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.
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.
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.
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