Category Archives: Sweden

Despite budget deal, Sweden must address immigration woes


There are two ways of looking at Sweden’s approach to immigration policy.Sweden

Under one view, the country’s generous asylum policy, with respect to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s as much as Syria today, isn’t just a human rights cause. It’s also an opportunity to buttress Sweden’s much-vaunted welfare system as birth rates decline and its population becomes older. The creation of a well-integrated, highly-skilled, prosperous and genuinely happy class of ‘New Swedes’ could one day provide a template for 21st century liberal  European (and Scandinavian) values.

Under another view, the country’s increasing immigrant population is becoming ever more isolated from mainstream social and economic networks. That, in turn, has created a quasi-permanent tier of second-class immigrants without the tools or the social capital to rise to prosperity within Swedish society, and that’s weakening a welfare system already under demographic strain. At worst, it is engendering resentment among Sweden’s new immigrants and potentially, a turn to radical Islam, thereby threatening Sweden’s liberal values. Even for Syrian professionals who now live in Sweden, securing housing, employment and a sense of normalcy often prove elusive.

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RELATED: Löfven not to blame for probable early Swedish elections

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Having secured a budget deal for 2015 (and, theoretically, through 2022) between his center-left government and the center-right opposition, the four-party Alliance, Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven will narrowly avoid a snap election in March that could have strengthened the third force of Swedish politics, the anti-immigration Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), which won 12.9% of the vote in last September’s general election and 49 seats in the Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament.


Before Löfven struck the budget deal, polls showed that the Sweden Democrats could win as much as 17.5% in fresh elections, and that’s even while its charismatic, young leader Jimmie Åkesson was still officially on leave, due to exhaustion following the September vote.

Under the terms of the deal, the so-called ‘December Agreement,’ Löfven agreed to adopt the center-right’s proposed budget for 2015, though the Alliance agreed not to reject his government’s budgets in future years. The two blocs will also cooperate on a range of issues from defense and security policy to energy policy. It pushes Sweden one step closer toward a ‘grand coalition’ government, leaving both the Sweden Democrats and the the far-left Vänsterpartiet (Left Party) in opposition to the agreement. Continue reading Despite budget deal, Sweden must address immigration woes

Löfven not to blame for (probable) early Swedish elections


If you lose a budget vote three years into your mandate, the problem’s probably with you.Sweden

If you lose a budget vote on the two-month anniversary of taking office, and less than three months after winning a general election, the problem’s probably not.

So it goes in Sweden, where voters will head to the polls on March 22 after the government lost a tough budget vote.

It wasn’t entirely unpredictable that prime minister Stefan Löfven (pictured above with Hillary Clinton) would fail to pass his first budget because of the odd dynamics of Swedish politics after September’s general election, which broke the Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament, into three blocs: Continue reading Löfven not to blame for (probable) early Swedish elections

Three things you should know about Sweden’s new health minister

wikstromPhoto credit to Philip Mauritzson.

Stand aside, Sebastian Kurz.Sweden

The competition for top heartthrob among Europe’s national government ministers just got a lot tougher with the October 3 appointment of Gabriel Wikström, the 29-year-old minister for public health, health care and sports in Sweden’s new center-left government, whose dimpled smile, steely blue eyes and blond hair are sending Turks (and others) swooning on Twitter, and the young Social Democrat is quickly becoming a sensation far beyond Sweden’s borders:

The good-looking Wikström has become something of a sensation among Turkish teens since he was named as a minister in the new Swedish government headed by Prime Minister Stefan Loefven.


So who is Wikström? Why has he been appointed a minister? And beyond his smile and boyish good looks, what are the policy issues that he’ll face as a minister?

wikstrom 3

Here are three points that tell you everything you need to know about Sweden’s newest export. Continue reading Three things you should know about Sweden’s new health minister

Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government


Stefan Löfven should have savored Sunday night — as Sweden’s election results came in, his center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) emerged as the top vote-winner by an 8% margin, and Löfven is the overwhelming favorite to become Sweden’s next prime minister.Sweden

Monday morning was a different story.

