Sweden: Quite an interesting presidency
15 December 2009
Sweden's EU Presidency will mainly be remembered for the final ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, but Fredrik Reinfeldt and his team also made progress on more low-profile technical issues. Dagens Nyheter presents an inventory of the achievements of what it deems to be a globally positive six-month term in office.
Exceeding the expectations of many commentators, Sweden's EU presidency was marked by serious commitment on a number of fronts, a flexible and democratic management style, the avoidance of major setbacks, and a decision procedure that proved to be efficient, even if decision makers were not always inspired. With so much press devoted to the end of suspense on Lisbon, it is perhaps easy to overlook the Stockholm Programme (on immigration issues as well as police and civil law cooperation), the Baltic Sea Strategy and the new directives on the monitoring of European financial markets – all of which were adopted since Sweden took over in July. And while the skeptics may point to the absence of agreement on a future internal medical services market, let's not forget Iceland's successful bid to join the EU, the settlement of the maritime border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia, and the new chapter which has now been opened in accession negotiations with Turkey. In spite of what you may have been told, European enlargement has not ground to halt, and Sweden should take some credit for this positive news.
Without Reinfeldt, no Klaus signiature
However, there is no doubt that the Swedish Presidency's greatest achievement will remain the long awaited implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, which officially came into force on 1st December. At the Swedish Chancellery, the word in the corridors has it that when he reluctantly put his name to the treaty, Czech President and black-belt nitpicker Václav Klaus let it slip that “without that guy, I never would have signed." The guy in question was Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, who kept a cool head and astutely refrained from succumbing to what must have been an almost overwhelming temptation to needle Klaus on the topic of his unrelenting prevarication, which kept him from signing a key document on the future management of Europe until the last possible moment. Now that this potentially enormous setback has been avoided, let's hope that the Union will soon reap the benefits of greater efficiency and openness offered by the treaty.
So in spite of adverse circumstances and a rather inauspicious slogan, "Taking on the Challenge," which fell considerably short of the much more upbeat three "Es" motto – "Enlargement, Employment and Environment" – which was the guiding adage for its previous presidency in 2001, Sweden did succeed in making progress on a range of issues, and the EU certainly benefited from Fredrik Reinfeldt's attentive management style. However, the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy as the new President of the European Council and Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs was less than inspired. That is not to say that the nomination process was not well managed, but that it was characterized by a lack of goodwill and noticeably short on enthusiasm. With better preparation, what many regard as a rather disappointing outcome could have been avoided.
Sweden had a chance to speak...
At a time when old style nationalism is undergoing a resurgence, attentive management has not been enough to set aside major uncertainties about the future development of the EU. The last six months have been marked by a decline in consensus, which for example has resulted in an almost universal reluctance to tackle the thorny issue of EU agricultural policy, and there is no denying that for Europeans in general, apathy on the question of enlargement is no longer an exception but the rule. Sweden had a chance to speak out on important issues that will affect the future of Europe, and it failed to capitalize on this opportunity in a number of policy areas.
So although it is was not exactly world beating, the Swedish Presidency can certainly lay claim to a passing grade – and bear in mind that the game is not over yet. If Sweden succeeds in maintaining a united European front that can make a constructive contribution to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, it may even graduate with honours.