public and avoiding the collapse of the public healthcare system.

The Swedish economy, meanwhile, is faring finer compared to many other European states.

Small and medium size businesses have been able to absorb the financial shocks considerably better than their counterparts in other parts of Europe while both consumer confidence and consumer spending are amongst the highest in the continent.

Socio-economic life too

Given the above, it is only fair to suggest that the Swedish model has prevailed not just because infection rates are lowering but also because the government has managed to get a handle on the situation without interrupting the socio-economic life of its citizens.

In particular, and as a testimony to the country's advanced and resilient digital infrastructure, the smooth transformation from physical workspace to digital and remote work has been, put simply, phenomenal.

Looking ahead, one could take a safe bet on the emergence of a renewed and concerted push in marketing of the the Swedish model of cyber and ICT resiliency by relevant state organs such as Business Sweden.

The key reason behind Sweden's apparent success in containing the virus, however, is that its strategy has been both expert-led and rooted in the country's own specific and unique circumstances, resources, and priorities.

Equally important, it has been implemented with commitment, vigour, and patience.

These characteristics constitute the bones of the Swedish model and thus it is them, not its tactics, that are worth emulation by others.

Put differently, Sweden's contribution to the handling of similar crisis in the future will be less about what decisions it made and/or what tactics it adopted and more about how it made its decisions and executed its tactics.

And herein lies a bitter reality pill for pan-Europeanists to swallow: any centrally planned, let alone imposed, crisis management framework is bound to failure, and hence member-states governments must be allowed to retain a relatively high degree of decision-making autonomy for the sake of efficiency and EU's own future as a viable political block.

Author bio

Nima Khorrami is a research associate at the Arctic Institute based in Stockholm.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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