From 1st January until 30th June 2023, Sweden will take over from the Czech Republic and preside the Council of the EU, amid challenging times for the Union, with inflation and an energy crisis fuelled by the war in Ukraine. This article will provide an overview of the Kingdom’s priorities for the rotating presidency.
On 14th December, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson presented to the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, his government’s priorities during its presidency of the Council of the EU. The Swedish Presidency comes only a few months after the arrival of a new government led by the centre-right Moderates with ministers also from Christian Democrats and Liberals and with support from the far-right Sweden Democrats.
Unsurprisingly, the top one priority will be the European Union’s response to the consequences for the Member States of the war in Ukraine. In his speech Kristersson said the EU will “systematically stand up for Ukraine.” The Swedish Presidency has determined four priorities for the next six months namely: security, resilience, prosperity, democratic values and the rule of law. In this article, we will look more precisely at each one, and assess which measures can be expected to be pushed forward by Sweden.
In his address to the Swedish Parliament Kristersson reminded that, while we are all suffering due to the war, Ukraine is paying the highest price. This war obviously first and foremost threatens the security of Ukrainians, who are fighting for their lives. Sweden has pledged to continue the Union’s economic and military support for Ukraine, as well as support for Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
But the conflict also threatens the security of the whole European Union. Kristersson therefore called for unity across Member States and said he intends to implement the Strategic Compass. The Strategic Compass, which was adopted in March 2022, gives the European Union an ambitious plan of action for strengthening the EU’s security and defence policy by 2030 in terms of crisis management, resilience, capability development and partnerships.
Under the same pillar of security, the Swedish Presidency means to fight against cross-border organised crime and violent extremism. To this end, the Presidency announced it will prioritise the forthcoming proposal for a Directive on the transfer of criminal proceedings. Transfer of criminal proceedings refers to the process in which the competent authority of one state transfers a criminal case against a particular suspect to the competent authority of another state, with the request to consider prosecution. Under the same vein, the Presidency expressed its will to move forward on the implementation of several drugs policies.
Besides, Sweden intends to review the EU ‘s migration and asylum system and deliver a New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Let us keep in mind here that Sweden’s government must compose with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party. For the Kingdom this will require action both within the EU and outside its borders, in cooperation with third countries.
The second priority unveiled by Ulf Kristersson is to strengthen European competitiveness. Here the Swedish government acknowledged that the most urgent matters are short-term measures to counter the consequences of the war in Ukraine but stressed that emergency measures “cannot become the new normal” and that long term plans are needed.
Under this pillar, the Presidency will ensure that the importance of competition is highlighted in EU work on the green and digital transitions in the business sector. Moreover, in line with Sweden’s tradition as a defender of free-trade, efforts to eliminate trade barriers for both goods and services in the internal market will continue, as the Presidency will mark the 30th anniversary of the launch of the said internal market.
Moreover, Ulf Kristersson underlined that competitiveness also means resilience. Implying that the EU cannot be dependent on one another partner country, I.e., Russia or China, and must therefore seek varied trade agreements with other countries (such as Australia, Chile, India, Indonesia, Mexico and New Zealand.)
Regarding legislations, two regulations will be prioritised: the new Ecodesign Regulation and the Construction Products Regulation, both of which aim to ensure an efficient and effective internal market that contributes to a circular economy. The Swedish Presidency also said it will work on the negotiations on the Single Market Emergency Instrument, which is intended to help respond to crises and the European Chips Act, strengthening Europe’s semiconductor ecosystem.
3. Green & energy transition
As the war in Ukraine has showed, the EU the needs, now more than ever, to move away from fossil fuels, not only to reach climate goals but also for security. To that end, the Swedish Presidency vowed to put the Fit for 55 Package into action and speed up the energy transition.
Two sectors are particularly important for the green transition: transport and industry. Regarding transport, Sweden plans to further develop the Trans-European Transport Network and will push forward several legislations on road, maritime and rail transport and aviation. Concerning industry, the Swedish Presidency will tackle carbon dioxide emissions pricing and certification of carbon sequestration and capture. The Swedish Presidency will also prioritise the revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive.
Ulf Kristersson stated that “Sweden will therefore prioritise efforts to hasten the electrification of the EU.” This will include working on a new Batteries Regulation and advancing the work on the proposals in the gas market package to replace Russian fossil energy with other low-carbon energy sources.
The Kingdom made it clear that for them achieving the green transition relies on companies and innovation, and that it will “provide the right regulatory framework and policies” to attract investments in innovative industries.
4. Democratic values and the rule of law
Last but not least, Ulf Kristersson promised that the Swedish Presidency will uphold the principle of the rule of law and fundamental rights. Respect for democracy, individual rights, freedoms and the rule of law are among the established European values, but cannot be taken for granted. To safeguard them, the Presidency will strive to ensure that the EU accedes to the European Convention on Human Rights as soon as possible. This would contribute to the creation of a single European legal space, achieving a coherent framework of human rights protection throughout Europe.
The challenges that await Sweden
It is certain that the Presidency that awaits Sweden is a tricky one, with difficulties both at home and on a geopolitical level. A major challenge, as Ulf Kristersson is well aware of, is to maintain unity and build consensus between Member States. A difficult task since countries have vastly different energy mix and some have also ties to Russia. But the Swedish Prime Minister expressed his confidence in the collective capabilities of EU Member States.
But for Sweden unity in diversity starts at home. The country’s political divisions were on full display during Ulf Kristersson’s presentation to the Swedish Parliament. Opposition parties called him out on migration, Swedish green policies, forestry and the rule of law. To which the Prime Minister answered, “today the focus is on the EU […] let’s not talk about domestic politics here.”
Yet another challenge for the Swedish Presidency might well come from one of the EU’s key partners: the United States. Indeed, the US Congress adopted last August a massive program of state subsidies called the Inflation Reduction Act, worth hundreds of billions. Ulf Kristersson said that “new protectionism from the US can be a problem.” He warned this might “lead to EU protectionism, which is not a good thing.”
In short, Sweden is taking the EU Presidency at a time when the war in Ukraine is entering its heart-breaking one-year anniversary. A tense geopolitical context that will inevitably colour its presidency and test the Nordic country’s ability to bring European nations together. And to truly embody the EU’s notion of ‘Union’.
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