02:53 GMT01 April 2020
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    Sweden's relations with US President Donald Trump seem to be going from bad to worse. Regardless of how accurate Trump's picture of Sweden is, the recent row, in which the Nordic country was painted as on the verge of a breakdown, may leave a serious dent in Sweden's shiny public image.

    Recently, Donald Trump notoriously addressed the problems Sweden allegedly faces due to its swelling migrant population, causing a stir in his home country and across Scandinavia. Needless to say, Stockholm invested considerable effort in debunking Trump's scathing remarks about the country's inept migration policy by pointing out inaccuracies in the US President's speech and Fox News' coverage of Sweden.

    Regardless of the outcome of the war of words, Sweden's public image has taken a serious beating. In mainstream and social media, Sweden is increasingly more often portrayed as a problem country, which may affect tourism to Sweden, as well as the country's trade and business opportunities, Swedish experts have predicted.

    ​"We depend on the global image of Sweden," Olle Wästberg, a politician and former Swedish Consul General in New York, told the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. "Foreign capital must be prepared for long-term investments in Sweden, so that others are willing to do business with us. To achieve this, we must have a reputation [as being] a safe and prosperous country," he added.

    According to Wästberg, there are currently two parallel pictures of Sweden that barely have anything in common: the traditional picture of Sweden as a thriving welfare country and the "Trump" picture of Sweden as a country where everything is about to derail.

    While Hillary Clinton, Scandinavia's preferred candidate in the 2016 US presidential election, lauded Sweden's social security system with its reputedly generous parental leave, Donald Trump chose to stress Sweden's negative side, which manifests in burgeoning crime, nascent extremism, the emergence of violent ghettos and widening social gaps. According to Wästberg, this image also happens to occur in right-leaning media, which liberal Sweden sees as its natural enemy.

    "This can have long-term significance for Sweden. Anything an American President says gets stuck," Olle Wästberg said.

    A similarly negative scenario was painted by Henrik Selin, the head of the Swedish Institute, a Swedish government agency tasked with promoting the country's interests abroad and spreading information about Sweden. According to Selin, the popular picture of Sweden has been affected by the negative coverage.

    ​"Of course it can affect people's immediate elections, such as their inclination to travel to Sweden. Especially those who believe in this kind of reporting," Selin said, suggesting it was still too early to gauge the long-term effects.

    By Selin's admission, the Swedish Institute has no previous experience in tackling a deteriorating image of Sweden, yet is poised to take the debate seriously.

    "There are two reasons why it can affect the image of Sweden. Firstly, because it affects tourism, trade and our business opportunities. Secondly, because Sweden does not want to become a battering ram in other players' political agendas," Selin said.

    Since the mid-1980s, Sweden has had a positive trade balance and is largely dependent on trade with other countries. The US has traditionally been one of Sweden's key trade partners, accounting for 91 billion SEK ($10bln) in exports in 2015, according to Statistics Sweden.


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