Despite winning the election, the Social Democrats won just 31.2% of the vote, a relatively low total for the party that dominated Swedish government throughout much of the 20th century. In the last two elections, in 2006 and 2010, when outgoing prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt routed the Social Democrats, the party still won 35.0% and 30.7%, respectively.

The last time they won an election, under Göran Persson in 2002, the Social Democrats won 39.9% of the vote. The results from September 14, however, leave Löfven (pictured above) with just 113 seats in the 349-member Riksdag, Sweden’s unicameral parliament.

sweden 2014If the big loser of the election was Reinfeldt’s center-right Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party), which lost 23 seats, the big winner was the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), which gained 29 seats on a platform of limiting Sweden’s generous asylum policy that in 2014 is expected to welcome more than 100,000 refugees to the country, many from war-torn Syria and Iraq. It’s a point of pride for Reinfeldt, presumably, that he spent much of the campaign extolling the compassionate values of his government, even if those costs limited his ability to promise greater welfare spending.

The rest of Sweden’s parties all made relatively small gains or losses — no other party gained or lost more than five seats in total.

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RELATED: Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver
3rd term to Reinfeldt

: One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Those dynamics, however, leave Löfven in an unenviable position. Though the Sweden Democrats have clearly made the greatest gains in this election, neither the Reinfeldt-led center-right nor the Löfven center-left are willing to bring the anti-immigrant party into government, despite the efforts of its boyish leader, Jimmie Åkesson, to moderate the party’s harder nationalist (and sometimes neo-nazi and xenophobic) edges. One marvels to wonder his well his party might have done had it not been dogged by scandals that forced eight candidates out of the race after news outlets revealed their racist online commentary.

A hung parliament — and no majority for Sweden’s left

But that’s left the Riksdag without a clear majority. After the 2010 elections, the Moderates and their three allies, which together constitute the Alliansen, formed a minority government with 172 seats. Unofficially, the Swedish Democrats often delivered enough votes for Reinfeldt to fill the three-vote gap that his government needed. Löfven cannot count on the unofficial support of Åkesson’s right-wingers. Moreover, after the stunning results for the Sweden Democrats, there are now 49 seats, not 20, that are politically untouchable.

Löfven’s most natural allies, the Miljöpartiet (Green Party), actually lost a seat, falling to 21 seats. Together, with 134 seats, that leaves the Red-Green coalition 41 seats short of a majority.


Continue reading Swedish election results: Löfven’s dream liberal-left government

Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver 3rd term to Reinfeldt


When Swedes finish voting on Sunday in general election, they might find that, to their astonishment, the only party with the seats to deliver a majority coalition is the one that both the right and left have treated as politically radioactive for years.Sweden

In the final days of the campaign, the race has tightened between the four-party center-right alliance headed by two-term prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt (pictured above) and the loose confederation of social democrats, greens and socialists that would rally behind Stefan Löfven, the former labor union leader who now heads Sweden’s center-left Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party), which essentially created the Swedish social welfare state in the 20th century.

If the results are close, it could leave the balance of power in the hands of the far-right, anti-immigrant Sverigedemokraterna (SD, Sweden Democrats), even though the party entered the final week of the campaign crippled after news reports revealed racist online commentary of several of the party’s candidates.

Though Löfven’s Social Democrats (and the left, generally) have held a polling lead for much of the the past year, a September 1-4 Sifo poll from showed the left’s generic lead falling to less than 4.9%. A more recent September 8-9 Sifo survey showed the left recovering a greater margin of 7.8%. But up to one-third of the Swedish electorate may still be undecided going into the election on Sunday, making predictions difficult.

