Is Sweden up to the challenge?

Financial crisis, the stalement created by the Czech presidency, the uncertainty surrounding Lisbon and EU institutions: there is certainly a lot on the Swedish Presidency plate

This rotation of the EU Presidency makes one thing painfully clear: the European Union needs clearer structures, more integration, and better foreign representation. The Czech tenure admist the financial crisis has revealed that the small EU countries are not up to the daunting coordination and leadership tasks that a calamity of this magnitude requires. There is now a lot of pressure on Sweden to perform. Are the Swedes up to the challenge?

The Swedish EU presidency will be a difficult term for a variety of reasons. The uncertainty surrounding the Lisbon Treaty is the chief area of concern. Although the polls suggest the second Irish referendum in October will produce a “yes” outcome and the German constitutional court managed to ratify the Treaty this week, the future of Lisbon is still plagued with potholes of insecurity. The Czech and the Polish leaders have not signed the ratification document, and the Czech President has announced it wants to consult its constitutional court (again) with the clear intention of delaying the process until the expected election of the eurosceptic Tories in the UK. The immediate and long term future of Lisbon is certainly in doubt.

Even if Lisbon gets ratified during its presidential tenure, the Swedish Presidency will have a hard time implementing it. The Lisbon Treaty will require, among many other things, an immediate reshuffling of the Commission and the introduction of a European External Action Service (EEAS).

To complicate matters, the Swedish Presidency starts with a newly elected European Parliament. Bureaucratic momentum will need to be kick started while new MEPs struggle to grab ad hoc experience under difficult working conditions. The number of eurosceptics in the Parliament has increased, and an intention to form a new anti-federal European Party, which has the potential to block the parliamentary system, has been flagged.

And other thing – the Commission is deciding on its leader. Despite the Council’s recommendation to nominate Barroso for EU Commissioner for another term, the European Parliament may dispute this nomination. Many are voicing alternative candidates, such as Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt. Barroso has the clear support of the PPE, but the Greens, the ESP and/or the Liberals may reverse their support. It would be politically risky for the PPE to back Barroso with only the support of the European right wing and populist parties.

Despite all this, the Swedes have drafted an ambitious agenda, even if there are no thematic surprises. A clear continuation of the French and Czech agendas, the Swedish Presidency sets its focus on continued efforts to cope with the financial crisis, the EU’s climate change policy, and the EU’s foreign policy and global role with a special focus on Eastern Europe and added emphasis on enlargement. Will the Swedish Presidency be a success? There is a lot of hope, but as European citizens all we can do is wait and see.


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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