Dropped one percent target, withdrawn research funds for development studies and synergies between trade and aid. That's how it has sounded so far this year when the Tidö parties' reform agenda for Swedish aid policy has started to take shape. Critical voices have been raised both from civil society and from the political oppthe osition – not least that reaction to the proposal to use aid as a means of pressure to increase return migration from Sweden.
It will probably take until the autumn before the Minister for Aid and Foreign Trade Johan Forssell (M) can give a more concrete answer to the question of what the impending reform will mean in practice for Swedish aid work. What we can already say, however, is that the Tidö parties' ambition is to "make aid more efficient", as this is a word that has been used extensively both in writing in the Tidö agreement and in interviews with the authors of it. But ford actually means effective aid and for who should it be effective? The social debate today can seem snarky when all sides claim to be in favor of "effective aid".
"For people living in poverty and oppression"
Russia's ongoing war of invasion in Ukraine and the global economic uncertainty the war has provoked, along with declining democracies and an escalating climate crisis. The world today faces several complex challenges that lead to people being forced to leave their homes in the hope of a better life elsewhere.
Sweden's aid authority Sida works together with its partner organizations to create "better conditions for people living in poverty and oppression". By contributing financial support and knowledge, one strives to fulfill the purpose of Swedish aid, which according to Sida is to "give people the tools to change their lives themselves, and to contribute to creating good conditions for development". Like all authorities, Sida receives directives from Rosenbad on how to conduct its operations, and it is these directives that the new government wants to reform.
"It is perfectly reasonable that Sweden makes demands"
Within the framework of aid and foreign policy takes The Tidal Agreement up that aid should be used as a "tool to counter irregular migration". According to the Tidö Agreement, this means, among other things, that cooperation with states must be prioritized to "achieve effective return" and find "effective measures to reduce the root causes of migration". Another area of focus must be to make parts of the aid conditional on the recipient country "taking responsibility for its own citizens and taking them back when necessary".
In a debate article in The outside world i knowptember 2022, Aron Emilsson, foreign policy spokesperson (SD), and Mats Nordberg, aid officer (SD), write that governments that oppress their citizens or act against other countries should not receive any Swedish aid.
- In addition, recipient countries should agree to receive those of their citizens who reside in Sweden without a permit. It is perfectly reasonable that Sweden makes demands when we give away our taxpayers' money, they write.
Development magazine has sought the Sweden Democrats for a comment on the reform proposal, to no avail.
"It still doesn't work"
As a representative of the political opposition, Uttvecklingsmagasinet interviews Olle Thorell, Member of Parliament and aid policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats. He is critical of the proposal for conditional aid. He also sees a shift in Swedish aid policy. Thorell believes that the new government wants to use the aid for Swedish self-interests, which violates the principles that aid should "start from the needs of the poor, care about poverty reduction and strengthen democracy in the world".
- One such vested interest which the Sweden Democrats obviously think is extremely important, and which the Moderates latch on to, is to greatly reduce immigration to Sweden by all available means, says Thorell.
The problem with the new line, Thorell believes, is twofold. On the one hand, he believes that it is morally wrong to use aid as a means of blackmail to force countries to take back their expelled citizens. Partly, the idea of aid as a "holdbar" to pressure countries is a misunderstanding of how aid work actually works, according to Thorell. He explains that Sweden rarely sends aid directly to states, as corruption is often a problem in recipient countries and can sometimes be part of the reason why people continue to live in vulnerability.
- After all, 95-97 percent of aid goes to organizations that operate in the countries, because we know that it is more effective than giving it to states (...) So it is both morally wrong and it still doesn't work, says Olle Thorell.
Policies to limit migration must not be classified as aid
In a debate article published in Goteborgs-posten in June 2023, 38 representatives from Swedish civil society highlight the importance of local ownership to achieve effective and long-term development for people living in poverty and oppression. The organizations are also critical of the process through which the government, together with the Sweden Democrats, develops the reform agenda, and believe that decisions should be based on knowledge and research, and based on established international and national commitments.
One such commitment is that the government has established that Sida may only use the aid for activities that according to OECD/DAC guidelines may be classified as aid. In a clarification of the OECD where the relationship between domestic migration policy and aid policy is established, it appears that activities whose main purpose is to limit migration to a donor country may not be classified as aid.
After analyzing how well the Tidö parties' proposal on conditional aid is compatible with the OECD/DAC guidelines states Concord Sweden that "the connection between aid and migration policy exists mainly on paper in the Tidö Agreement and in opinion formation in the Swedish media".
How the government and the Sweden Democrats will implement the proposal in practice remains to be seen.
This is OECD/DAC
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development/Development Assistance Committee, OECD/DAC, is a committee made up of donor countries that together develop, quality-assure and evaluate aid. As a member country, Sweden has undertaken to follow the OECD/DAC guidelines for which activities may be classified as aid. OECD/DAC follows up the member countries' aid policy and examines the extent and with what quality the countries have fulfilled their aid work.
More information on the OECD-DAC Guidelines for Migration Policy and Aid: Migration-related activities in official development assistance (ODA).