An `eco-efficient´ Europe

19/07/2009

 

Climate change is one of the main topics for the Swedish presidency. At the informal meetings with Energy and Environment Ministers 23-25 July, however, another theme is also prominent.

Andreas Carlgren, Minister for the Environment. Photo: Pawel Flato

Andreas Carlgren, Minister for the Environment. Photo: Pawel Flato

In the ski resort Åre, EU Ministers will discuss the path towards “an eco-efficient economy”. Exactly what this means is somewhat unclear, but the principle is to green the economy by using energy and other resources in a more efficient way. Centre party members of the Swedish government are behind the initiative, including Maud Olofsson (Minister for Enterprise and Energy) and Andreas Carlgren (Minister for the Environment).

The economic crisis has changed the European debate on climate and other environmental issues. There is a fear that EU ambitions will be lowered because of competitiveness concerns and budget deficits. Putting “eco-efficiency” on the agenda could be a way of changing perspective.

As a basis for discussions in Åre, Stockholm Environment Institute has presented an interesting report on eco-efficiency. Unfortunately, it lacks detail on initiatives at EU level.

Instead, the Presidency could benefit from a Commission non-paper, due before the Åre meetings. DG Environment is analyzing the green components of economic stimulus packages around the world. It is often said that South Korea, China and other countries include more green investment in their stimulus plans than most EU member states. The Commission input to Åre will allow Ministers to discuss how to combine economic recovery with reduced emissions of pollutants.

The Commission will also highlight the role of environmental technology, the jobs created by ambitious environmental policies, the possibilities of “green GDP” and new indicators for low-carbon growth, the potential of green public procurement, and a number of other issues.

For Swedish Ministers, the challenge is to transform such ideas to conclusions that are relevant for the European Council in December, when the future of the Lisbon strategy will be discussed. Unless discussions at the informal meetings result in concrete proposals, not much will have been gained.

On the agenda for December is also a review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy, adopted at the EU Summit in Gothenburg 2001. Last year, environmental experts in other Member states and in Brussels expected Sweden to put much emphasis on this topic when preparing the Presidency. However, Stockholm was slow in making proposals on the issue, which was considered too “Social Democratic” by parts of the centre-right government.

Now, a team in the Prime Minister´s office is working full speed to catch up, and to link the review of the Sustainable Development Strategy to the future Lisbon strategy. Also in this case, the proof of the governments green ambitions will be in the concrete proposals adopted at the December Summit.

The Commission review on the Strategy will not be available in Åre, though, since a draft text drawn up under the auspices of Secretary-General Catherine Day was rejected at Cabinet level after being considered too vague.

(My next weekly analysis will appear 30 August)

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Stockholm programme: citizen rights or more surveillance?

12/07/2009

 

Never underestimate the importance of turf wars.

Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask. Photo: Pawel Flato

Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask. Photo: Pawel Flato

Maybe this could be appropriate advice to Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask, if the experienced Moderate party politician would need any before the informal meeting in Stockholm 15-17 July.

During the meeting, EU Ministers will lay the ground for a new five-year plan to replace the current Hague programme on Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). However, there are different approaches to the new Stockholm programme.

The Commission communication avoids going into too much detail about new legislative proposals. One reason is that under the Lisbon Treaty, the right of initiative in the JHA area will rest more strongly with the Commission. Member States might want to prescribe clearly for the Commission what to propose, while people in the Breydel (sorry, should be Berlaymont, my thoughts were back in the old days) building would prefer more room to maneuver.

External relations are the subject of another turf war. The Future Group, composed mainly of Member States, devoted a specific section of its report to relations with third countries. One of the controversial issues is to establish by 2014 “a Euro-Atlantic area of cooperation in the field of freedom, security and justice with the United States”.

However, the Commission has chosen to integrate external relations aspects into the respective policy areas, whereas some member states would like to see a separate chapter (the UK has already provided a paper on external relations which will be the basis for discussions in Stockholm). This could seem like a question of editing, but it is really a fight over competences, what power the Commission (and the Court of Justice) will have for example over agreements with the US once the Lisbon treaty enters into force.

Everything in the Stockholm programme is not about turf wars, though.

“The last years of activity in the area have of many reasons been focused on repressive instruments.” said Beatrice Ask recently in a speech on the Stockholm programme. “Therefore we can see an increased need to balance these measures with initiatives securing the rule of law and the rights of the individual”, she continued.

It is easy to agree. The question is how this ambition will be reflected in the Stockholm Programme.

So far, there is a lack of detail when it comes to strengthening citizen rights. The Future Group is much clearer on the gathering of information for surveillance purposes (a sensitive issue for the government, after strong resistance to recent Swedish legislation on intelligence services). One should also not exclude that the six largest member states once again will make common proposals on fighting terrorism or other police co-operation issues.

