Sweden’s presidency of the EU: Plans for the next six months

The main issues identified by Sweden’s Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeld were climate change, economic crisis – “which in the long term is the greatest of our challenges”, and a smooth transition to the Lisbon Treaty. He also referred to the plans for a “Stockholm Programme” on justice and home affairs.

First, however, he spoke of his own country’s general attitude to the EU, saying “the realisation of Sweden’s closeness and dependence on Europe developed slowly”. For a long time Sweden had preferred to “contemplate it from a distance” but now “we are no longer afraid” and indeed the majority of the Swedish population has shifted to a positive view of EU membership.

Turning to the challenges facing the EU, he spoke first of climate change and stressed the multiple benefits of taking action: “when we use less energy, we save money. We improve public finances at the same time as households gain more resources”. And “we improve our energy security”. As a striking example, he pointed out that if Ukraine invested enough in energy efficiency to reach the level of the Czech Republic, it “could become completely independent of gas imports from Russia”.

However, said Mr Reinfeldt, the upcoming Copenhagen summit must be used to bring on board the developing countries in the fight against global warming. They would need investment and technology transfer from the richer countries but it was crucial to “demand clear commitments from countries outside Europe”. Ultimately, “the responsibility of the few must become the responsibility of all.”

On the economy, the Swedish Prime Minister said “coordinated EU action is the best tool we have”. The EU had already shown “leadership” but further measures must be discussed in the autumn. Above all “we must not forget that there are people behind the figures”, who were worried about their jobs.

He listed three main areas for action. First, we must “restore confidence in the financial markets” including “a strengthened supervisory system”. Second, we must “get ourselves out of the growing public deficits through a coordinated exit strategy and a gradual return to the regulations of the Stability Pact”. Third, “we have to secure a social dimension to European politics, founded on sound public finances and on getting more people into the labour market. This is the best way to uphold our welfare system”. A review of the Lisbon Strategy and resistance to protectionism were also important.

A key plank of the Swedish presidency will be the Stockholm Programme on justice and home affairs. This will seek to tackle international crime while safeguarding freedom of movement across borders, “one of our union’s founding principles”. It will also introduce a common system for asylum and resettlement.

The Swedish presidency will also act to move the enlargement process forward, seeking to serve as “an honest broker” on the basis of the EU’s commitments.

Concluding, Mr Reinfeldt told the House “Many have told me this will be the most difficult presidency in years.” Indeed, “Many ask themselves if a country of Sweden’s size can shoulder this responsibility”. His answer was “Not alone. But together we can take on the challenge”. In the end, “The European project is about the dream of solving people’s problems together. This is a dream that makes Europe strong”.

President of the Commission – José Manuel Barroso

“These are no ordinary times, and this will be no ordinary Presidency”, said Commission President José Manuel Barroso, reiterating that the key issues in the next six months would be rebuilding the EU economy and getting an effective climate change deal in Copenhagen.

The EU should prioritise measures that get people back to work, he continued, stressing that although labour market policies are a matter for Member States, the EU can help, for example by waiving the need for Member States to match European Social Fund grants from 2010, and through micro-financing schemes for small business.

The EU’s financial market supervision proposals should help it take the lead in global financial market reform, but that the same time it needs to invent new sources of growth at home, use the single market to the full and resist protectionism. “We cannot forever rely on monetary and fiscal stimulus”, warned Mr Barroso.

Likewise, only 145 days from the Copenhagen conference, the EU’s legally-binding climate change and energy targets are a commitment that needs to be matched elsewhere, said Mr Barroso, stressing the need to help developing countries and transfer the requisite technology to them.

Over the past 50 years, “the EU has constantly reinvented itself, consistently exceeding expectations and confounding doubts”, he concluded, urging it to do so again by ratifying the Lisbon Treaty in the coming months.

Political group speakers

“The Swedish Presidency must go further and faster”, using the social market and economy model proactively to tackle the economic and climate change challenges, said EPP chair Joseph DAUL (FR), adding that the Swedish Presidency would be judged by its performance on these two questions.

“If we want recovery to come from the EU, and not Asia, then we must accelerate the process”, for example by stepping up innovation and training and bolstering small business, he added.

On climate change too, the EU must move further and faster, he continued, noting that “Europe has proven that when it wants to, it can make a difference”, and the US, India and China now need to do likewise.

Mr Daul also welcomed support, not least, he said, from leader of the Socialists and Democrats Mr Schulz, for reappointing Mr Barroso as President of the European Commission.

Martin SCHULZ (S&D, DE) emphasised the need for an immediate solution to the labour market crisis, stressing that job security is critical for a stable society.

