How neutral will the Swedish EU presidency be?

Politics - January 17, 2023

The Swedish government will not pursue Swedish interests during the country’s presidency of the European Council. Instead, they have said to act neutrally. Common European interests must be pursued. This tactic is now receiving harsh criticism from Charlie Weimers, a Swedish member of the European Parliament (ECR).

He believes that there is no natural law that the presiding country should not push for what is important from its own national perspective.
This is even though there is great pressure for a neutral approach from the press corps in Brussels, from self-appointed experts, commentators and diplomats.

– But why would it be wrong for Sweden to pursue its national interests during the presidency when nowhere in the regulations does it stipulate that the presidency must be neutral, asks Charlie Weimers in a statement.

On the contrary, the presidency have often taken the opportunity to maximize their influence.

France had no qualms about pursuing their national interests when they held the presidency last spring. They didn’t even try to give the appearance of neutrality. For example, they decided to hold all summits in French. They have that right, but it is nevertheless a French interest. Also in various substantive matters, the French Presidency raised topics on the agenda that were important for the country.

Concerns about conservative influence

There is concern in Brussels that the Swedish government will be forced to pursue national interests, driven by the Sweden Democrats, who form an important parliamentary basis for the government.

Weimers states – and regrets – that the presidency is largely outside the cooperation agreement that the governing parties and the Sweden Democrats have entered into.

His forecast is therefore that the new centre-right government will continue the former social democratic government’s line of pushing for EU common interests.

Those who advocate the “neutral” line believe that it gives Sweden some kind of trust capital in Brussels.

– It doesn’t work that way, says Charlie Weimers.

Red line about migration

In one important area, the Swedish government will not be able to push for what the swedish (socialdemocrat) Commissioner Ylva Johansson wants, a migration pact. This is a political area where the Sweden Democrats have influence over the nations government.

– It is a red line for us. We will not give up control over the volumes in migration, says Wiemers about the Sweden Democrats’ stance.

Even on other topics Sweden Democrats will reject, if if the Swedish presidency tries to approve controversial proposals. One such topic is the introduction of gender quotas in company boards. It is a direct intervention in ownership rights.

Frugal presidency

On the other hand, Weimers sees positively that the Swedish government during the presidency does not want to show the EU’s wasteful, extravagant and detail-oriented side. Therefore, summits will be held far from flashy hotels and conference facilities. In Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle, the EU Commission have recently visited the Swedish wilderness. And during meetings in Stockholm, the conferences will be held in a hangar-like building near Arlanda airport.

Charlie Weimers is nevertheless somewhat hopeful about the Swedish presidency.

– At best, the EU bureaucracy can then learn that you cannot have the same policy in sunny Spain as in snowy Sweden, Charlie Weimers hopes.