We are in his office in the Swedish parliament. On the very seats, and around the very table, where Andreas Norlén and the leaders of the political parties sat during discussions and negotiations following parliamentary elections in 2018. These negotiations were the focus of huge media attention, since the political situation was essentially frozen. The buns and coffee Andreas served also came under the media spotlight. “If I can put in a bit of a joke,” said the speaker in a newspaper interview, “I’m offering coffee, buns, and myself to make the negotiations flow freely.”
Photo credit Anna NilsenHis openness when meeting others is beyond doubt. From something of a grey eminence who was hardly known outside the political circles, where he was MP and chairman of the Committee on the Constitution, he came to public fame as Speaker, and a popular one at that. He has invited journalists to his home outside Norrköping, and answered questions about everything from how he combs his hair to how he met his wife. He takes being in the public gaze in his stride.
“Well, it’s a new experience for me to have to pose for selfies with people. But people have been friendly and encouraging, and they have shown their support in various ways. I can’t complain about the reception I get when walking down the street. On the contrary, people are very friendly, and I’m both humbled by and grateful for this.”
The speaker’s role has three parts. The first is to lead the parliamentary chamber and organise its work with debates and discussions. The second is to chair the Riksdag Board, while the third is to represent the Riksdag in various national and international contexts. Life for Andreas Norlén is hectic, and he himself describes it as “exciting and interesting”.
“It’s an extremely responsible and important post. The work we do in the parliament determines Sweden’s future, and naturally I find this to be an exciting and interesting task, with many opportunities to make a difference. This is something that is truly close to my heart.”
Nurture and defend democracy
Photo credit Anna NilsenThere’s no mistaking that Andreas Norlén has a powerful driving force. Democracy must be nurtured and defended. Andreas Norlén doesn’t want to exaggerate the risks, but points out that Swedish democracy is facing challenges.
“For a long time now, the membership numbers of the political parties have been falling. Swedish democracy is based on a party structure, and relies on citizens getting involved in the parties to take on positions of trust. This is also the way in which citizens can influence policy. In several countries around us, we can see how authoritarian regimes are growing in strength, and in certain EU states, we can see how democratic institutions are being weakened. Together, these trends mean that we must realise that democracy must be nurtured: we must care for it and we must defend it in various ways, all the time.”
A doctorate from LiU
Andreas Norlén took his doctorate in commercial and business law at LiU in 2004.
“I grew a great deal both as a person and as a legal specialist during this period. In particular, language is the most important tool a lawyer has, and the same is true for politicians. I improved the way I use language a great deal. I developed my analytic ability, by which I mean the ability to get to grips with a complex problem, and sort out what the crux of the matter is. This has been a great benefit to me as MP, and now as speaker. It was an extremely useful journey and growth process for me.”
Three guiding principles
Andreas Norlén has three guiding principles for his period as speaker: democracy, the parliamentary committees, and a long-term perspective. In brief, it involves engaging people in Sweden in a discussion about democracy, strengthening the role of the committees, and maintaining not only respect for historical heritage but also a commitment to the future.
The Democracy Centenary, covering the period 2018-2022, is related to the first guiding principle, and is the parliament’s way of celebrating 100 years of Swedish democracy, with the introduction of universal and equal suffrage in 1918. The speaker and the vice speakers will travel throughout Sweden with a travelling exhibition, talking about democracy. For example, Andreas Norlén was seen to invite people to have coffee and cakes in Almedalen at the beginning of July.
“Within the framework of the Democracy Centenary, I would very much like to contribute to a discussion with people in Sweden about our democracy: its history, its current condition, and its future. Particularly with young people. I’m sure that it is important to convince every new generation about the ideals of democracy and to demonstrate in various ways that democracy is not only morally superior but also superior when it comes to delivering prosperity and wellbeing to different societies.”
Photo credit Anna NilsenHow do you experience it – holding the second highest rank in Sweden?
“It’s not something that I go round thinking about in everyday life. I try to focus on my work and carry it out as well as I can, using the post I have to improve the work of the parliament and international questions as well as I am able. You can’t go round mulling over the rank of your post or external questions. If you did that, I think you’d become extremely self-centred or self-conscious.”
“I just try to do my job. It’s a bit like Churchill said: ‘Just muddle on’, well – to be honest – he actually said: ‘Just bugger on’. I was told by an Englishman that ‘bugger on’ isn’t a very polite phrase, so he suggested ‘muddle on’ instead.”
What do you see for yourself after this parliamentary period?
“I’ve been elected Speaker of the Riksdag until the opening of the Riksdag after the election in 2022 and I plan to do everything I can to fill that role as well as I can. Then I haven’t thought so much about what happens next. My focus at the moment is very much on the here and now.”
Translated by George Farrants