Despite Löfven’s lead, many voters approve of Reinfeldt’s performance over the past eight years, most especially as his record relates to the Swedish economy. Sweden has emerged from both the 2008-09 global financial crisis and the 2010-12 eurozone crisis with stronger economic growth than much of the rest of the European Union. While unemployment is still probably too high at around 8%, the rate is slowly declining. But Swedes don’t dislike Reinfeldt. It’s that that Swedes are ready for a change, and Löfven’s moderate social democratic approach would bring more continuity than rupture.

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RELATED: One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

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Though the two Sifo polls this month showed support for the Sweden Democrats dropping from 10.4% to 8.9%, even a ‘poor’ showing would eclipse their previous high point in the 2010 election, when they won 5.7% of the vote. The 2010 breakthrough was a watershed moment for Sweden’s far right — much to the dismay of the rest of the political spectrum. Suddenly, a far-right party that had never held any seats in the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, now held 20.

So even if the Sweden Democrats under-perform in the 2014 election (they won around 9.7% in the May European elections), they could still hold a large enough bloc of seats to deny either the Reinfeldt-led right or the Löfven-led left a majority.

Though the current center-right government has only a minority in the Riksdag, it has often unofficially leaned on the Sweden Democrats for support, though it’s also turned to the Miljöpartiet (Green Party) as necessary on issues like refugees and asylum.

Continue reading Swedish far-right could inadvertently deliver 3rd term to Reinfeldt

The 13 key EU players in the proposed Juncker Commission


On Wednesday, the incoming president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured above), released full details on the proposed commissioners within his Commission, which will serve as the chief executive and administrative body of the European Union between 2014 and 2019.European_Union

The most important feature of the proposed Juncker Commission is that he’s introduced the greatest amount of hierarchy in an institution that used to be flat. It’s not a secret that some portfolios have always been more desirable than others, especially as the Commission has expanded to include all 28 member-states. But Juncker has introduced a first vice president and five vice presidents, who will also serve alongside Italy’s foreign minister Federica Mogherini, who was appointed two weeks ago to serve as Commission vice president and high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

The delegation of so much power to five ‘super-commissioners’ with roving, supervisory briefs indicates that Juncker intends to be a much less hands-on Commission president that his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso. But it also reflects a Commission that, including Luxembourg’s Juncker, contains five former prime ministers (Finland, Slovenia, Latvia and Estonia).  It also contains four incumbents (Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria and Austria) who have served throughout the full second term of the Barroso Commission. That makes the Juncker Commission possibly the most distinguished in EU history.

Each commissioner must be approved by the European parliament and, while individual nominees have had troubles in the past, the parliament typically approves the vast majority of a Commission president’s appointments, all of whom were nominated by their respective national governments.

With nine women, it’s not as unbalanced as feared even a week or two ago, and with 14 members of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), eight members of the center-left Party of European Socialists (PES) and five members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), it generally reflects the results of the May 25 European parliamentary elections, though some social democrats and socialists are grumbling that the left doesn’t have enough representation.

So what can we expect from this illustrious college of commissioners?

Here’s a look at the 13 most important players in the proposed Commission (aside from Juncker and Mogherini, of course). Continue reading The 13 key EU players in the proposed Juncker Commission

One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden


Voters go to the polls in Scandinavia’s largest country on September 14, and if he can hold onto the lead that his party has enjoyed for over a year, former labor leader Stefan Löfven (pictured above) will become Sweden’s next prime minister. Sweden

That’s slightly surprising because most Swedes don’t necessarily give center-right prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt poor marks. In two terms, Reinfeldt has earned praise, domestically and abroad, for his government’s economic stewardship, bringing Sweden out of the 2008-09 financial crisis with some of the strongest growth in the European Union. In that time, Reinfeldt has reduced the size of Sweden’s public sector, while nevertheless retaining the character of his country’s renowned social welfare state.

