Sweden moves Justice and Home Affairs forward

29/11/2009

 

When José Manuel Barroso presented the new European Commission, he noted that Swedish Member Cecilia Malmström will have the responsibility to implement the Stockholm Programme, negotiated during the Swedish EU Presidency. Barroso could have added Viviane Reding´s name, as she will take care of important dossiers such as fundamental rights. But it is true that Sweden really moved the Justice and Home Affairs agenda forward this autumn.

Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask. Photo: Pawel Flato/Government Offices

Tomorrow, Minister for Justice Beatrice Ask will try to convince her colleagues to agree on the remaining open issues in the plan for the next five years. She has already given citizens´ rights a more important place than in the preceding Hague Programme. The draft Stockholm Programme includes a stronger role for the Fundamental Rights Agency, a quick accession to the convention on human rights and an action plan for human rights in relations to countries outside the EU.

There has also been progress on procedural rights for persons who are suspected of crime. After a long deadlock, Beatrice Ask has secured a decision on the right to interpretation and a roadmap for further work. Ministers will also agree an `action oriented paper´ against trafficking, although the issue of an anti-trafficking coordinator is still open.

Critics will not be satisfied, however. While police authorities will have easier access to information, data protection is weaker than Sweden initially proposed, for example in agreements with third states. The much discussed SIS II and VIS systems will be implemented as planned.

Other controversial issues include :

– Common minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions, for example on terrorism and `computer crime´. 

– Mutual recognition in areas of civil law such as succession and wills and the `property consequences of the separation of couples´.

– The possibility for police in one member state to execute `certain investigative measures´ in another member state.

Still – if there is agreement tomorrow, Beatrice Ask will have achieved one of the most significant results of the Swedish Presidency, putting her own touch on the Programme regarding citizens´ rights and the fight against trafficking.

When it comes to asylum and immigration policy, the picture is different. Proposals by Swedish migration minister Tobias Billström have been changed drastically. Language on the rights of third-country citizens and on the fight against discrimination has been weakened, while stronger wording has been used on the obligations of immigrants and against illegal immigration.

This is not surprising, given the climate in the EU on migration. But it will give Swedish liberal Cecilia Malmström a hard time as the responsible Commissioner.

Others on the Stockholm Programme: Ralf Grahn, SvD, se2009.eu, se2009eu2

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Ashton and Van Rompuy will have a tough start

22/11/2009

 

The time for celebration is over. Now Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton must start preparing for their new jobs.

Catherine Ashton has a delicate balancing act to perform. The High Representative should take up her new responsibilities on 1 December, according to the Lisbon Treaty. But Ashton is facing European Parliament hearings before she is confirmed as Vice-President of the Commission.

She cannot wait for the vote. A number of urgent dossiers are already piling up on her new desk. One of them is the European External Action Service, EEAS.

When EU governments agreed guidelines for the EEAS, they left a number of controversial questions unanswered. Catherine Ashton must move quickly to gain control.

Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton face big challenges. Photo Gunnar Seijbold/Government Offices

The relationship between foreign and development policy is one such issue. During the European Development Days in October, many speakers were eager not to subordinate EU development aid programmes to short-term foreign policy priorities. Poverty reduction should remain the aim for EU financial assistance and the Commissioner for Development should be in control over programming (over the money, to put it more frankly). This view is shared by many Ministers for Development.

However, the guidelines for the EEAS state that the geographical desks should `play a leading role in the strategic decision-making´ about programming and implementation. Proposals to the College of Commissioners will be prepared jointly by the High Representative and the Commissioner for Development.

How this should work in practice must be decided before the end of the year, according to the guidelines. Catherine Ashton must move quickly to find a solution to the internal conflicts that remain. The European Parliament and many others will closely monitor the organizational structure for development programmes in the new Commission. Similar issues arise for EU Neighbourhood Policy programs.

Before April 2010, Catherine Ashton must submit her proposal for a Council decision on the organisation and functioning of the EEAS. Other difficult issues include the role of special representatives, and of EU delegations around the world. This goes especially for EU Delegations at the UN and other multilateral institutions.

At the same time, Ashton must quickly become a key player in foreign policy. Her first statement on Iran, for example, will be scrutinized in detail. To have any chance of success, she must delegate a number of tasks related to organization without losing overall control.

Hopefully, she will still have time to use the Lisbon Treaty to advance EU policy on horizontal issues such as human rights, conflict prevention, and green diplomacy. It is a tall order for someone with little experience in foreign and security policy, but Ashton should have the benefit of the doubt.

Herman Van Rompuy has a somewhat easier task. The Swedish Presidency will chair meetings until the end of the year, and Van Rompuy will be able to ease the transition of power in Belgium before taking up his new post.

However, the new President of the European Council must quickly agree a division of tasks with the upcoming Spanish Presidency. That might not be so easy. Zapatero is likely to fight for a strong Spanish role for example in the preparation of a post-Lisbon strategy.

Herman Van Rompuy must, like Ashton, devote much energy to the new organizational structure. What will be the relation between the President and the rest of the Council Secretariat, led by Pierre de Boissieu? Who will, in practice, prepare the work program of the Council and negotiate with the rotating Presidencies? My bet is on Pierre de Boissieu.

Many have asked whether Ashton and Van Rompuy were really the best two candidates Europe could muster. That is a good question.

But now, the choice has been made. Europe needs leaders who work well together and who make the European Union more than the sum of its individual parts. Ashton, Barroso and Van Rompuy deserve a fair chance.


Russia – a Challenge for the High Representative

15/11/2009

 

Wednesday´s EU-Russia Summit will be the last major foreign policy event under the Nice Treaty. On 1 December, the new President of the Council and the new High Representative will assume their posts. Russia will be one of their main challenges.

Sweden will continue to chair Council meetings until the end of its Presidency, in accordance with conclusions from the EU Summit in December 2008. But that doesn´t mean that the two new top politicians will keep silent. They will surely have a role at the European Council 10-11 December, perhaps appearing at a joint press conference with Reinfeldt and Barroso. The real turf wars will be during the Spanish Presidency. Zapatero will not give away Spain´s six months in the spotlights so easily.

On Wednesday in Stockholm, however, Reinfeldt will run the show together with José Manuel Barroso and Javier Solana. Discussions with Russian President Dmitrij Medvedev in the `Hall of Mirrors´ at Grand Hôtel are likely to focus on climate change, energy security and trade issues. How human rights issues will be brought up is a subject for EU Foreign Ministers´ meeting tomorrow.

Relations to Russia have been difficult for every Presidency to handle. Sweden has done better than most. The Foreign Ministry did a lot behind the scenes to avoid a new Georgia conflict this summer.

True, there is anger in Moscow over Carl Bildt´s outspoken comments on the war in Georgia, and Sweden´s statements on murders of human rights activists. It took a long time for Russia to confirm the date and place for the EU-Russia Summit. But that kind of tensions is better than treating the Kremlin with silk gloves.

Of course, the EU needs Russia, not least for its energy resources. It is perhaps no coincidence that the gas pipelines Nordstream and Southstream were approved by EU Member States just before the Summit. But Russia is also dependent on the EU as its main trading partner.

During Foreign Ministers´discussions tomorrow, there will be hardliners (many from Eastern Europe) and softies (including Germany and Italy). Of course, the European Union needs a constructive dialogue with Russia. In my view, however, it would be a sign of weakness if the EU did not dare to speak up about killings of human rights activists and journalists at the meeting with Medvedev.  The same is true for the rigged regional elections and the continued human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Hopefully, Medvedev will not repeat Putin´s aggressive appearance in Stockholm 2001. Then, Putin chocked the press and his host Göran Persson by saying `If the Albanian UCK-terrorists cannot be disarmed they must be eliminated´. Putin continued: `In Macedonia, we are presently experiencing the same thing as we have experienced in Chechnya´. Fortunately, the EU used its diplomatic skills to solve the conflict in Macedonia, not the brutal strategy of the Kremlin in the Caucasus.

But even if Medvedev is more soft-spoken than Putin, that does not mean that the politics of the Kremlin has changed much, whether it comes to Chechnya or to human rights in general.

Promoting democracy and freedom of the media in Russia is a strategic task for the new EU High Representative, to be appointed on Thursday. If too little is done, the Russian model will corrupt state power also in parts of the European Union. Look at Italy.

One key to success might be to frame this work in a modern strategy for democratization and media pluralism, to be applied in all EU external relations. Anna Lindh brought up this issue during the Swedish Presidency in 2001. It might be something for the new High Representative to consider.

Others about the Swedish Presidency, EU-Russia meeting: DN, DN2, DN3, EUObserver, Jean Quatremer, Jon Worth, Le Taurillon, SvD, SvD2, SvD3, Tony Barber


Progress on Enlargement

08/11/2009

 

The final approval of the Lisbon Treaty opens the door to the European Union again. Many obstacles to further enlargement remain, but there has been significant progress during the Swedish Presidency.

Signature of arbitration agreement Croatia-Slovenia.  Photo: André Mkandawire/Swedish Government Offices

Signature of arbitration agreement Croatia-Slovenia. Photo: André Mkandawire/Swedish Government Offices

At a ceremony in Stockholm this week, the Croatian and Slovenian Prime Ministers signed an arbitration agreement on the border dispute between the two countries. Slovenia lifted its blockage of Croatia´s accession negotiations at the end of September. As a consequence, enlargement negotiations with Croatia now move forward at full speed.

The Presidency is careful not to take credit for the breakthrough, instead praising the political leadership of Croatia and Slovenia. However, behind the scenes there have been intense efforts to solve the border issue both by enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn and by the Swedish Presidency. Carl Bildt´s statement on the eve of the Presidency was carefully crafted to put pressure on both sides. Croatia´s ambassador to France acknowledged the role of the EU and the US recently in an interview with Euractiv.

