Wednesday

22nd Nov 2017

Swedish EU presidency marked by 'Nordic efficiency'

  • Filling the EU's new top jobs was a bit like solving a Rubik's cube, Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt said (Photo: Gunnar Seijbold/Swedish government)

Cool-tempered and efficient, Swedish officials in the past six months managed to steer the EU out of the institutional crisis surrounding the Lisbon Treaty and to mitigate infighting between member states on the bloc's top jobs, climate change and financial supervision.

Having kicked off on 1 July, the Swedish chairmanship of the EU came at a time of institutional limbo which hijacked politicians' and media attention from the issues of climate change and the economic crisis, which formed Sweden's original priorities.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"The Swedish EU presidency was effective in securing the Lisbon Treaty to come into force on 1 December and in managing the transition from the old treaty," EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said earlier this month in Strasbourg.

After a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in September approving the document, "the unexpected happened" when Czech President Vaclav Klaus tabled fresh demands in order to complete the ratification of the document in all 27 member states, said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in the EU parliament in December.

"We managed to do this without new demands coming from other states," he recalled, admitting he was "relieved" when the treaty finally entered into force on 1 December.

The re-appointment of Jose Manuel Barroso at the helm of the EU commission was no less challenging, with national governments preferring to delay a formal appointment over the summer in order to secure better portfolios for their commission nominees in the next cabinet.

"It was a period of institutional change and we welcomed the eventual re-appointment of Mr Barroso, as a stable counterpart for the Swedish EU presidency," Mr Reinfeldt said.

Once the Czech signature had been secured, the Swedish premier's mediating skills were tested in getting an agreement on the bloc's newly created top jobs – that of a standing president of the European Council and of a high representative for foreign policy, which will also be a vice-president of the commission.

During a period of over two weeks in which Mr Reinfeldt phoned all the 26 other EU leaders several times, agreement seemed impossible. At one point, EU affairs minister Cecilia Malmstrom admitted the situation was "a mess," mentioning the possibility of extending a one-day special summit on the issue for several days.

"Maybe he could have moved faster on the appointments, convene a summit faster. It became a media issue when it shouldn't have, just because it took so long to get to an agreement," an EU official told this website.

Mr Reinfeldt deflected such criticism when addressing the EU plenary in December. "It takes time to co-ordinate 27 member states, otherwise the EU is managed by just a few. We have taken that time," he said.

Back in November, Mr Reinfeldt did not shy away from publicly warning against a Franco-German deal on who would get the top jobs. "It is not just about two telling us what to do and then thinking we have the answer," he said at the time.

The deal came about on 19 November, with Belgian premier Herman Van Rompuy on 1 January set to become the first 'permanent' chairman of EU leaders' meetings for two years and a half. Surprise candidate Catherine Ashton from Great Britain became the new foreign policy supremo.

Meanwhile, the Swedes were pressing EU leaders to come up with a common position and precise figures to be tabled at a UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, which, in the end, failed to secure any binding emission targets. An EU offer, deemed disappointing by poor countries and green groups, was finally put on the table just before the two-week event in the Danish capital.

On financial supervision - a hot topic as the EU emerged from its worst recession since the 1930s - the deal achieved under the Swedish EU presidency was criticised by Mr Barroso as being "diluted too much" from the initial proposals tabled by the commission.

Three new supervisory bodies were created, but a complex appeals procedure effectively gives member states a veto on their decisions under certain circumstances. The European Parliament has also indicated it is unhappy with the agreement.

The parliament was also outraged by a deal struck by the Swedish presidency with the US on transfer of banking data for counter-terrorist measures. The provisional deal, approved by EU justice ministers on 30 November, came just one day before the Lisbon Treaty allowed the legislature to have a bigger say on the matter.

Washington was pressing to have the deal in the bag before the end of the year, otherwise a legal limbo could have emerged, since a large database on financial transactions was soon to be relocated from the US to Europe, leaving US investigators with no access to this information. The deal is valid for nine months, with the parliament then being fully involved in the drafting of a comprehensive agreement in this area.

Nordic discipline

Coming after a chaotic six months of the EU's stewardship by the Czech presidency, which is chiefly remembered for the collapse of the Czech government and a series of gaffes, the Swedes brought a different tone to Brussels.

"We've tried to instill some Nordic discipline as to openness and transparency in the works of the EU council," foreign minister Carl Bildt said in December during his wrap-up of the Swedish presidency in front of the parliament's foreign affairs committee. "I don't consider it an unmitigated success, there is still something like a 'Brussels disease' which hopefully will be cured by the Lisbon Treaty," he added.

Traditionally pro-transparency, the Swedes opened up to the public a few parts of the various meetings of EU ministers, in a move linked to provisions in the Lisbon Treaty.

The presidency website, blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts of Swedish officials proved valuable sources of information for Brussels journalists. Frequently asked questions, such as the menu of the leaders' dinner at summits, were promptly answered and even led to special features and webcasts on the presidency website.

The idea of one British journalist to make a Rubik's cube with all the potential candidates for the top jobs was picked up not only by Mr Reinfeldt, who held up the cube in front of photographers at the 19 November summit, but also by the Swedish press team who interviewed Erno Rubik, the Hungarian inventor of the toy.

Amsterdam wins EU medicines agency on coin toss

The staff of the London-based EMA will move to the Dutch city of Amsterdam after Brexit, following a coin toss. Chance also decided the new home of the European Banking Authority: Paris.

MEP switches vote on 'private expenses' transparency

A small group of MEPs are looking into how members of the European Parliament spend the monthly €4,300 'private expenses' funded by taxpayer money. Last month, MEPs voted on transparency amendments on the funds.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  2. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  3. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  4. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  5. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  6. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  7. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  8. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  9. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  11. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  12. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'

Latest News

  1. 1.3 million European citizens in call for glyphosate ban
  2. EU 'cannot afford' lengthy German deadlock
  3. David Miliband: EU should take over 500,000 refugees
  4. EU bans 'geo-blocking' - but not (yet) for audiovisual
  5. EU monitoring of Libyan coastguard done by Libyans
  6. Greek opposition leader promises end to 'surreal' era
  7. Refugee case could topple Slovenia government
  8. Leak: EU states weaken post-Dieselgate testing

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  3. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  4. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  6. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  8. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  10. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  11. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies