Concerning the referendum in Hungary

In a referendum recently a majority of Hungarians voted against the EU decision on quota resettlement of migrants. The low participation in the referendum, though, makes the result less credible. And even if a majority of all Hungarians would have voted no, it is doubtful what difference the result would have made for the relations between Hungary and the rest of the EU. As the Swedish Minister for Justice and Migration, Morgan Johansson, put it: “If you are a member of an organisation you have to stick to the statutes of that organisation”.

But the referendum in Hungary nevertheless highlights how big a mountain we in Europe have to climb before we can say that we handle migration in a responsible and constructive manner.

In my view the debate on migration has for too long been dominated by the people who, by ideological reasons, don’t want immigrants crossing their countries borders all together. The rest of us have more or less been on the defence. Partly of tactical reasons; adopting a language similar to that of right wing extremist parties has been seen as a strategy to attract the voters of these parties.

I believe this strategy is wrong. Instead I think the right wing rhetoric should be confronted with the opposite to closed borders and separation of people. Acknowledging that there is costs and challenges associated with immigration, we nevertheless should stress the long term economic upsides for a society of more people in working age, the historic gains open societies have seen, and most of all stand up for the intrinsic values of respecting people’s diversity.

But such a strategy also needs to have an answer to the question that right wing extremists thrive on; what happens to the welfare state when immigration numbers reaches hundreds of thousands per year?

One part, and the most important part, of that answer is how fast the newcomers can be involved in the work force. I don’t believe in lowering wages as an incentive for employers to employ low skilled workers as a solution. That only widens the income gap. But a way forward could be reforms that create more opportunities for jobs that doesn’t require high skills. Looking from a Swedish perspective, an example of that is the governments’ proposal to lower tax rates on repairs. In Sweden a more efficient and rapid validation of the skills people bring with them would also benefit both them and the labour market.

Another part is the more intangible discussion about embracing commonly shared values. In this, right wing extremists focus on assimilation; people who come here must wholeheartedly embrace the lifestyle and values of the majority society. For us greens this shouldn’t be an acceptable approach. Instead we should look for integration; welcome the newcomers with an open mind and curiosity about the culture, ideas and traditions they bring. On the other hand, the majority society must also be able to demand a willingness of all people to take part of the society and adapt to values broadly shared within it.

It is impossible to suggest in detail how this should be enacted. Instead integration must be pursued through an ever ongoing public debate, where on the one hand you will have the written law that of course applies equally to everyone, but on the other you have issues like the veil; as long as it is worn by a woman of free will it should not be anyone’s concern how she dresses. Even if it may seem odd in the eyes of the majority society.

Today it seems to me that the assimilation agenda is becoming more and more mainstream within media and political parties. We greens should resist this and instead persist in defending open, diverse societies and the two-way directed integration process as the method of keeping these societies together.

/Lars-Olof Karlsson

Chairperson Green Forum

Refugee situation demands change in life style in rich countries

On 25 May, the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven presented his refurnished government. In his speech he emphasized – as a matter of top priority for the government ­– that the Swedish version of a European welfare state shall be reinforced, not dismantled. His statement must be seen with Sweden’s more restrictive refugee laws, put in place half a year ago, as backdrop; Sweden will not allow a growing number of refuges jeopardize the welfare for its citizen.

At the very same day news also reported about riots in Southern India, due to a draught which experts said climate change most likely had worsened.

These two occasions captures in a nutshell the challenge that we in the rich world face, if we really mean what we say about working for a sustainable world for all; the consequences of our life style (e.g. more refugees due to climate change effects) eventually will hit back on us and challenge the way we live.

The political crossroad is between safe guarding, at any cost, the wealth we have accumulated – or being foresighted and realize that a future stable society rests on the fact that wealth is spread more evenly over the world than today. The former means amongst other things building higher and higher walls around our countries. The latter implies sharing what we have, and in doing so accept that some of the privileges we have grown accustomed to must go.

Transports for example. In a sustainable world The Holy Car cannot be every man’s and woman’s property. Instead sharing will be the norm; public transports as the standard transporting system and if absolutely necessary using a car through a car sharing organisation. Cycling to work and no more flying to Hong Kong for a shopping weekend.

Food is another example. If everyone on earth shall have a fair share of food, vegetarian food must become the norm, with fish and meat as rare complementary dishes.

