Per Augustsson started by explaining that about 27 people currently worked at the Swedish Embassy. About a dozen were diplomatic staff actually sent from Sweden and only 4 or 5 of those had responsibility for political issues. He had been involved in preparation for the Swedish presidency of the European Council for a good three years in advance, reflecting the current arrangement for a rolling presidency with overlap in the partnerships between the states. Sweden had previously held the EU Presidency in 2001. This had given more confidence in tackling what was now a significantly more diverse agenda and enlarged membership.
The global financial crisis had coincided with the period of the Swedish Presidency, with obvious responsibilities to co-ordinate the EU response. There was also a new European Parliament and a European Commission in transition. The prolonged conclusion of the Lisbon Treaty had moved closer, with the referendum in Ireland and the final ratification by Poland.
Sweden had prevously been considered basically eurosceptic (though not perhaps to the same extent as Britain). But now opinion polls showed Swedes more supportive of the concept of “Europe”. An active lead taken by Swedish ministers in European affairs had probably played a part here.
Young people in particular have warmed to the advantages of being part of Europe. They take it for granted that they can travel widely without formalities.
The key agenda priorities of the Swedish EU Presidency were now the economy and policies towards climate change. They raised not only challenges but opportunities.
Economy At the G20 summit in Pittsburgh† Sweden was able to represent the EU as a whole, thus providing a voice for states which are not members of the Group of Twenty. One important topic was the regulation and supervision of financial markets. A universal problem is also the implications of rising levels of unemployment. Even in Sweden, the previous levels of unemployment had been very low for many years, and now had risen to over 8%. In any society unemployment inevitably raises other problems. Another concern of social policy was the issue of ageing populations.
Climate change Sweden will co-ordinate the EU’s position at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in December. A global deal is necessary. The ambition is that Europe should take the lead in a global context, demonstrating that control of emissions is possible. The USA and China will hopefully also play key roles in taking responsibility for ameliorating the climate change situation.
Other priorities There were three more priorities which were high on the presidency agenda:
|Justice and Home Affairs |
– making progress on crime prevention, border control, asylum, migration and visa controls. A coherent policy on these issues was being negotiated – which, acknowledging Sweden’s role will be known as the Stockholm Programme.
|The Baltic Sea |
An EU strategy for the Baltic region was being developed. This was both a regional and a European issue. Environmental and economic aspects were key points in the discussions.
|The global role of the EU |
There was a continuing need for co-ordination of foreign affairs issues. Much of the focus has been on the immediate neighbourhood to the EU borders, specially the eastern European countries. Another key issue was progress on enlargement – negotiations with Croatia and Turkey were high on the agenda.
|A challenging series of questions from the audience followed, summarised here. |
Was there a “Plan B” if the Czechs further delayed ratification of the Lisbon Treaty?The general impression throughout Europe is that everyone would like to see the Lisbon Treaty in place by the end of the year; then we could turn attention to the positive opportunities for progress.
Did the current attitude of the UK Conservative Party embarrass the Swedes?
It would be impossible for the Swedish EU Presidency to comment on this issue. The Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said that while he had much in common with the Conservatives and David Cameron, this did not extend to European policy.
How strong a part did the Swedes expect to play at this December’s Copenhagen conference on climate change?
Sweden’s job was to co-ordinate the EU and negotiate on the EU’s behalf. The negotiations would be challenging.
Could the EU play a larger part in easing pressure on the UK from economic migrants?
The closure of the camps around Calais had been a high profile story in British media. It was clear that the borders of the European Union could not be completely sealed. It was important to encourage a co-ordinated policy throughout the EU. Sweden itself had taken quite a high proportion of refugees.
In the Swedish experience did immigrants integrate or tend to cluster in city ghettos?
Sweden – like many other countries – did have an ongoing problem with integration. The concentration of migrants was high in some areas, for instance the town of Södertälje†, south of Stockholm.
If the Lisbon Treaty is finally settled the presidency of the European Council would pass to an individual. What did Sweden think of the proposal that Tony Blair should become EU President?
Per Augustsson said that the Presidency did not take positions on particular names mentioned.