Carl Bildt can be satisfied with the informal Foreign Ministers´ meeting in Stockholm.
Almost everything went according to plan. Javier Solana´s praise for the Swedish Presidency at the concluding press conference was not only flattery. Discussions were more focused than usual and the practical arrangements worked well.
Will this Swedish effectiveness be enough to keep the EU together on controversial issues such as Iran? That remains to be seen.
At the meeting, a common position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was facilitated by Javier Solana´s input. Ministers had different public messages on the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, with Bernard Kouchner being particularly critical to the Nato bombing. But when it came to the EU´s post-election strategy, Carl Bildt´s report from his recent visit to Afghanistan and an ambitious issues paper led to fruitful discussions.
Possible sanctions against Iran are a more difficult co-ordination task for the Swedish Presidency. The negotiations on the nuclear issue are carried out by the “big three” on behalf of the EU. However, the economic sanctions mentioned by Angela Merkel recently are not something the Swedes want to be dictated by France, Germany and the UK.
During the Iran discussion on Friday, it was clear that the EU is getting closer to reinforced sanctions and that the statement by Merkel was no coincidence. Still, there are differing views on the effectiveness of economic sanctions and on the precedent EU sanctions without approval by the UN Security Council might set.
Leaving substance aside, maybe this Gymnich meeting will be remembered as the last one where the rotating Presidency led the deliberations. That will be decided by the Irish on 2 October.
If Irland votes yes, the Swedish Presidency will immediately start negotiations in Brussels on the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty (with a small reservation for what happens in the Czech Republic and in Poland).
`November, my goodness´ said Javier Solana when asked by the press about events later this autumn. His mandate ends in the middle of October, so it´s understable that November is low on his EU agenda.
The European Council should appoint a new High Representative on 29 October, according to Swedish plans.
At the European summit, there should also be a framework decision on the tasks for the High Representative and the External Action Service (EAS). Although no one in Stockholm states it openly, most likely there is already a draft decision stored in the computers, to be distributed immediately when the first negotiation meeting is called.
Five areas are of particular importance: the scope of the High Representative´s mandate, the budget, the legal base, how appointments in the EAS should be decided, and a number of issues related to EU delegations around the world.
The Commission takes a strong line on some of these issues, but the framework decision will be by the 27 governments, and full agreement with the Commission is not considered necessary.
So, which role remains for Carl Bildt when the new High Representative is appointed? That will be an interesting question, if Ireland votes yes.
Unless Bildt himself gets the new job.