Minister: Sweden to push for ‘more focused’ Lisbon Strategy at EU helm

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A “new, more focused and more efficient” Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs is expected to be adopted during the Spanish EU Presidency in spring 2010, but “preparing and setting the framework” for this strategy will be an important task of the incoming Swedish Presidency, EU Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmström told EURACTIV in an interview.

Cecilia Malmström served as an MEP from 1999 until her appointment as her country’s EU affairs minister in October 2006. She is a member of the liberal People’s Party, affiliated to the ALDE group in the European Parliament. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

How would you explain the Swedish Presidency’s motto, ‘Taking on the challenge’? 

Europe is, without doubt, facing some major challenges at the moment. The biggest and most important are the economy, unemployment and the climate. These are issues that affect each and every citizen of the EU and must be dealt with. Hence, the primary objectives of the Swedish Presidency are that the EU must emerge from the economic crisis in a stronger position and that the EU at the same time must continue to take responsibility for the climate threat. 

These are, however, not the only challenges the European Union faces. On our agenda as well is that the EU must continue to develop into a more secure and open Europe, which includes an ambition to adopt a new strategic work programme for the entire policy area – the Stockholm Programme. We have the ambition to develop the EU’s macro-regional cooperation and to adopt an EU strategy for the Baltic Sea. 

We wish to continue to strengthen the EU in its work for peace, stability and development, which includes a focus on EU’s global role as well as working with our neighbours and a continued enlargement process. And finally, we are aware of the special institutional conditions, with a new European Parliament, a new Commission to be appointed and the Lisbon Treaty being voted on again in Ireland. 

All in all, Europe has difficult but important questions to deal with in the coming six months. European cooperation has seldom been of such importance as today. With all this in mind, we have chosen the motto ‘Taking on the challenge’. 

Your country has been preparing for this role for some time. What lessons have you learned? 

We have tried to plan the Swedish Presidency as much as possible. Extensive work has been going on for several years in order to prepare ourselves for the issues to be dealt with and the priorities we want to set. We have had a good dialogue with the Czech and the French Presidencies, and tried to incorporate the experiences of the Swedish Presidency 2001. 

However, we cannot escape the fact that even though planning is important, things seldom turn out the way you planned. As John Lennon sang: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

Did the European elections weaken the position of the Swedish government? How would you describe the political situation in your country? 

My view is that the European elections strengthened the position of the Swedish government with the incoming presidency. The four parties in the coalition government got more votes than the red-green opposition, but above all: it was a sign of support for an active EU policy. The Swedish government has declared its ambition to make Sweden an active part of Europe’s core. It is therefore gratifying that more Swedes than ever voted in the European elections, and that the polls show that support for Swedish membership of the EU is higher than ever before. 

In the middle of political debate in the last few months has been the issue of integrity and file sharing, and the Pirate Party is now entering the European Parliament. What the main issues for next year’s elections will be is to be seen, but that the climate and the economy are two main concerns for Swedish citizens is without doubt. 

These are, as I mentioned, the two main priorities for our presidency. Following the challenges we are facing, I myself as well as Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt have called for a party truce during the Swedish Presidency. During the Swedish 2001 Presidency, we agreed with the then-Social Democratic government that a successful Swedish Presidency was more important than party struggle. However, the opposition has hitherto rejected our approach. 

One major challenge is Lisbon Treaty ratification. What will be Stockholm’s added value for common efforts to push through the treaty? 

It is no secret that the Swedish government supports the Lisbon Treaty. It will make the EU both more efficient and more democratic. We intend to act to so that the treaty is launched in a positive spirit. Good conditions must be created so that the practical application of the Treaty of Lisbon is smooth and effective from the very beginning. To ratify the treaty is, however, each and every country’s own decision. 

Your country has an ageing population. Does Sweden intend to address the underlying problems in an EU perspective during its term? 

The challenge of an ageing population is shared throughout Europe. Together with low participation and employment rates in Europe, it will create enormous pressure on social security and health systems as well as on public finances. This calls for an ambitious and coherent policy agenda, coordinating efficient allocation of public resources with necessary structural reforms and an effective employment policy. This perspective will guide the Swedish Presidency’s work in such areas as labour-market, social, healthcare and gender-equality policy. 

Another important measure in combating these problems is migration policy. Migration issues will be of high priority for the Swedish Presidency. Particularly in the long term, the EU needs labour immigration. The Stockholm Programme should therefore contain measures that allow increased labour immigration to the EU. 

What are you planning on enlargement? Will an Icelandic accession bid overshadow the ongoing process with the Western Balkans? And what about Turkey?

The continued enlargement process is of strategic importance to ensure peace and progress in an open, united Europe. It is therefore of central importance that the EU stands by its commitments and the established principles in the area of enlargement. We would warmly welcome an application from Iceland, but this should not be put in opposition to the process with the Western Balkans and Turkey. 

I can assure you that the presidency will work to make further progress in the EU integration process of the countries of the Western Balkans, in accordance with the progress of reform in each country and established procedures, as well as aiming for continued progress in Turkey’s accession negotiations. 

Climate change is an obvious priority in view of the Copenhagen summit. How does your country plan to maximise the chances of a good outcome? 

As emissions of greenhouse gases are increasing and the climate is now changing faster than previously anticipated by research, global warming is an issue that requires global solutions. This challenge requires consensus on long-term measures in all parts of society, locally, nationally and internationally. 

The aim with the Copenhagen summit is a broad agreement for the period after 2012. To achieve this, the basic premise of the Swedish Presidency is, in consensus and with respect for national conditions, to promote unity in the EU and to uphold the EU’s responsibility as a positive force in the climate negotiations. 

According to some analysts, the Lisbon Agenda has been a failure. Do you plan to oversee an effort to have it revised? Could we perhaps expect a ‘Stockholm Agenda’ to replace it? 

The Swedish view is that the Lisbon Strategy in many respects has been successful, reflecting the challenges that we faced in 2000. However, there seems to be a ‘delivery gap’ between our commitments on the European level and what we deliver on national level. 

Against this background, we need to draw conclusions for the elaboration of a new strategy for sustainable growth and full employment for the coming decade. 

We need, at national level, to give priority to reforms and deliver good results. 

A new, more focused and more efficient strategy will hopefully be adopted during the Spanish Presidency in spring 2010, but to prepare and set the framework for this strategy will be an important task for the Swedish Presidency. 

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