Beatrice Ask will start negotiations on the recent Commission proposal on the right to interpretation and translation in legal proceedings, but this is not enough to balance the strong pressure on further restrictive measures in the new five years programme. As Sergio Carrera and others at CEPS have argued, one could question whether the EU should adopt any new legislation on criminal justice until there are higher standards for the rights of defence and of fair trial.

If the Swedish government has courage enough, Ask could propose concrete measures to implement citizens rights included in the Lisbon treaty, including a stronger role for the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

She should also seek agreement on the following proposal from the Commission: “Under an action plan setting out a thematic approach, the work on common minimum guarantees could be extended to protection of the presumption of innocence and to pre-trial detention (duration and revision of the grounds for detention).”

If Beatrice Ask succeeds with that, she is worth applause.

(I will return to the topic of migration in another post later on).


Wanted: a better EU policy on Latvia

07/07/2009

 

My editorial in Aftonbladet deals with the crisis in Latvia and ECOFIN discussions about this subject today.

A Fistful of Euros has described the situation excellently. The dogmatic refusal to devaluate the Latvian currency is worsening the situation. IMF seems to be getting cold feet.

The conditions imposed by the EU and the IMF are causing a dramatic drop in domestic consumption. In the editorial, we urge the Swedish government to listen more to trade unions and independent experts in Latvia, not only to Swedish banks and to the Latvian Ministry of Finance.

My earlier posts on Latvia are here, here, here, here, and here.


Controversial proposal on health care

06/07/2009

 

Swedish Ministers Göran Hägglund and Maria Larsson are hosting the first EU Ministerial meeting in Sweden. The EU response to the new influenza is one of the important topics, public health concerns over alcohol consumption another. Patient mobility and antibiotic resistant bacteria are other issues on the agenda.

However, Göran Hägglund does not plan to inform his colleagues about a controversial plan by the government to introduce health care into the scope of the services directive. Trade Minister Ewa Björling today stated that such an initiative will be taken in the internal market context.

Health care was included in Frits Bolkesteins´ proposal for free trade in services, but after strong protests from trade unions and many governments, it was thrown out.

Since the Swedish EU Presidency is rather careful, it is somewhat surprising that Ewa Björling makes such a daring proposal. I can´t find it in the Presidency Work Programme.

I wonder what Party groups in the European Parliament will say next week, when Prime Minister Reinfeldt adresses the plenary.


The Domestic Factor

05/07/2009

 

Every government holding the EU Presidency has a domestic political agenda to consider. Sweden is no exception.

National elections are due 19 September 2010. Will the four centre-right parties in Alliance for Sweden be able to hold on to power? Or can the Social Democrats and their allies, the Green Party and the Left Party, form the first red-green government?

On Saturday, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held a programmatic speech in Visby, Gotland. The annual Almedalen political week is a Mecca for party elites, journalists and lobbyists. Contrary to other party leaders, Reinfeldt devoted his speech almost entirely to Sweden´s role in Europe.

Fredrik Reinfeldt.       Photo Gunnar Seijbold / Government Offices’

Fredrik Reinfeldt. Photo Gunnar Seijbold / Government Offices’

It is clear that the leader of the Moderate Party wants to repeat the story from 2001, when Göran Persson´s and Anna Lindh´s successes during the EU Presidency helped Social Democrats win elections the following year.  Now, Fredrik Reinfeldt is trying to build an image of being an international statesman, raising above petty domestic policy complaints. Who could blame him?

Reinfeldt´s achievements are already remarkable. After 12 consecutive years of Social Democrats in power, he led the centre-right to power in 2006. Keys to success were rebranding Reinfeldt´s Moderates as a party for ordinary workers, as well as holding the four opposition parties together by forming Alliance for Sweden.

But will the story from 2001-2002 repeat itself?

This time, the EU Presidency is even closer to elections. There are only ten months from the December European Council to Election Day. This could benefit the government. But will it be possible for Fredrik Reinfeldt to show similar success on the climate issue as Göran Persson did on enlargement in 2001? In addition, the economic situation is different, with unemployment rising quickly this time.

Another problem for the government is the situation of the three smaller parties. According to opinion polls, the Christian Democrats risk not clearing the 4% hurdle for Parliament. The Centre Party is also performing badly, while the Liberal People ´s Party had some success in the June European election.

During the EU Presidency, these three parties will have a hard time getting their message through. The Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Finance Minister are all Moderates. The government will be keen to avoid internal fighting this half year, but tensions will grow. Relations between the offices of Fredrik Reinfeldt and Cecilia Malmström are already bad, Malmström being the only minister from the Liberal People´s party having a significant role during the Presidency.

photo: stock.xchng

photo: stock.xchng

On climate change, there might be somewhat differing views between the Prime Minister and Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren (Centre Party). Reinfeldt has played down the possibilities to agree on bindning emission reduction in Copenhagen, whereas Carlgren has been pushing this issue. The Centre party is promoting “eco-efficiency” as a theme for the Presidency, but how high will it be on Reinfeldt´s agenda for the European Council?

