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Sweden Takes over the EU Council Presidency: What is on the Agenda?

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

By Winona Kamphausen

Sweden took over the EU Council presidency at the beginning of the new year in a time of crisis and uncertainty. The country will have to deal with challenging problems such as the war in Ukraine, the current energy crisis, and a possible transatlantic trade war. Therefore, it is crucial to see what to expect from Sweden’s presidency as the trendsetter for the EU’s governing.

© euronews

The Council of the European Union (CoEU) is also known as the Council of Ministers. Its role is to give the EU member governments a voice, adopt EU laws, and coordinate EU policies. The country which holds the presidency will determine the agenda for the Council and, with it, the EU. The presidency is a routine; therefore, a new country takes over every six months.

Important Politicians

The most important political figure is Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson from the Moderate Party. Before that, he was a member of the Swedish Parliament and worked as a Minister for Social Security from 2010-2014. One of the critical issues for him is social mobility.

Ulf Kristersson, Swedish Prime Minister © RTBF

Another important person is Lars Danielsson, a Swedish diplomat who has served in several roles within the EU, currently being the Swedish Ambassador to the EU. As an experienced diplomat, he will be working on issues such as the EU’s support for Ukraine and limiting the rise of energy prices. In November, he told the European Policy Center that “The challenge for us is not to be submerged by crisis management.”

The presidency is expected to tackle several issues, such as the war in Ukraine, enlargement, the energy price crisis, and finding compromises between the EU-27, which are drifting more apart.

The last key politician is Jessika Roswall, Sweden’s Minister of European Affairs, also from the Moderate Party. On her agenda is turning Sweden into a “leading force to be reckoned with”. She has stated that while the Swedish Presidency will continue driving legislative work forward impartially, “at the same time there is room to put a certain national stamp on the chairmanship and focus on things that are in both Sweden's and Europe's interests.”

Sweden’s Priorities

From 1 January to 30 June 2023, Sweden presides the European Council. It already starts at a challenging time for the EU. The presidency is expected to tackle several issues that the EU is currently struggling with, such as the war in Ukraine, the energy price crisis, and finding compromises between the EU-27, which are drifting more apart. The critical agenda points are security for EU citizens, competitiveness, green and energy transition, and democratic values and the rule of law.

When Kristersson took office, he emphasised that joint support for Ukraine is one of the presidency’s priorities, continuing economic and military assistance to Ukraine. Additionally, it supports Ukraine’s path towards the EU. The Swedish Presidency urges the EU to take joint action to counter Russia's aggression by implementing a Strategic Compass. This Strategic Compass will serve as the guiding document for the development of the EU’s security and defence policy in the next years.

The presidency will mainly focus on executing the Compass's defence-related elements. Furthermore, the presidency will focus on building a consensus towards a solid European security and defence policy, by also adding new Civilian Common Security and Defence Policy.

© The Brussels Time

This aims to improving collaboration between the EU's internal and external crisis management mechanisms, combating terrorism and violent extremism, and tackling transnational crime. Another focus is the battle against transnational organised crime in order to create safe and secure communities.

Besides security, the Swedish Presidency will work on putting European competitiveness at the top of the political agenda. As a long-term goal, the EU strives for economic strength and resilience. The global importance of the EU is heavily dependent on this, in particular, the European Single Market and will result in international trade opportunities.

These factors contribute to economic growth and are critical for the EU to meet long-term challenges. The EU must continue creating the best conditions for a stable and open economy based on free competition, private investment, and successful digitalisation.

Sweden’s third priority is to maintain the EU’s efforts to combat high and volatile energy prices while addressing long-term energy market reform. First movers have a competitive advantage during periods of industrial and technological transition, which is why the Swedish Presidency advocates for a fast transition.

Joint-European steps towards fossil-fuel independence are required for the security and green transition of the Union. Europe must set an example by meeting ambitious climate goals while boosting growth and competitiveness at the same time.

The Swedish Presidency proposes transitioning to a resource-efficient, fossil-free future. This will necessitate significant investments in innovative industries, capable of translating the best ideas and innovations into functional solutions. For this, the EU must establish a proper regulatory framework.

Lastly, Sweden's Presidency will ensure that the rule of law and fundamental rights are upheld in all EU-related matters by emphasizing respect for democracy, especially regarding those member states where “democracy is sliding.” The EU is founded on democratic values, which pave the way for cohesion, individual freedoms and non-discrimination, increased economic output, and global influence.

Other Issues on the Agenda

While the Swedish Presidency will particularly focus on its priorities, this does not mean that other matters will not be present. One of the first issues the Presidency successfully managed was coordinating measures for Covid-19 travellers coming from China.

Furthermore, another issue is achieving progress in the EU’s asylum reform and finding a common position. Likely, the presidency is also able to achieve progress in the transport sector, especially on how to ‘green freight’ package for truck transport and the Trans-European Transport Network.

© Euractiv

Moreover, after years of a global pandemic, the Swedish Presidency could be finalising the European Health Data Space for secure access to sensible health data and revising the pharmaceutical legislature.

Prospects for the Presidency

The Swedish Presidency has many significant challenges ahead in times of crisis, which highlight the importance of EU security. Related issues are likely to be tackled, such as the continued support for Ukraine and furthering the energy transition amidst the current energy price crisis.

In several regards, such as economic competitiveness, the EU is “lagging behind”, as said by PM Kristersson. But he also promised that “the Swedish Presidency will be an active one and will offer constructive leadership to deepen the EU’s strengths and find compromises".

Sweden’s first presidency, in 2001, was full of crisis management as well, particularly focusing on the issue of EU enlargement. The current one will also focus on crisis management, both internally and externally.

Kristersson is hopeful to go beyond this, however, and focus on the overarching issues of the EU. Only time will tell if this ambitious approach is feasible, or whether Sweden must defer these challenges to subsequent presidency cycles and focus solely on crisis management, as previous presidencies have done.

Fun fact: It is possible to listen to the official playlist of the Swedish CoEU Presidency with songs from ABBA, Robyn, Europe, Loreen and much more.

Sources: Council of the European Union, Swedish Government, Politico, Euronews, Tagesschau

Written by Winona Kamphausen

January 2023

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