The Swedish government has defined the aims of its EU presidency as follows:
- Conducting an effective, open and results-oriented presidency in the interests of the whole of Europe;
- Advancing the EU's common issues and Sweden's priority issues, and;
- Strengthening Sweden's role in the EU, serving in the EU's interest and strengthening the EU's role as a global actor.
Continuity and lessons learned
The Swedish government appears to have drawn a line between its ambitions and the need to have realistic expectations of what the country holding the presidency can achieve in its six months.
Indeed, the Swedish Presidency will inherit a large portion of its agenda, since many of the matters to be dealt with by the EU in the second half of 2009 have already been opened prior to the country's term at the EU's helm. The Czech EU Presidency in particular had difficulty pushing through its agenda, as the country's government collapsed halfway through its term and was replaced by a caretaker cabinet after early elections (see EurActiv Links Dossier on the Czech EU Presidency).
Since 1 July 2008, Sweden has been working in a 'trio' with France and the Czech Republic (EurActiv 20/11/08). The three countries produced their own 18-month work programme for the period 1 July 2008 to 31 December 2009, covering the issues that they expected to arise during that period.
Sweden was able to learn from its predecessors that EU presidents often have to face unforeseen crises. In the opening weeks of its presidency in the second half of 2008, France had to deal with unexpected developments such as the brief war between Russia and Georgia and the global financial crisis.
Learning from these experiences, Sweden recognises that the country holding the EU presidency must be prepared to deal with unexpected events and as a result has limited opportunities to pursue its own agenda.
Sweden's permanent representative to the EU, Christian Danielsson, said Stockholm would make sure, as soon as the Lisbon Treaty had been ratified, that every step was taken to ensure that the treaty worked well "from day one". In his words, this would include institutional changes in the Council, and "reflection" on the EU's future diplomatic corps, budget procedures and the new decision-making process in the area of justice and home affairs.
However, Sweden appears to be at odds with France and Germany over the first issue under discussion: the nomination of José Manuel Barroso for a second term as Commission president. Stockholm is insisting on Barroso's immediate appointment by the European Council, while Paris and Berlin, which are also backing Barroso, would like to engage in consultations with the newly-elected European Parliament until a deal is reached (EurActiv 12/06/09). Sweden argues that in a time of crisis, the Union needs a Commission president who is fully in power.
Ageing populations and the economy
Sweden's ageing population traditionally enjoys a high level of social security. In an apparent urge to address this problem, the Swedish Presidency wants to bring the issue forward and put it into the broader context of the economic downturn hitting the continent.
Sweden will also draw attention to the heavy public deficit that many member states are running in their efforts to fend off the recession. Returning public finances to sustainable levels will therefore be a focus point. Sweden is not a member of the euro zone, but its own budget deficit is smaller than that of most eurozone countries.
In order to restore stability, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt wants to initiate a constructive discussion on national fiscal policies. "We need to agree on a common exit strategy to return to the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact," he said, stressing that the downturn had put significant pressure on national budgets.
The International Monetary Fund recently concluded that Sweden had been hit hard by the economic slowdown, with a 6% drop in GDP foreseen. But the IMF nevertheless believes that Sweden's monetary authorities have handled the country's current economic challenges with aplomb. For a small, open economy like Sweden, the pace of its economic recovery is largely dependent on developments in the rest of the world, experts say.
Speaking in Brussels recently (EurActiv 10/06/09), Reinfeldt said that to aid the return to functioning financial markets and to restore confidence, the Swedish Presidency would first focus on delivering a better financial supervisory system in line with the European Commission's proposals, based on the de Larosière report.
Stockholm expects the Commission to come up with concrete legal proposals on how to develop the ideas of the de Larosière report.
Revamping the Lisbon agenda
Swedish Permanent Representative to the EU Christian Danielsson said the presidency would reflect on the EU's Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, with a focus on addressing (un)employment issues. The intention is to pave the way for an agreement on the revised agenda under the Spanish EU Presidency, in March or June 2010.
Stockholm takes the view that in the current situation, pressing problems of unemployment must be addressed not only at national level, but also by using the EU's revised Lisbon Strategy.
Climate change and CO2 tax
Sweden is strongly committed to taking bold decisions to address the climate change challenge, and points out that despite all the rhetoric, the world is yet to see any reduction in CO2 emissions. As EU presidency holder, Sweden wants to ensure that Europe acts more forcefully in the present critical phase of multilateral negotiations, which are expected to culminate in December with an agreement on combating climate change at the UN summit in Copenhagen.
The challenge here, as Stockholm sees it, is making sure that other developed countries - and especially the US - do something similar to the EU effort. The other challenge is to provide support for developing countries already affected by climate change, while encouraging them to take a development path which takes into consideration the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Stockholm is aware that the battle has to be fought on two fronts: ensuring internal coordination within the EU alongside securing external coordination with international partners including the US, China, India and Russia. Discussions will be held at various levels - bilaterally and in the framework of the G8 and the UN.
Moreover, in Sweden's eyes, the EU's emissions trading scheme, which covers only 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, is not enough to address climate change rapidly and effectively. "We need a CO2 tax," Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt said recently (EurActiv 10/06/09), announcing his intention to relate the positive experience of Sweden.
In addition to Sweden, other EU countries levying taxes on carbon emissions include Finland, Denmark and Slovenia (EurActiv12/05/09), while France recently signalled its desire to introduce one by 2011 (EurActiv 12/06/09).
Since the early 1990s, there have been several attempts to introduce a unitary carbon tax for all EU member states. But an EU carbon tax has never materialised, as countries such as the UK and France have been unwilling to render national compentences on taxation to the EU.
Justice, freedom and security
Noting that the ambitious Hague Programme from the Dutch EU Presidency in 2004 is coming to an end, Sweden is aiming to launch the next five-year policy agenda, addressing issues such as common asylum policy, cooperation in civil and criminal law, and pushing for a common migration policy.
Sweden hopes that the EU summit in December will adopt its proposed 'Stockholm Programme' and spell out clearly the EU's stance in areas such as asylum and migration, fighting crime at the national level and counterterrorism cooperation. Sweden has declared that the programme will put more emphasis on citizens' rights.
Baltic Sea ambitions
Focusing on the environment and competitiveness, Sweden aims to deepen cooperation in the Baltic Sea region, following in the footsteps of the French Presidency in the Mediterranean and the Czech Presidency for the Eastern Partnership.
Stockolm stresses that its regional approach is "micro-regional" compared to the other recent initiatives, and that it will include EU members only, not countries at the Union's periphery. The aim is to use existing EU polices in the most efficient manner, ensuring that the region in no way isolates itself from the Union. It is also pragmatic, as the Baltic Sea is one of Europe's most polluted. Moreover, Sweden is eager to 'sell' the experience to other regions, and is aware of a similar initiative for the Danube area.
The European Commission tabled its proposal in June, and EU leaders are expected to adopt formally the strategy and a related action plan at their October summit (EurActiv 11/06/09).
Enlargement and neighbours
Sweden hopes that the EU will decide in the autumn to lift visa requirements for countries which have met the conditions (Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, according to reports).
As regards the EU’s Eastern Partnership, launched on 7 May in Prague, Stockholm is preparing its 'implementation phase', which will establish the various structures envisaged by the plans.
Sweden is preparing for a further effort to renew EU-US relations in a number of concrete areas, as closer cooperation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developing relations in the field of justice, freedom and security, and in development policy, where Stockholm boasts substantial experience.