Now it’s Sweden’s turn. Since January 1, the country has been taking over the presidency of the European Union (EU), or more precisely the Council of the EU, for six months. It succeeds the Czech Republic and before that France, who held the post from 1 January to 30 June 2022. But unlike its two predecessors, who have multiplied ministerial meetings and pushed through strong issues during their tenure, against a backdrop of turbulent European events, Sweden has remained in the dark as to who will be honored during these six months. Maintaining the unity of the Twenty-Seven in Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, the climate and the defense of “fundamental values” are the goals announced by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. However, one point should be emphasized: the economic competitiveness of the Twenty-Seven and the response to the protectionism shown across the Atlantic with the American “Inflation Reduction Act” plan. This is enough to provoke a debate within member countries between supporters of liberalism like Sweden and those like Germany who want the EU to protect their companies. For La Tribune, Sandrine Levasseur, economist at the French Observatory on Economic Conditions (OFCE)-Sciences Po, takes stock of what to expect from this presidency that promises to be “half-hearted”.
[Sandrine Levasseur, économiste à l’Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques (OFCE)-Sciences Po. Crédit : DR]
Was this presidency eagerly awaited by Sweden, like the Czech Republic and France before?
It is true that taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union had a very important symbolic value for France, and in particular for the Czech Republic. In the context of the war in Ukraine, this has enabled Prague to reaffirm its membership of the EU and its democratic values. But if Swedes have always been pro-European, despite one party voting for the Party of Democrats of Sweden (DS), which until recently advocated leaving the EU, we must not forget that they are not a member of the eurozone ( the 20 countries that have introduced the common currency, editor’s note) and will never be part of it. It is therefore not certain that this will be a high stakes presidency. In addition, the country has neither organized a torch-passing ceremony to the Czech Republic, as the latter had done with France, nor announced a meeting with member state ministers. Everything will depend on the news. Nonetheless, holding the EU presidency allows the country in question to impose certain issues, putting them at the top of the pile. During his term of office, Slovenia, for example, brought the debate on the enlargement of the EU to include the Balkan countries to the fore.
What issues could Sweden focus on during this presidency?
There are energy supply issues, as these are key issues for many EU countries. Another issue that should also be at the center of the debate is that of immigration. Like energy, it is a concern for all Member States and could be a priority for Sweden given the Swedish government in which the Swedish Democrats occupy an important place following their great victory in the general elections. Especially since the EU recorded new flows of refugees, especially from Italy, on European territory in November and December. It is therefore an issue that is coming to the fore again. It is also at the center of debates on the integration of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area. Austria has indeed vetoed it, voicing fears that these two countries will fail to control their external borders. Finally, the issue of ecological transition could also be taken up by the Swedish Presidency, as the country has taken a number of steps in this direction in recent years. He is by no means a bad student, on the contrary, the former left-wing government put him on the right path towards decarbonisation. However, on the European side we can see that this is gradually slowing down and some members are putting more emphasis on the importance of stabilizing the economy and restoring growth.
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Which economic issues should characterize the six months of the Swedish Presidency?
Inflation of course. This is an issue of particular concern to Sweden, where last November it hit 11.5% over a year, a new record in more than 30 years. In addition, the European Union’s response to the American plan for the “Inflation Reduction Act” could also split the Twenty-Seven. It plans to unblock investments worth $420 billion, including $369 for the climate, as well as reforms and subsidies in favor of US-based companies, particularly in the areas of electric vehicles or renewable energy. This particularly worried some countries such as France, but also Germany. The latter asked Europe for the necessary answers to protect European companies. But Sweden has historically had a very liberal position that defies any degree of protectionism.