The Swedish Presidency: Effective but not Exciting

 

It is too early yet to make a final assessment of the Swedish EU Presidency. Negotiating a climate treaty in Copenhagen is the most important goal for Fredrik Reinfeldt and his colleagues. At the end of the week we will know if this aim was achieved.

However, it is possible to summarize progress so far in other fields.

As others have noted, it has been a low-profile but effective Presidency. Sweden moved issues forward that were already on the agenda. One contributing factor has been the many skilled civil servants and diplomats in the Swedish administration.

After Ireland´s yes-vote, Fredrik Reinfeldt was successful in convincing Vaclav Klaus to sign the Lisbon Treaty. That was an important achievement, allowing the new Treaty to enter into force on 1 December. It paved the way for the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the two new top positions in the EU.

Fredrik Reinfeldt´s leadership has been compared to a Volvo diesel, running at an even speed in a reliable way. In some areas, however, it would have been better with a modern eco-car with more acceleration.

It is hard to find many areas where Sweden really pushed the European agenda forward during these six months. Yes, an EU presidency should act in the interest of the whole Union, but it had been possible to take more initiatives during 2007 and 2008 that had been mature for decisions this autumn.

Environment is a case in point. The Swedish government was late in its proposals regarding the EU Sustainability Strategy review, and has taken few initiatives in areas such as chemicals, waste and biological diversity. The talk about `eco-efficiency´ did not lead to concrete decisions.

In some areas the reasons are ideological.

The centre-right government in Stockholm did not want to review the controversial directive on posting of workers, after a heated debate in Sweden regarding the Laval case. The conclusions at the December Summit on the post-Lisbon strategy do not contain much on good working conditions, gender equality or anti-discrimination, but these issues were never a real political priority for Reinfeldt´s Presidency.  

It is harder to understand the lack of initiative in areas such as environment or consumer protection where political parties in Sweden´s coalition government have traditionally had strong views.

Of course, there are exceptions.

Enlargement is perhaps the most important success story of the Presidency. Carl Bildt and his skilled collaborators played an important role behind the scenes to break the impasse in Croatia´s membership negotiations. There was also progress for Serbia and other parts of ex-Yugoslavia. Iceland started its route towards membership.

Carl Bildt also secured agreement on the European External Action Service. The Swedish Foreign Ministry did more to prevent a new Georgia crisis this summer than is publicly known, and managed (at least so far) to hold the EU together on Iran.

Justice Minister Beatrice Ask convinced her colleagues about a new Stockholm Programme with more focus on fundamental rights than before (her colleague Tobias Billström, however, was not able to change the repressive character of migration policy in Europe).

Health Minister Maria Larsson tried to hold the EU together in its response to swine flu and moved the issue of better antibiotics forward – an underestimated policy area.

But more often than not, Sweden followed the will of the big EU countries, for example on the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton.

At a remarkable event, France met with 21 other countries to discuss the future of agricultural policy, excluding Britain and Sweden – a clear provocation to the EU Presidency. The deal on financial supervision allowed the UK to retain national control over its financial sector, while the Swedish government watered down proposals on the regulation of alternative investment funds.

The Swedish Presidency was much better than the Czech, but it was in some ways also an opportunity lost.

Now in Copenhagen, the EU position is to abandon the Kyoto protocol without having a new binding treaty to put in its place.

That is not very promising for the final assessment of the Presidency.

[UPDATE Sweden´s first EU Presidency took place in 2001. A detailed description is now available in my book “Anna Lindh och det nya Europa”. More information at www.annalindheuropa.se.]

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One Response to The Swedish Presidency: Effective but not Exciting

  1. […] Mats Engström calls the Presidency “Effective” but it wasn’t exciting. (then again name one that was!) […]

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