The main opposition party has some difficulty in finding its role in relation to the Presidency. The leader of the Social Democrats, Mona Sahlin, is an experienced politician, but although the red-green parties are still leading in opinions polls, voter confidence for Sahlin seems to be low. She will probably focus on issues of substance, and not challenge Reinfeldt´s conduct of the Presidency in general until possibly late in the autumn. The Social Democrats will tour the country this half year, meeting people who have lost their job and trying to picture the government as occupied by EU issues far away from ordinary people.

In contrast, the voters of the Green Party and the Left party are more critical to the European Union, making is easier to challenge Reinfeldt already from the beginning.

Two parties outside the present Parliament might also benefit from the EU Presidency.

The Pirate Party was the big surprise in the European elections, winning a seat by campaigning for “freedom on the Internet” and against surveillance of citizens. Since the EU telecom package remains to be negotiated this autumn, the Pirates will have a chance to position themselves for the national election campaign in 2010 (if they chose to participate).

Secondly, the right-wing Sverigedemokraterna could use the EU debate on the Stockholm programme to push their anti-immigration agenda. Sverigedemokraterna will probably also criticize the costs of having a Presidency, being the party most against EU membership.

In summary: Fredrik Reinfeldt needs a successful EU Presidency to win the next national elections. He must deliver results on climate and other issues on the agenda, at the same time keeping Alliance for Sweden together. It is not an easy task. And the opposition is waiting eagerly for possible backlashes, for example in Copenhagen.

Other blogs on the Swedish Presidency: European Tribune, Gerald Loftus, Jonathan Fryer, La Oreja de Europa, Margot Wallström, Reuters Global News Blog, Tony Barber

If you want to recieve my weekly analysis by e-mail (free of charge), please contact me at matsengstrom100@hotmail.com


Sarkozy should read Reinfeldt´s election programme

03/07/2009

 

The financial crisis is high on the agenda when Nicolas Sarkozy today visits Stockholm for talks with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Yesterday, Mats Odell, the Swedish minister responsible for the financial sector, told the Financial Times that Sweden would be careful with new regulations on private equity. There is heavy lobbying against the Commission proposal on “alternative investment funds”, such as hegde funds.

After meeting Gordon Brown last Monday, Fredrik Reinfeldt sent similar signals about the percieved risk to overregulate the financial sector.

However, Nicolas Sarkozy could find some comfort in a report on the financial sector adopted by Reinfeldt´s Moderate Party before the European elections.

The report, written to a large extent by Finance Minister Anders Borg, contains harsh criticism of the financial sector and proposes tougher regulation, also on hegde-funds and similar instruments. It is much closer to the Sarkozy-Merkel position than to Mats Odell´s statements in the Financial Times.

Now, it seems that Reinfeldt has forgotten what his party has promised voters. My editorial in Aftonbladet  today describes the situation in more detail, for those of you reading Swedish.


A well-rehearsed performance

01/07/2009

 

The start of the Swedish Presidency went well.

Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Prime Minister, seemed to feel comfortable when taking the stage at the international press conference today. Maybe he has some use of his years as an amateur theatre actor (I have been one myself, so this is not ironically meant). 

What was said in the bilateral meetings between Swedish ministers and the Commissioners, I don´t know. There are still questions remaing regarding the planning of the Presidency – for example on the sustainable development strategy to be proposed by the Commission (a draft by the General Secretariat was heavily critized and the issue is now in the hands of the Barroso cabinet).

However, two public comments caught my attention today.

One was by Barroso on Swedish Radio. When asked about expectations for the climate change meeting in Copenhagen, Barroso replied:

“The ideal have to be binding agreement for developed countries in terms of emissions”.

He then went on talking about the responsibily also of developing countries and the need to agree on financing.

Barroso is right in pushing binding emission targets for developed countries. Without such a result in the 2020 time-frame, the Copenhagen meeting must be regarded a failure (since the Kyoto protocol already set targets for 2012). However, Fredrik Reinfeldt has said that such targets would be difficult to agree. This might become a contenious issue.

The second comment was by Reinfeldt at the press conference, answering a question from the news agency AP regarding Iran. The Swedish Prime Minister was extremely cautious to say anything in substance, and referred the issue to the foreign ministers.

Perhaps Reinfeldt is afraid to fall in the Czech trap of saying too much and be rebuked, but it should have been possible to make a stronger statement based on positions the EU has already taken.

The comment also shows that Carl Bildt is running the foreign policy agenda. Symbolically, he missed the group photo today, instead taking an important phone call.