Reinfeldt’s governments amassed an impressive series of legislative accomplishments over the past eight years. Under his watch, Sweden privatized several public interests, including the maker of Absolut vodka, and otherwise deregulated the pharmaceutical, telecommunications and energy industries. Reinfeldt introduced the  earned income tax credit to reduce taxes on the poorest Swedes while instituting a series of tax cuts, including the abolition of the wealth tax in 2007 and a reduction in the VAT rate on restaurants from 25% to 12%. His government also passed a law to permit same-sex marriage in 2009 with wide support from the opposition.


In his government’s second term, Reinfeldt avoided the recession that otherwise afflicted much of the rest of the eurozone. Though Reinfeldt and his finance minister, Anders Borg (pictured above, right, with Reinfeldt, left), have resorted to deficit spending to boost Sweden’s economy, their budget deficits haven’t fallen much below 1% of GDP. That’s a much better fiscal record than the average eurozone member, and it’s kept Swedish public debt at the relatively low level of around 40% of Swedish GDP.

It’s arguable that by reforming, privatizing or abolishing the least efficient areas of the Swedish public sector, Reinfeldt’s governments updated for the 21st century the existing welfare state that the long-dominant Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Party) built in the 20th century. Continue reading One month out, Löfven and Social Democrats lead in Sweden

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

 Across Europe on Monday, officials, voters and everyone else were trying to sort through the consequences of yesterday’s voting, across all 28 member-states, to elect the 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

Late Sunday, I began analyzing the results on a state-by-state basis — you can read my take here on what the European election results mean in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

This post picks up where that left off, however, with a look at some of the results in Europe’s mid-sized member-states.

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RELATED: A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

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With the count now almost complete, here’s where the Europe-wide parties stand:


The European People’s Party (EPP), which has been the largest group in the European Parliament since 1999, will continue to be the largest group, but with fewer seats (215) than after any election since 1994.

The second-largest group, the Party of European Socialists (PES) has 188 seats, a slight gain, but not the breakout performance for which it was hoping.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe (ALDE) will remain the third-largest group, notwithstanding the collapse of two of its constituent parties, the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom and the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP, Free Democratic Party) in Germany.

The European Greens have won 53 seats, just two less than before the elections. The Party of the European Left, which had hoped to make strong gains on the strength of its anti-austerity message, gained nine seats to 44.

The Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a slightly eurosceptic group of conservative parties, including the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, holds steady at 46 seats — that’s a slight loss of around eight seats. The Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy (MELD) gained six.

The real increase was among the ‘non-inscrits,’ the unaffiliated MEPs, which will rise from around 30 to 104. The bulk of those MEPs include the newly elected eurosceptics that have made such a big splash in the past 24 hours, including Marine Le Pen’s Front national (FN, National Front) in France.

But, in addition to being a pan-European contest with wide-ranging themes that resonate throughout the European Union, the elections are also 28 national contests, and they’ve already claimed resignations of two center-left leaders — Eamon Gilmore, of Ireland’s Labour Party, and Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).

Here’s a look at how the European elections are affecting nine more mid-sized counties across the European Union: Poland, Romania, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Hungary and Sweden.

Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 2)

14 in 2014: Fourteen *more* elections to watch in 2014


As if that weren’t enough!

If you’ve managed to stick with Suffragio through 14 world elections to watch in 2014, here are 14 more honorable mentions that you should probably also keep an eye on:

Thailand general election, February 2.thailand

Popular Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra called snap elections for February after the latest round of protests over a proposed (and ultimately tabled) amnesty bill.  The fights threaten to reopen a decade of polarization and political violence between the ‘red shirts’ that support Yingluck and her self-exiled brother Thaksin Shinawatra and the ‘yellow shirts’ who oppose them.  Popular support in Thailand’s north among rural voters meant that Yingluck and the Pheu Thai Party (PTP, ‘For Thais’ Party, พรรคเพื่อไทย) were headed for near-certain victory.  The decision by the opposition Phak Prachathipat (Democrat Party, พรรคประชาธิปัตย์) to boycott the election is a barely disguised plea for military intervention for an unelected ‘governing council’ instead.

