1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Protests, chill, and an uncertain future

The Swedish government is strongly critical towards Russian aggression against Ukraine, including the illegal annexation of Crimea and other activities in the area. The provocative way in which Russian military forces behave around the Baltic Sea, violating the territory of Sweden and other countries, is another reason for Swedish criticism. Among them are also the increased numbers of intelligence operations and activities to influence countries in the region as well as the simulated attacks made by Russian aircraft against the Stockholm area and southern Sweden. A submarine hunt in October of 2014, in the Stockholm archipelago, resulted in confirmation of the presence of a small foreign submarine. While no country was named by the authorities, the conclusion of analysts was that its origin was in all probability Russian.

The Russian activities have had a strong impact on Swedish defence politics. They have led to a strengthening of ongoing and planned increases in defence capabilities centred on territorial defence and with a particular focus on the island of Gotland, seen as particularly vulnerable. It has also brought on increased defence cooperation with other countries, in particular Finland, as well as NATO.

Swedish-Russian diplomatic relations have been deeply affected. Sweden has protested about the illegal annexation of Crimea, against Russian violations of Swedish airspace and against repeated Russian interference with the cable-laying for the underwater electricity cable, Nordbalt, between Sweden and Lithuania, which by connecting the Swedish electricity net with the Baltic ones will reduce Baltic dependence on Russian gas. Russian responses have been made in a harsh tone. Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, also declared in an interview, published in Dagens Nyheter, that if Sweden joins NATO, Russia would take action and admonished Sweden that it should be aware of the risks involved with a potential membership.

Tatarintsev has also, while still stating that he seeks a strengthened dialogue with Sweden, accused the country of being responsible for the chill in the atmosphere between the two countries. Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström’s answer has been that there is indeed a chill in Swedish-Russian relations but that they do not depend on Sweden but rather on the way in which Russia acts.

A large majority of the population share the views of the government. According to a survey conducted in late 2014, four out of five Swedes were worried by the developments in Russia.

As stated in the government’s Defence Bill (Sweden’s Defence Policy 2016 – 2020), proposed for the parliament on 23 April 2015, the Swedish government believes that these developments will continue. At the same time, it sees the Russian policy as erratic and the development of the security of the region as hard to predict.

At the moment, all military contacts with Russia have been suspended but, as declared by the Foreign Minister Wallström, in spite of the present Russian policy Sweden must maintain its bilateral relations and the EU its contacts with Russia.


A Policy More Needed than Ever

The present (Social Democratic – Green) government, in power since September 2014, pursues the same line as the previous one, as shown by Ms Wallström’s declaring that the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries now need the EU more than ever. In the same vein, according to the document stating the government’s overall EU priorities for 2015 (posted in November 2014), Sweden will work to ensure that the review of the EU Neighbourhood Policy results in an ambitious approach that better answers its challenges and expectations; that the EU remains united and principled in its response to Russian aggression, standing up for the right of every country to determine its own future; that the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga reaffirms political support and demonstrates solidarity with partner countries, and that steps are taken to deepen relations with all partner countries; that EU support clearly shows the advantages of closer ties with the EU and seeks to overcome strains that deeper free trade agreements can create in terms of economic transition; and that the EU increases its focus on building strong democratic societies.

In May 2015, Ms Wallström visited Moldova together with her Lithuanian colleague, Linas Linkevičius. Interviewed by the newspaper Expressen, she stated that one of the aims was to encourage Moldova to increase the pace of reforms, in particular within the judicial area and as concerns corruption. Support for reforms and the opening of trade and social contacts are, she stated, the best ways to support Eastern Partnership countries.

Asked about the risk that Moldova and other Eastern Partnership countries will face the same fate as Ukraine if they get closer to the EU, Ms Wallström agreed that this may actually happen. The choice is up to them, she said, to determine which advantages for them lie in choosing Europe rather than Russia.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven also addressed the present challenges in his speech at the Riga Summit by pointing to some areas in which EaP could be improved to make it more resilient to internal and external efforts to undermine security and sovereignty. Focus should be on areas of immediate concern to citizens, such as the fight against corruption, the rule of law and human rights, protection of the environment and improved conditions for trade investments and work.


Limited progress acceptable in difficult times

Margot Wallström has described the outcome of the meeting as a reaffirmation by the EU and the six Eastern Partnership countries of their support for the project of European reforms and European integration. Some Swedish newspapers have, however, underlined the very cautious approach taken in the conclusions of the summit as concerns the issue of ultimate membership of the EU, seeing it as obvious that there was a fear of annoying Russia too much. Former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt commented in an article (see below) that in the situation that exists today, with everything from massive disinformation to tanks and soldiers thrown against the Eastern Partnership, just staying the course is a powerful sign of success.


Little Need for EU Army

The Juncker proposal for an EU army was reported on the news pages but received very few comments. The most common comment is that it is unrealistic and the general view seems to be on the whole negative. In the Swedish debate, NATO (due to its American component) is dealt with as the only relevant organization in this context.

2. EU Enlargement

Unchanged Enlargement Policy

Russian aggression in Ukraine has not had any effect on the Swedish views on EU enlargement to the eastern neighbourhood. The suggested policies remain the same and the need for an EU membership perspective as well. To the extent that enlargement is mentioned in the Swedish newspapers and in the debate, the same strong endorsement can be seen in the population as well.

This does not mean, however, that Swedish politicians or the Swedish population see membership as easily accomplished or as likely to happen in the near future. Membership is seen to be a ways off and only after a reform process that Sweden takes very seriously. Since this reform is considered to be a very arduous process, it is seen as even more important that the perspective of membership exists to motivate the efforts.

Generally, the events in Ukraine are not analysed in terms of a Russian – Ukrainian crisis or war, even if the military involvement of Russia is limited to this country only. Rather, it is put into the context of a new Russian aggressive policy in which the new ambitions are pursued using different means in different countries. This concerns not only Eastern Partnership countries but also Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and relates to various forms of influence operations through media and other types of communication, questioning whether these states are sovereign countries, as well as a generally aggressive behaviour. Sweden and its neighbours are already today objects of operations aiming at influencing security policy and undermining sovereignty. There is therefore in Swedish thinking no clear border line between what is happening in Ukraine and in the Baltic Sea region, including against Sweden.


Enlargement Creates Stability but Russian Policy Endangers the Project

The positive Swedish view on continued enlargement of the EU as regards the Western Balkans and Turkey has remained unchanged even after the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the change of government in September 2014 into one led by the Social Democratic Party and the Greens. It is shared among all political parties, with the exception of the Sweden Democrats, and in the latter case only with regard to Turkey. Also among people in general the support for enlargement is very high when compared with other countries within the EU.

Two key factors form the basis for Swedish views on EU enlargement. The first one is Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union which states that all European democracies have the right to apply for membership.

The other key factor is the strong belief that enlargement is beneficial for the whole of the EU. First of all it enhances stability in Europe. This belief has been part of Swedish policy since it entered the Union and Sweden fought hard for all the three Baltic countries to join the Union. Enlargement of the EU was therefore important among the priorities of the Swedish Presidencies of 2001 and 2009 and the Eastern Partnership was a Polish-Swedish initiative. During the 2009 Presidency, important steps were taken towards membership as regards both the Western Balkans and Turkey. The conviction that enlargement leads to stability is also seen to apply to these countries and consequently leads to the conclusion that countries which, regardless of their own efforts, do not have any perspective of ever joining the EU, are seen as more prone to listen to nationalistic and extremist preaching and may thereby become a problem for others as well.

In addition, enlargement is also seen to make a contribution to European prosperity by increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), not only in the new member states themselves but also in the older ones.

Failing to integrate the Balkans is furthermore considered to affect the credibility of the European External Action Service and the EU as a whole. Such failures in its own backyard would have an impact on its attempts to be a global actor.

As expressed in the government’s document on overall EU priorities for 2015, the government also considers that progress in one country’s rapprochement to the EU also creates momentum for other countries in the region.

Furthermore, negotiations must proceed on their own merits and be based on conditions related to the acquis communautaire, and that bilateral issues should not be linked to enlargement negotiations.

The specific ambitions for 2015 are to seek to ensure that the EU enlargement policy remains unchanged and shows commitment to Turkey’s membership process, that relations between Serbia and Kosovo are normalized, that reforms in Bosnia continue with a view to future EU membership and to opening negotiations with Macedonia.

Another Swedish ambition in terms of enlargement is that the qualitative review of candidates is reinforced concerning key political and economic issues and that the evaluations made by the EU are made more transparent and comparable.

Among key concerns is the lack of progress regarding these reforms. The Swedish efforts for the Western Balkans with a view to increasing its pace towards the EU aim towards (1) enhanced economic integration with the EU and development of market economy, (2) strengthened democracy, greater respect for human rights and a more fully developed state under the rule of law, and (3) a better environment, reduced climate impact, and enhanced resilience to environmental impact and climate change. As for Turkey, expected results of efforts focus on strengthened democracy, greater respect for human rights and a more fully developed state under the rule of law.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘Eastern Neighbours and Russia: Close links with EU citizens’ (ENURC) in collaboration with TEPSA (Trans European Policy Studies Association). The project focuses on developing EU citizens’ understanding of the topic of the Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia and aims at encouraging their interest and involvement in this policy which has an impact on their daily lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is mapping out the discourses on these issues in European policies all over Europe. Research institutes from all 28 member states are invited to give overviews on the discourses in their respective countries.

This survey was conducted on the basis of a questionnaire that has been elaborated in March 2015. Most of the reports were delivered in June 2015. This issue and all previous issues are available on the recently relaunched EU-28 Watch website: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives significant funding from the Otto Wolff-Foundation, Cologne, in the framework of the ‘Dialog Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and financial support from the European Commission. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.