Sweden has taken the moral high ground again. In the same week that Italy’s handling of the G8 conference was condemned as ‘chaotic from start to finish’ and ‘without an agenda’, the Swedish prime minister issued a considered, heartfelt call to Europe to take climate change more seriously. Compared to the rest of Europe, Sweden is already a model of environmental restraint, with the world’s highest carbon taxes combined with impressively high GDP growth (until the economic crisis). They also have an inclusive welfare state, a near classless society and one of the highest standards of living in the world. And yet for all this, Sweden remains something of an enigma to outsiders. How many British, French or Italians could name a major Swedish politician or political party, for example?
As Jonathan Power argues in an exclusive online essay for Prospect, Swedish culture and society really is distinct from the rest of Europe in a number of crucial ways. From sexual habits to foreign policy, Power’s adoptive home is a place where the “pursuit of equality goes deeper,” with consequences both good and bad. Swedes marry later, work harder, travel less and pay more tax than the rest of us. Quite possibly they are happier too.