El Salvador presidential election, February 2 (with March 9 runoff).el salvador

El Salvador, with 6.3 million residents, may be small, but it’s the third-most populous country in Central America.  As in neighboring Honduras, which went to the polls in November 2013, a preponderance of drug violence and a corresponding collapse in public safety is at the heart of the Salvadoran presidential campaign.  None of the three major candidates is expected to win an outright majority on February 2, but the learning candidate is vice president Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the governing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), a one-time guerrilla movement-that transformed itself into the country’s top center-left political party following the 1980s civil war.  Sánchez Cerén is hoping to succeed former journalist Mauricio Funes, who has served as president since 2009 and is limited to a single five-year term.

Though Sánchez Cerén leads polls with between 29% and 31%, two candidates are competing fiercely for second place with between 25% and 28% each — longtime San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano of the center-right Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA, Nationalist Republican Alliance), which governed El Salvador between 1989 and 2009, and former president Antonio ‘Tony’ Saca, who left ARENA to run for a second, non-consecutive term for an alliance anchored by Saca’s new populist, right-wing party, the Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA, Grand Alliance for National Unity).  The bottom line is that Sánchez Cerén will face a tough fight against the ultimate center-right candidate that emerges in the second round.

Costa Rica general election, February 2 (with April 16 presidential runoff).costa_rica_flag

Costa Rica is perhaps the most developed country in Central America. It is likely to open accession talks to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2015, making it the first Central American member of the OECD.  Its GDP per capita is nearly $10,000, which makes it virtually equivalent to Panamá’s, and Costa Rica doesn’t have the massive canal revenues that Panamá enjoys.  That is one of the reasons why the center-left Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN, National Liberation Party) seemed so likely to coast to a third consecutive term to the Costa Rican presidency, despite the massive unpopularity and corruption allegations against outgoing president Laura Chinchilla.  The longtime mayor of San José, Costa Rica’s capital, Johnny Araya, held a wide lead in polls throughout much of 2013.  But that’s changed as Araya’s missteps on the campaign trail have led to the impression that he’s aloof and out of touch.  José María Villalta, the sole lawmaker for the social democratic Frente Amplio (Broad Front) is now virtually tied with Araya in polls. Continue reading 14 in 2014: Fourteen *more* elections to watch in 2014

Can Sweden save the European Union from the NSA spooks?

facebook goes arctic

Even as the media continues to debate leaks revealing the secret surveillance program of the U.S. National Security Agency, code-named ‘PRISM,’ one of the chief private-sector actors in the PRISM scandal opened its first non-U.S. site on Wednesday, giving one European nation a key jurisdictional hook to regulate future data privacy.USflagEuropean_UnionSweden

According to news reports from The Guardian, Facebook, has been cooperating voluntarily with the NSA’s PRISM program since summer 2009, thereby exposing the private data of both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens alike to the purview of the NSA under the authority of the U.S. PATRIOT Act passed in the aftermath of the 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

But Facebook also opened a new facility to host its servers in far northern Sweden on Wednesday (in part to use the chilly Arctic weather to more efficiently cool its European servers).  Despite the awkward timing, it is Facebook’s first server hall outside of the United States, and its opening comes when European Union leaders are pushing for answers on the extent to which NSA has been permitted access to private, personal data by Facebook, Google, YouTube, Apple, AOL and other service providers and while the European Parliament is considering a new data protection directive that would enhance protection of the personal data of EU citizens.  Assuming that the European Union cannot stop U.S. government agencies, it means that European regulators could target U.S. technology companies in greater measure — after all, the EU already places restrictions on Google’s StreetView program and has already banned the European use of Facebook’s face recognition software.

So does that give Sweden a unique opportunity to ensure that the private data of EU citizens is not caught up in the NSA snare?

After all, Sweden is virtually synonymous with good government, right?

According to Transparency International, it’s among the least corrupt countries is the world.  In the middle of the 18th century, Sweden essentially invented the concept of freedom of information with the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766, and its leaders over the past two decades championed a EU-wide freedom of information regime.

But a reputation for transparency doesn’t necessarily connote a reputation for protecting privacy.  Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was so worried that Swedish authorities would extradite him to the United States that he chose to hunker down in Ecuador’s London embassy instead of allowing British authorities to transfer him to Sweden for a trial on a sexual harassment charge.  Swedes have also raised concerns with EU policymakers that the push for more robust data protection could actually harm government transparency by limiting the Swedish government’s ability to provide open access to documents.

Moreover, the current center-right coalition headed by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderata samlingspartiet (Moderate Party) has introduced greater levels of Swedish surveillance.  In 2009, it narrowly passed legislation that would allow the government’s Försvarets radioanstalt (the National Defence Radio Establishment) to wiretap and access all international telephone and internet traffic, even if all  ultimate parties in the traffic are Swedish.  Though the legislation, know as the ‘FRA law’ passed only narrowly by Sweden’s parliament, the law had its genesis in the prior center-left government of the Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti (Swedish Social Democratic Workers Party).  It essentially codified into Swedish national law much of what PRISM has been purported to do within the United States.

The law caused some amount of concern, especially in neighboring Finland because all of its Internet and phone traffic at the time routed through Sweden.

Sweden’s foreign minister Karl Bildt earlier this week protested that Swedish activities under the FRA law are not similar to what’s been reported PRISM, in part on the basis that the FRA law was debated publicly and enacted by a duly elected parliament.  In that regard, Bildt’s right — it was clear just what was at stake when the Swedish parliament adopted the FRA law; in contrast, Facebook wasn’t even developed until three years after the U.S. PATRIOT Act.  In addition, Bildt expressed a healthy hint of suspicion about other ‘certain states,’ presumably including the United States:


Continue reading Can Sweden save the European Union from the NSA spooks?

Photo of the day: Meeting Swedish royalty in Delaware


WILMINGTON, Del. — A quick shot of the king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, and the queen of Sweden, Silvia, who ‘landed’ in Wilmington via a recreation of the Kalmar Nyckel on Saturday to commemorate the 375th anniversary of the formation of New Sweden, the colony that from 1638 to 1655 was the Swedish entry into the New World colonial sweepstakes.USflagSweden

Swedes gave the United States, among other things, the log cabin.

The quite interesting backstory here is that of Peter Minuit, the Dutchman who once purchased the island of Manhattan from native Americans for goods worth around 60 Dutch guilders.  But Minuit, who remained the director of New Netherland from 1626 to 1633 was eventually expelled from the Dutch West India Company.  In response, he took up shop with the Swedes and helped them found their only colony which, despite his best efforts, ultimately came under the control of New Netherland.  After Minuit helped build Fort Christina (named after the Swedish queen of the time) in New Sweden, he set off for Stockholm for more colonists, stopping along the way in the Caribbean for a tobacco transaction, but got caught in a hurricane near the island of St. Christopher and died.

Though the Swedish foothold in colonial America wasn’t incredibly large, Carl Gustaf has made several trips to Delaware during his reign, which began in 1973.  Sweden’s monarch is even less powerful than the British monarch — Carl Gustaf doesn’t even appoint Sweden’s prime minister, not even as a matter of formality, nor does he have the kind of coalition-building role that the Dutch monarch had until only very recently.

In 1980, the Swedish monarchy became the first in European history to establish absolute primogeniture, meaning that the first-born child of the king, whether male or female, will become first in line to the throne, in the present case, crown princess Victoria.

The next Swedish election is set to be held only in September 2014.

Photo credit to Kevin Lees — Wilimington, Delaware, May 2012.