What are the priorities of the incoming Swedish Presidency?

Politics - January 13, 2023

After the New Year, Sweden takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Swedish prime minister has presented which priorities he has for the coming sex months in the union.

After the autumn’s general election, Sweden got a new centre-right majority in the Riksdag, the Parliament. A government was created by three traditional parties (EPP and RE) and with the support of the fourth party, Sweden Democrats (ECR), which has the largest voter support of the four cooperation parties.

Comprehensive written agreements – between the three government parties and the Sweden Democrats – are the basis for the formation of the government. One of the agreements concerns influence over the government’s European policy.

It is known that the Sweden Democrats are skeptical of many of the political superstructures created by the EU, while other parties in the government base are uncritical federalists. Here it remains to be seen how the different points of view can be reconciled.

Speech in the Parliament

The influence of the Sweden Democrats can be seen by the fact that the Prime Minister emphasizes the self-determination of the member states as well as the need for cooperation in his approach to the upcoming Swedish Presidency after the turn of the year.

– We will look after the common European interest and show humility before the diversity of member states. Just like here at home, the new government’s aim is to gather, not to divide – to unite, not to divide, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a speech in the Swedish Parliament earlier in December.

– Sweden is taking over the Presidency at a time when the European Union is facing unprecedented challenges. A greener, more secure and freer Europe is the foundation of our priorities, he said.

Europe has been thrown back in time

The speech began with by addressing the severe situation at the EU’s eastern border.

– Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of a peaceful neighboring country has stolen the freedom of millions of Ukrainians. It has thrown Europe back into the darkest chapter of the history books.

– We can state with sadness that the Europe we have known since the fall of the Berlin Wall now belongs to yesterday. It’s a change so big that it’s still hard to comprehend, Kristersson said.

The Prime Minister emphasized European unity in support for Ukraine. He expects to increase economic, humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. He wants to continue gathering countries and resources for the reconstruction of Ukraine. This is in order to protect international law, ensure accountability and closely monitor Ukraine’s progress as a candidate country.

– In this upheaval time, Sweden takes over the presidency of the European Union. It is binding. The union that has become synonymous with peace, freedom and trade is today next door to the war that once created the need for the EU.

First priority: Security and unity

The Prime Minister emphasized how important the security issues will be during the first half of 2023 when Sweden will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union

– Our main mission as the chair country will therefore be to contribute to securing Europe’s security. By systematically standing up for Ukraine, but also by emphasizing the EU’s geopolitical importance in an increasingly uncertain world, Ulf Kristersson said.

He also accentuated how important it is to prioritize internal security and the fight against serious organized crime. Not least Sweden has growing problems with increased violence in organized clans and gang groups.

Strengthen competitiveness by act against overregulation

The second priority the Prime Minister raised was the European competitiveness which he considers essential for our economic future.

– The EU must safeguard the dynamic driving forces that reside in successful companies, not topple them with overregulation. Then European companies can continue to assert themselves in the global competition, Kristersson told to the Members of Parliament.

He was critical against regulations that put obstacles in the way of innovation and entrepreneurship.

– The truth is that the EU is lagging behind. Therefore, a clear competition policy and better rules of the game are needed for European industry, the Prime Minister stated.

He also warned against recklessness and that too open borders could make our countries vulnerable.

– Openness must not turn into naivety or unilateral dependence on either Russian fossil energy or Chinese minerals. Therefore, the EU must spread risk by guarding diversified and mutually deepened trade with other countries.

As part of this, it is crucial to intensify the continued work with a European ecosystem for semiconductors.

– Facilitating digital services in new trade agreements, as well as in the internal market, is an important task for the Swedish presidency. But also increased own production to secure supply chains in strategically important areas, Kristersson said.

Need for energy transition

The third priority for upcoming semester is, according to the Swedish government, to continue efforts to tackle high and volatile energy prices while addressing long-term energy market reform.

– Therefore, Sweden will prioritize work to speed up the EU’s electrification. For example, through the work with a new battery regulation and continued negotiations to increase fossil-free energy production.

– We will take the work forward with the proposals in the gas market package, to replace Russian fossil energy with other low-carbon energy sources. At the same time as the EU countries that want to, continue to take responsibility by building new nuclear power, the Prime Minister declared.

Democratic values and cooperation

As the fourth priority, the Prime Minister mentioned the safeguarding of the fundamental European values, including respect for democracy, individual freedoms and rights, and the principles of the rule of law.

The Prime Minister balances here between implementing the EU charter and respecting the sovereignty of the member states.

– During the presidency, Sweden will constructively take the Council’s work forward in Article 7 procedures and stand up for the EU’s right to condition disbursements of common funds on principles of the rule of law.

What that means in practice remains to be seen. Ulf Kristersson summed up his view of the task of leading the European Council as follows:

– My entire government will work hard, with strong confidence in the collective capacity of the EU’s countries and various institutions. We will be a constructive negotiating party to both the Commission and the European Parliament, Kristersson promised.

“Let us give a warm welcome to our European friends”

The Prime Minister thanked both France and the Czech Republic for carrying out the presidency in an exemplary manner, working to face Europe’s multiple crises: first a pandemic, then war in the neighborhood and on top of that an energy crisis.

Ulf Kristersson also became more personal in his speech and described with joy and anticipation the many thousands of European colleagues – politicians, experts, journalists – who will visit Sweden in the coming six months. Meetings will be held from Malmö in the south to Kiruna in the north.

– So let us all who meet visiting Europeans show our curiosity, our sincerity and our willingness to almost always find good compromises. This is exactly what the EU now also needs. We start in the slightly grim but beautiful darkness at the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi – and we end when the early summer greenery turns into the bright nights. And for the first time in many years, there is not a European summit on Midsummer Eve, the Prime Minister concluded.