Swedish minister fends off Listhaug

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Sweden’s government minister in charge of immigration abruptly cancelled a planned visit from her controversial Norwegian counterpart Sylvi Listhaug on Tuesday. Heléne Fritzon of the Swedish Socialdemokraterna (Labour) party told Norwegian newspaper VG that she didn’t want to be part of Listhaug’s re-election campaign that’s been emphasizing strict control of immigration.

Immigration Minister Sylvi Listhaug was stirring up more controversy in Sweden on Tuesday. PHOTO: Fremskrittspartiet

VG had published a story about Listhaug’s planned visit in which she notes how Sweden took in 157,000 more asylum seekers than Norway did in 2015 and 2016. Listhaug told VG she thinks it would have been “unethical” for Norway to use so much money to care for refugees when it would take away funding “from other things like elder care and transport.”

Asked what the point of her visit to Sweden really was, since there have never been any proposals for Norway to take in so many refugees, Listhaug responded that other Norwegian political parties including the Greens and the Socialist Left “want to reverse” the tighter immigration policies she has introduced while minister. “It’s possible to have uncontrolled immigration to Norway if the new left-wing radical side grows,” Listhaug told VG.

That did not sit well with Fritzon. Listhaug, who had invited Norwegian reporters along on her visit to Stockholm, was supposed to meet with Fritzon at 2pm but was informed that the meeting was cancelled after her flight landed at Stockholm’s airport Tuesday morning. Listhaug has often warned against taking in as many asylum seekers as Sweden has and still planned to visit Rynkeby, an area just outside Stockholm known for a large immigrant population and high crime rate. Listhaug said she wanted to learn how Norway can avoid the kinds of problems faced by officials in Rynkeby.

‘Nonsense’
Listhaug wasn’t given any reason for the cancellation of her meeting with Fritzon, but Fritzon was quite clear about why she decided against welcoming Listhaug in her message to VG:

“It has become very clear that Listhaug’s visit is part of the Norwegian election campaign. Listhaug seems more interested in spreading a misleading picture of Sweden, in which she among other things claims that there are 60 “no go” zones in Sweden, which is utter nonsense,” Fritzon wrote.

“I can gladly meet my minister colleague after the election,” Fritzon wrote in an email to VG. “But today I don’t want to be part of this campaign.”

Swedish minister ‘would prefer Jonas’
Listhaug shrugged off the fact that she’d been rebuffed by a Swedish government colleague and said she still intended to make the most of her visit to Rynkeby under tight security later on Tuesday afternoon. She also went ahead with a visit to police in Stockholm.

“I can’t be bothered commenting on others’ rhetoric,” she told VG when informed of Fritzon’s reasons for cancelling, but then she went on to do so: “I think it’s important for me to be here and hear how things are going here. She (Fritzon) may think it’s ‘nonsense,’ but now I’ve heard from police here about the challenges they face. We must learn so we don’t land in the same situation.”

Listhaug also suggested that since Fritzon is a social democrat, “she would probably prefer that (Norwegian Labour Party leader) Jonas Gahr Støre takes over (government) power in Norway. I don’t want that.” Ironically, Listhaug’s provocative anti-immigration campaign for the Progress Party and attempts to attract right-wing Christian voters are angering her incumbent conservative government’s non-socialist support parties so much that Progress’ coalition with the Conservatives seems to be falling apart. Other independent parties like the Greens have flatly refused to support any government in which Listhaug’s party is involved.

Solberg stoic but scolding
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, who was preparing for a national televised debate with her challenger Jonas Gahr Støre Tuesday evening, said she didn’t “have many comments on why a Swedish minister wouldn’t meet a Norwegian minister,” adding that “I don’t think this will destroy the relationship between Norway and Sweden. Solberg noted, however, that “Listhaug must be careful that what she says is consistent with what the local authorities think about the situation.”

Listhaug denied her trip to Stockholm was a campaign stunt. This was her first opportunity this year, she claimed, because she was out on maternity leave earlier and pregnant before that. “It had to come late in the election campaign because of nursing the baby,” she told VG. She added that she didn’t intend to provoke anyone with her visit to Rynkeby.

She already was provoking voters at home, though, including a former Progress Party colleague who called Listhaug’s visit and campaign “indecent, immoral and very dangerous.” Jan Erik Fåne, who now serves as communications director for Norway’s finance industry group Finans Norge, told VG that “we have an integration minister who has never contributed to integrating a single person. On the contrary, the goal is to stir up opposition, hate, fear and suspicion. And all to secure herself some extra votes based on fear of foreigners and anxiety for which there is no basis.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund