Crucial issues for Europe and challenges for Sweden

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?

 

For Sweden, which is to assume the presidency of the EU on 1 July 2009, the issues related to the fate of the Lisbon Treaty and the events scheduled to take place during the year are seen both in the perspective of the development of the Union and in the perspective of their influence on the work of Sweden during the last half of the year 2009.

The Swedish parliament ratified the Lisbon Treaty on 20 November 2008 with 243 members supporting the proposal and 39 members against it. This outcome had been predicted – the fact that Sweden was one of the last countries to ratify did not signify that there was any doubt about the outcome.[1] 59 percent of Swedes see membership as positive (as compared to the EU average of 53 percent).[2] Some groups are, however, for various reasons critical against the Lisbon Treaty.[3]

During the autumn of 2008, the climate issue and the financial crisis were at the focus of EU-related questions discussed in Sweden. Among the conclusions at the European Council 11-12 December, the decisions on the Lisbon Treaty, taken in order to make the situation easier for the Irish, were reported rather than discussed. The news articles concentrated on the climate issue decisions. As for the decision on the continued right for member states to have its own Commissioner, Sweden has previously declared that, while being aware that this will at times mean having no Swedish Commissioner, for efficiency reasons the size of the Commission and the European Parliament cannot grow in proportion to the admission of new members.[4]

The elections to the European Parliament have as yet been subject to very little publicity.

The political parties are now starting their work to try to engage people to vote and to exceed the participation, which was only 38 percent at the previous election. The Social Democrats’[5] argument is that people should vote in order to prevent the xenophobic “Sweden Democrats”[6] and the strongly EU-critical “June List”[7] from getting seats in the parliament. (None of them are represented in the Swedish Parliament but the “Sweden Democrats” have lately received increased support in local elections). The Social Democrats’ ambition is to project this election as a ‘right-left’ one, which is a problem since the party is divided on EU issues. Claiming that EU views are not divisive within the party, they have put one of the prominent strong critics on its lists. The Christian Democrats[8] have similar problems with some EU critical members and seek to keep the core group voting by putting a former party leader on the list.[9]

As shown in an opinion poll, during the autumn 2008, only one of three Swedes was aware of the European Parliament elections taking place in 2009. Generally, according to the poll, Swedes have a positive view on the parliament and most of them think that it has an important role in the EU. However, the knowledge about the parliament and the interest for the elections remain low.[10]

The elections to the European Parliament and the institutional changes that will take place during the autumn will be a major challenge for the administrative handling of the presidency and is therefore given some attention from this point of view. Sweden is making contingency plans for a potential shift to the Lisbon Treaty.[11] However, the Irish have asked that no major projects are initiated at this stage based on a Lisbon Treaty already accepted and this should be respected says Cecilia Malmström, Minister for EU Affairs. We should also, she says, not start negotiations on who will become the new High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, considering that there are several countries that have not yet ratified the Treaty.[12]

Generally, the Swedish government sees the Lisbon Treaty as a good balance between the institutions and the new functions and rules as beneficial for the Union. Typical for the Swedish view on the EU is that it is evaluated not primarily in terms of integration but instead in terms of openness, efficiency and democratic legitimacy.[13]

However, the present situation is considered to be dangerous, as stated by Cecilia Malmström. The “institutional limbo” surrounding the Lisbon Treaty may lead to “new euroscepticism across Europe” during next year’s European elections. [14]

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities

 

Swedish views on top priorities in transatlantic cooperation

Relations between Europe and the United States are generally in Sweden considered as facing a particular opportunity for improvement with the new President, who in Sweden, as elsewhere in Europe, has become very popular.

Three particular issues can be envisaged. One of them is the American role in regard to global security. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, sees few things as more important during the coming year than to strengthen understanding between this new United States and the European Union. It is only through this partnership, he claims, that we have the possibility to take on the big global challenges – and to engage the other countries that are also decisive for success.[15]

Another issue often mentioned concerns the American role in overcoming the present financial crisis. For this, Sweden sees it as essential that the US choose a non-protectionist approach.[16]

A third issue, which for Sweden is very important during 2009, concerns the climate issue. Holding the EU-presidency during the period at the end of which the UN climate conference in Copenhagen is taking place means that Sweden sees the responsibility to bring along the United States in the process. This far, President Obama has only said that his ambition is to reduce United States’ emissions by 20 percent compared to the level of 1990.[17]

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response

 

Financial crisis: unanimity and tension

The European Council of 16 October 2008 is commented on positively, Minister of Finance, Anders Borg, sees it to contain basic issues that Sweden sees as important, such as the national responsibility and national methods; the latter is seen as necessary because of the speed that is required in which there is no time for development of common ones. The third method is to support through governmental shareholders’ contributions, rather than loans. A fourth important point is the need for openness.[18]

In the continued discussions during the autumn, Sweden has fought against industry support initiatives proposed by the French Presidency. As described by Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish preferred policy is to invest instead in increased competitive ability and support for people to get new jobs.[19] The government fears that in times like these, some EU member states are tempted to support their own major companies and it also worries about protectionism among some member states of the EU. In this policy, the government gets wide support from other political parties.[20]

Sweden is positive to the background paper by the Czech Presidency and the EU Commission in which they outline the dangers of protectionism in a situation of unemployment and argue for continued open markets.[21] Another common interest between Sweden and the Czech Republic, related to the financial crisis, is the interest for a budget reform. In order to be able to initiate this, the Czech government is waiting for a discussion paper from the Commission. The Swedish and Czech hope is to receive it very soon in order to start the discussions.[22]

On the global level, Sweden is eager to revive the Doha Development Round that failed in July 2008. In this, the Swedish government fully supports the director-general of WTO, Pascal Lamy, in his efforts to come to an agreement.[23]

 

 

 

[1] Government Offices of Sweden: Cecilia Malmström om riksdagens godkännande av Lissabonfördraget [Cecilia Malmström on the approval by the Parliament of the Lisbon Treaty], available at: www.regeringen.se/sb/d/118/a/116156 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[2] Standard Eurobarometer 70: First Results, December 2008, p. 32, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb70/eb70_first_en.pdf (last access: 25 January 2009).
[3] One of the more frequent arguments concerns the verdict against Sweden in the so called “Laval Case”, concerning the right for a Latvian company to work in Sweden paying wages far below Swedish ones. See Gunilla Herolf: Report for Sweden, in: Institut für Europäische Politik (ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, September 2008, Berlin, available at: http://www.eu-consent.net/content.asp?contentid=522 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[4] Government Offices of Sweden: Lissabonfördraget: Så ska EU bli mer öppet, mer effektivt och mer demokratiskt [The Lisbon Treaty: In this way the EU will become more open, more effective and more democratic], available at: www.regeringen.se/sb/d/108/a/100615 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[5] Socialdemokraterna.
[6] Sverigedemokraterna.
[7] Junilistan.
[8] Kristdemokraterna.
[9] Dagens Nyheter: Partierna mobiliserar inför EU-valet i juni [The Political Parties Mobilize for the EU Elections in June], 3 February 2009.
[10] Hanna Hallin/Björn Kjellström: Två av tre svenskar ovetande om Europaval, [Two out of three Swedes Ignorant about European Elections], Dagens Nyheter, 19 January 2009. The poll was made by “TNS Gallup” for the Eurobarometer, the field work being done between 13 October and 3 November 2008. The Swedish results are available at: www.europaparlamentet.se (last access: 25 January 2009).
[11] Government Offices of Sweden: Interview with the Minister for EU Affairs, Cecilia Malmström: Ett proffsigt ordförandeskap och ett EU som levererar [A professional presidency and an EU that delivers], available at: http://www.regeringen.se/sb/d/9247/a/94853 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[12] Cecilia Malmström, Minister for EU Affairs, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden, 23 January 2009, p. 6, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=18&dok_id=GW0A18 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[13] Government Offices of Sweden: Lissabonfördraget: Så ska EU bli mer öppet, mer effektivt och mer demokratiskt [The Lisbon Treaty: In this way the EU will become more open, more effective and more democratic], available at: www.regeringen.se/sb/d/108/a/100615 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[14] Cecilia Malmström: Interview: ‘Institutional Limbo’ to Overshadow 2009 elections, EurActiv, 18 November 2008, available at: http://www.euractiv.com/en/eu-elections/interview-institutional-limbo-overshadow-2009-elections/article-177289 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[15] Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister: Klimatfrågan försvåras av den ekonomiska krisen [The Economic Crisis Makes the Climate Issue More Difficult], Dagens Nyheter, 2 January 2009.
[16] Ewa Björling, Minister for Trade, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden , 23 January 2009, p. 4, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=18&dok_id=GW0A18 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[17] Dagens Nyheter: Nu tar Reinfeldt över klubban [Reinfeldt Takes the Gavel], 31 Dec.2009.
[18] Anders Borg, Minister for Finance, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament:Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden, , 31 October 2008, pp. 2-3., available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=8&dok_id=GW0A8 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[19] Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden, 7 November 2008, p. 6, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=9&dok_id=GW0A9 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[20] Maud Olofsson, Minister for Enterprise and Energy: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden, 28 November 2008, pp. 1-12, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=12&dok_id=GW0A12 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[21] Ewa Björling, Minister for Trade, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden, 23 January 2009, p. 3, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=18&dok_id=GW0A18 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[22] Cecilia Malmström, Minister for EU Affairs, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden, 23 January 2009, p. 9, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=18&dok_id=GW0A18 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[23] Ewa Björling, Minister for Trade, in: Committee on European Union Affairs of the Swedish parliament: Stenografiska uppteckningar vid EU-nämndens sammanträden 5 December 2008, p. 19, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/webbnav/?nid=3751&doktyp=eunprot&rm=2008/09&bet=13&dok_id=GW0A13 (last access: 25 January 2009).