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4th Feb 2023

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

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Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year.

"Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine will be a very much on the forefront of our priority of our presidency," said Lars Danielsson, Sweden's ambassador to the EU, on Thursday (24 November).

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It will be Sweden's third, since joining the European Union in 1995, to spear head the EU's six-month rotating presidency and will be staffed with up to 200 officials.

Danielsson, who was speaking at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, a think tank, said that the EU will need to continue to aid Ukraine.

This includes continued EU military support, reconstruction efforts, more help for Ukrainian refugees, and Ukraine's ambitions to join the European Union after receiving candidate status in June.

"We need to get a unified position on how we look at Ukraine's European perspective," he said.

"The speed in which that can be realised... there you have somewhat different opinions and it's our job to try to bridge those possible differences," he said.

He also poured cold water on Western Balkan enlargement, saying it will be difficult to achieve any "tangible results" under the presidency.

Proposals for any EU treaty changes will also not be met, he said, noting the more immediate problems facing EU states.

Another big issue is the economic recession, soaring energy prices, and inflation, he said.

On energy, Danielsson said the presidency will continue discussions on the need to help steer Europe's energy market away from fossil fuels.

"This is a very difficult task, not least because the fact that we have such a different energy mix in the various member states," he said.

Another big challenge will be the United States, he said, in reference to Washington's Inflation Reduction Act.

The act offers some $370bn in subsidies to US firms, posing competitiveness questions to European counterparts.

"[It] is protection on the American side. There's no other word for it. But we need to meet that," said Danielsson.

A trade war with the US is unlikely, given the cordial relations with Washington, he said.

But he also said Europe needs to respond.

"I would say [the US act] is a big black cloud which will hang over our presidency," he said.

Crisis management presidency

Russia's war in Ukraine will enter its first year under the Swedish EU presidency.

"The challenge for us will be of course, to be not completely submerged by crisis management," he said.

Numerous legislative files on the table, totalling some 150 EU-institutional talks or so-called trilogues scheduled over presidency's six month tenure.

A more detailed breakdown of those files will be given on 14 December when Sweden's prime minister Ulf Kristersson presents them to Sweden's parliament, the Riksdag.

Kristersson has already received criticism for cutting its own environment and climate budget, posing questions on the Sweden's EU presidency's commitments on climate change.

But Danielsson said the presidency will press ahead with the EU's Fit for 55 policy, which aims to bring carbon emissions down by 55 percent by 2030.

"This all all can be summarised in one sentence, we need to improve Europe's competitiveness," he said.

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