This change is under way, but for a large group of people the change will be painful. I’m thinking primarily about blue collar workers with no higher education. This is the group within which right wing nationalistic parties have been recruiting support the last couple of years. In Sweden, but also in the rest of Europe and in the USA.

This group have fought hard within labour unions to achieve the wealth the enjoy today. They should rightfully be proud of their efforts. Many of the reforms they have participating in establishing, now forms the basis of the welfare state. When our prime minister emphasizes that the Swedish welfare state shall not be abandon, but developed, he signals to them that they are not forgotten.

That is a necessary step in order to pull this group back from the nationalists. But at the same time it puts us greens, not least, in a dilemma; much of the consumption culture that the working class today can be part of must be the very target for change if we want to build a more sustainable future.

To unlock this dilemma, I believe that greens in Europe need to work closely with social democratic parties and movements. Even when bearing in mind that a large part of union members views us as evil on earth. But if we don’t have the working class on board we will never achieve real change in our societies.

The way to go about it is through close alliances with other parts of the social democrats; the internationalists, the people that for century have fought for disarmament and sustainable development. Moreover, and in the same spirit as the Icelandic reforms after their big banking scandal, every reform should be designed so that it puts more burden on richer people than on low paid workers and unemployed.

Working together with social democrats will put us greens in many difficult situations, where our credibility as agents for sustainable change will be questioned. But waiting until we grow big enough to be the dominant party in government will simply take too long.

Global challenges – local solutions

It is often said that climate challenges are global, but the emissions and solutions are local. Each municipality council around the world holds some of the most important keys to unlocking the threats to our future.

Let me give you some examples from my home town, Gothenburg, in western Sweden. Encompassing Scandinavia’s biggest port and Sweden’s major automotive industry, the city is a large transportation hub with a cluster of companies and researchers within logistics and transport. This cluster carries a huge potential for urgently needed innovations, to meet demands set by the politicians as well to create business opportunities for companies of the next generation.

The city has taken a decision to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from goods transport with at least 80 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 and more than double public transport by 2035. The first ever bus line in Sweden run by electricity powered buses started here in April 2014. The test has been a success which today draws attention from around the world. A tunnel for commuter trains under the city shall make commuters choose public transport instead of private cars from 2026 onwards.

Waste heat from refineries and other industrial processes are keeping people’s homes warm, via district heating. New building techniques makes renovated houses and new-builds more energy efficient. Energy consumption in homes are to be reduced by 30 percent by 2020 compared to 1995.

But more can be done and needs to be done. The use of waste heat could be extended even more, if the district heating grids in Gothenburg and surrounding municipalities were better connected. Environmental criteria can be imposed more rigorously than today in public tendering. Here we politicians have an important role to play.

These are all examples of technical solutions that are absolutely vital if we are to live within the nature’s borders. But they are not enough. If we shall succeed with the necessary transformation of our societies, we also need a change in people’s mind set. And I believe this could be underway.

For some months a six hours working day has been tested at a retirement home in Gothenburg. The results are encouraging; sick leave rate is down, service quality up. Even so, conservative and liberal politicians want to stop the project. It’s too costly, they say. I believe there is another reason to it as well; that a shorter working day in their eyes sends the wrong signals to the Swedish work force in general. In my view though it would be a good thing if people spent more time with friends and family instead of working as much as possible in order to earn as much as possible so that they can consume as much as possible.

Another example that might indicate a broader change in mind set is that the sharing economy is on the rise. The car sharing organisation that I’m a member of has today 1 100 cars in fifty different cities in Sweden. And this is just one of eight similar organisations situated in Gothenburg. A neighbouring family of ours has spent vacations in Australia, New York, London, France… using home exchange. The transition movement offers an alternative perspective on the world we live in and how we could organise societies in order to handle the ecological, energy and economic crises that we, according to them, are facing.

We in the global North has a moral obligation to lead the way for a sustainable future. This should not be seen as a sacrifice: a sustainable world also brings with it life patterns that are more in line with what happiness research tells us we want the most; more time with our loved ones, more possibilities to self-fulfilment.

We are on the right path. And the most encouraging changes are taking place locally. Gothenburg is part of different networks were cities share experiences and develop joint projects in order to push ahead the transformation needed.

These local initiatives of course go hand in hand with national policies and international agreements. They seldom make headlines in media, but I believe that in the long run these local developments will prove the most important.

/Lars-Olof Karlsson

Chairperson Green Forum