This week´s border agreement is not the end of the story. While Croatia´s Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor is saying that she will send the agreement to Parliament next week, her Slovenian colleague Borut Pahor is advocating an advisory referendum before ratification. But there will be significant progress in negotiations during the coming weeks. Sweden will be able to close a large number of negotiation chapters before the end of the year.

Iceland might well accede at the same time as Croatia. The Swedish Presidency skillfully achieved an agreement already at the Foreign Ministers´ meeting in end July to ask the Commission to prepare the opinion on Iceland´s membership. Another country at the helm might not have been as motivated to navigate the difficult waters of the economic compensation from Iceland to bank customers in the UK and the Netherlands. Sweden was able to prevent this question from delaying Iceland´s accession process.

Now the European Council in December is likely to agree that Iceland should be able to start accession negotiations early next year. Whether the Icelanders in the end will vote yes to membership is another story.

There has also been progress on the membership bids of Macedonia and Serbia, while Turkey remains a difficult issue and Cyprus is a cause of big concerns for the Swedes. The `big bang´ breakthrough of the first Swedish Presidency in 2001 will not be repeated.

Ratification of the accession treaties might become more difficult next time, with all the add-ons to the Lisbon Treaty that are supposed to be annexed to the treaties, and with a possible conservative government in the UK (Tony Barber writes well about the opt-outs on his FT Brussels Blog). Friends of enlargement should try to decouple the opt-outs from the ratification of the accession treaties.

Still, enlargement could be the success story Fredrik Reinfeldt badly needs, with failure on climate approaching.

But most of the credit should go to Carl Bildt and Olli Rehn.

 

A short note on the new posts in the Lisbon Treaty: I played a small role once during discussions on a Swedish Commissioner. My experience is that nothing is decided until very late in the process. I guess this is true for the two new posts as well. While it is fun to speculate, and others might have better sources when making their assessments, personally I will wait until more first-hand information is available. Maybe we will know more by tomorrow evening, after talks at the celebrations in Berlin.

One question, though. Is Michel Barnier really going to get the internal market portfolio in the new Commission? Earlier, I thought it would be too provocative to give this post to a Frenchman (don´t get me wrong, Barnier is very skilled, but politically it seems difficult). However, Barroso´s recent appointment of Mario Monti as an independent expert on the development of the internal market looks like a compensatory measure to fence off criticism when Barnier is appointed.


Failure on Climate Financing

02/11/2009

 

Read the conclusions, do not trust press conferences. That is good advice when it comes to understanding political decisions – in the EU as well as in domestic policy.

José Manuel Barroso and Fredrik Reinfeldt claimed success on climate after the European Council. `The difficult question of “climate financing” has been resolved and the EU’s climate package is thus complete.´, the Swedish Presidency states on its website.

The text gives another impression. Fredrik Reinfeldt had to weaken key paragraphs considerably. As a result, there is no clear commitment from the EU on financing in the run-up to Copenhagen. This will complicate tomorrow´s talks with Barack Obama, as well as negotiations with other major emitters.

The European Council agreed on the overall amount needed for 2020, including private financing through emission trading and other means. But more importantly, there was no decision on the short-term financing, crucial for a political agreement in Copenhagen.

Before the EU Summit, Sweden had proposed the following wording:

`The European Council appreciates the Commission´s estimate of an overall financing need of EUR 5-7 billion per year for the first three years following an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen and underlines that the EU in this context is ready to contribute its fair share of these costs´

This text met strong resistance from Germany, Poland and others. As a result, there was no agreement on the financing need, in contrast to what the Swedish Presidency claims on its website. The paragraph in the final conclusions is:

`Taking note of the Commission estimate that a global financing of EUR 5-7 billion per year for the first three years is needed following an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen, the European Council underlines that a figure will be determined in the light of the outcome of the Copenhagen conference.´

Der Spiegel is right in describing the outcome as a success for Angela Merkel, who did not want concrete figures decided at the Summit. The Guardian, among others, gives a good overview of the failure to reach agreement on financial commitments.

There was also no agreement on the controversial issue of `hot air´, emission allowances in the Kyoto protocol not used by countries.

What does this mean for Copenhagen?

Fredrik Reinfeldt´s adviser for climate, Lars-Erik Liljelund, rules out a legally binding agreement. `It was somewhat stupid to make Copenhagen a bigger event than it is´, he says to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

How wise is it then to abandon the Kyoto protocol (which does not end in 2013) without securing an alternative?

 

Briefly on other issues at the European Council:

Fredrik Reinfeldt was more successful on institutional issues. The Lisbon Treaty is almost in place, a significant achievement by the Presidency. Another positive result is the progress on guidelines for the External Action Service.

On migration, the Summit agreed wording supporting tough border controls, but did not specifically mention the Geneva convention in a significant step away from earlier EU commitments.

The Baltic Sea Strategy was endorsed, a vague, non-committal document.

If the final hurdles for the Lisbon Treaty are cleared, there will soon be a decision on the new posts. However, dark clouds still loom over the climate negotiations in Copenhagen.