Sweden backs EU minimum wage after longtime opposition

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s government on Friday dropped its opposition to a proposed EU directive to strengthen wage protections in member countries after judging the new rules would not threaten the collective bargaining model widely used on Sweden’s labor market. 

It was a significant development as Sweden has, along with Denmark, been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed directive, which among other things seeks to mandate a wider use of minimum wages across the EU. 

The latest draft of the directive appears to exempt countries like Sweden and Denmark — where pay is widely set by negotiations between unions and employers — from the requirement to introduce a minimum wage. 

But unions and employers — as well as some lawmakers — in both countries have said they fear that at some point in the future the new directive could be expanded beyond its current scope and undermine Nordic wage-setting models. 

For example, if a Swedish or Danish employee were to take a demand for a minimum wage to the Court of Justice of the European Union, it is unclear what the repercussions might be.  

Denmark’s government continues to oppose the draft directive, but on Friday, Sweden’s EU Affairs Committee voted to back the Swedish government’s position to support it. 

“I am very glad that there is broad support and a majority for us to continue to negotiate … to do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Swedish Employment Minister Eva Nordmark, a Social Democrat, told reporters after the meeting. 

However, three opposition parties rejected the government’s position, arguing that the EU’s role is not to dictate how wages are set within countries. 

“It is important that Sweden should be able to decide for itself over the Swedish labor market,” said Tobias Billström, a lawmaker with the center-right Moderate Party. 

If the EU employment ministers agree to support the directive at Monday’s meeting, it will then be discussed further at three-way talks between the member countries, the European Commission and the European Parliament in the first half of next year.

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