Rugy case: is the "Swedish model" of transparency of elected officials really there?

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This is a little music that we hear a lot these days, in full Rugy case: in Sweden, an elected resigns "for a chocolate bar". This is what Prime Minister Édouard Philippe sighed during the majority meeting on Tuesday morning, a few hours before the resignation of the former Minister for the Ecological Transition. "In France, the model is not the chocolate bar of the Swedish minister …", also argued François de Rugy himself, in the JDD last Sunday.

The reference to Mona Sahlin, the former Swedish minister who was forced to resign in 1995, is nevertheless very reductive. Because Toblerone's two bars in question were only a (very) small part of the 50,000 crowns (about 5,000 euros) of personal expenses spent with his business card, which had been revealed by the press. "This case made a big impression, some people felt that citizens had a look a little naive," says Sofia Wickberg, a researcher at Sciences Po and author of a thesis on transparency models in France and Sweden.

A law on transparency dating back to 1766

Still, the Scandinavian kingdom is indeed much more committed to transparency for its elected representatives than France. Take for example the case of the deputies, who have a salary of about 7,000 euros. Unlike their French counterparts, they have no compensation for their personal expenses. Charge them to settle the bill for their travels or meals, and ask after the fact reimbursement to Parliament. "This is a fundamental difference between the two countries, in Sweden everything is much more documented," analyzes the Parisian Sofia Wickberg. "Women and politicians are accountable for every euro spent," adds Magnus Falkehed, a senior reporter for the Swedish press and the 2005 author of the book "A Swedish model".

Every citizen can ask to consult these bills, under the famous offentlighetsprincipen ("Principle of transparency"), established in the Constitution in … 1766. "Historically, the tradition of transparency in Sweden dates back to the eighteenth century, with this first law passed," says Sofia Wickberg. Every citizen can request access to any public document from the authorities. A requirement that was reinforced "in the early 1990s", when the country has experienced a major banking crisis, said Magnus Falkehed. "The economy has plunged, public money has been scarce, and the requirement of exemplarity has become very strong," says the journalist.

But beware, the control body of the Parliament is "linked to the administration, and it is not independent," said Sofia Wickberg, also a member of the Observatory of Public Ethics in France. Which explains why some scandals still occur. About two years ago, the daily Aftonbladet revealed that a Member of Parliament, Tomas Tobe, had used his Parliament's loyalty card for transport to buy nuts and wine on the train. Amount in question: a little more than 1 100 euros, enough to compel him to apologize and to have to leave his post of secretary of the conservative party.

Touched, but not politically cast

"The Swede is not more genetically honest, it's just that the rules work better than elsewhere," said Magnus Falkehed. "What was denounced for François de Rugy has nothing to do with the life of the Swedish deputies or the President of Parliament, but it is closer to the lifestyle of the royal family," says the reporter. Better habits for their monarchical representatives would thus be more accepted by the Swedes. "The royal family has no political power, and it is a symbolic function of representation rather appreciated," notes Sofia Wickberg.

But these "scandals" do not remove from the political landscape the perpetrators involved. After his forced resignation in 1995, Mona Sahlin took over the head of his party in 2007. Before resigning in 2016 … for lying on the salary of his bodyguard, hoping to allow him to buy an apartment. As for Tomas Tobe, the former MP pinned in 2017, he was elected to the European Parliament on May 26th.

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