On the appointment of the new European Commission, he stressed the need for clarity on the legal basis. If Mr Barroso is appointed as Commission President under the Nice Treaty, while the rest of the Commission is appointed after the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, it looks as if we are acting in a “Pippi Longstocking comic”, acting as we like. Instead, he suggested, we should hear what Mr Barroso plans to do for the next five years on climate change, on jobs, on the economy, on public services, and then take a decision.

Guy VERHOFSTADT (ALDE, BE) agreed with the Swedish Presidency emphasis on Lisbon ratification, the Copenhagen climate summit and the Stockholm agenda, but argued that the fight against the economic crisis should come first.

He said that Sweden was best-placed to tackle the economic crisis given its experience in dealing with previous downturn in the 1990s. He called on the Council and the Commission to take the lead in proposing a single European recovery plan instead of the existing 27 national plans, some of which included protectionist measures.

Rebecca HARMS (Greens/EFA, DE) spoke of her group’s misgivings concerning the election of the new Commission President, stating that “we want to see the whole Commission, all the top staff of the EU appointed according to the Treaty of Lisbon, and we’re not prepared to give an inch on that.” She criticised the lack of progress on action to tackle the economic crisis, and the fact that banks have been given funds and allowed to start afresh.

Ms Harms believes that by doing this, “we are working towards the next crash.” She urged the new Parliament to think about economic development in a “sustainable way, and to ensure that economic and environmental goals are in tune. That helps the economy, and that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

For the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, Michał Tomasz KAMIŃSKI (PL) stated that his group shares the opinion of the Swedish Presidency on many issues, “we think that your promise to actively fight the economic crisis is particularly important…and I’m happy that you see the priorities which we fully support: more free market, less regulation, more freedom in the economy, more opening to free trade.”

Mr. Kaminski was also interested in the promise of the Swedish Presidency to look to Europe’s neighbours and the possibility of enlargement as, “we must not forget that behind our Eastern borders are countries which have the right to participate in this area of democracy and wealth.” He finished by saying that “there is only one issue on which we do not agree with you – that is the issue of the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon…one should remember that in a democratic referendum, the Irish people rejected that treaty. Now, with respect for democracy we should listen to the voice of the Irish people.”

Speaking on behalf of the GUE/NGL group, Lothar BISKY (DE) expressed the need for transparency to be applied to dealing with the current economic crisis, stating that “the causes of the crisis are always claimed to have come from the distant US or from certain banks and bankers…and that EU heads of state have nothing to do with the crisis, but I think that transparency also means talking about the failures of policy that actually contributed to the crisis in the first place.”

Mr Bisky also spoke of his support for the Swedish Presidency’s aim to further harmonise asylum law, but warned that “in our strictly monitored external borders, especially in the Mediterranean, thousands of people are dying as they seek refugee from poverty, wars and natural disasters.” For Mr. Bisky and the GUE, this is “something that requires a new more decent approach to immigrants, and we also really need to look at the causes of this exodus.”

“We must be more in tune with the wishes of our voters”, for many of whom the big issues are jobs and crime, according to Francesco Enrico SPERONI (EFD, IT) who spoke on behalf of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group. How can we “overcome the lack of trust” demonstrated by the “low turnout” at the elections, he asked. We must “be clear why there is a need for the EU” so that “the EU is not endured but is seen as an opportunity for its citizens”.

“The Dutch people think the enlargement of the EU has gone too far”, was the view of Barry MADLENER (NI, NL), a non-aligned MEP who is a member of the Dutch Party for Freedom. He stressed that the Dutch had rejected the European Constitution, now “99% reproduced in the Lisbon Treaty”. He criticised the cost of the “Strasbourg circus”, said that Turkey should not become an EU member and hoped that the Irish people would “have the courage to say No” in their second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

British and Irish speakers

Vicky FORD (ECR, UK) congratulated the Swedish Presidency for prioritising economic challenges. Regulatory clarity is vital, she said. These industries are, as we all know, global industries. The capital, the talent and the individual enterprises are highly fluid. They need workable and defined legislative timetables, prioritisation of legislation and proper consultation. Ms Ford welcomed the Presidency’s commitment to work alongside the G20, because, she said, if we get out of step and go unilateral in the EU we risk not only putting borrowers and investors at a competitive disadvantage but also causing industries to relocate.

Proinsias De ROSSA (S&D, IE) said that the system is broken and must be deeply reformed. More integration is needed of social and economic and climate and energy policies, with the objective of job retention and creation with decent living and working conditions. A recommitment to the Millennium Development Goals is needed and Mr De Rossa regretted that there was no call for an immediate lifting of the siege of Gaza or an indication to re energise the search for peace alongside President Obama.

In relation to the Lisbon Treaty, Pat the Cope GALLAGHER (ALDE, IE) said that is it now the duty of all of us to ensure that there will be a yes vote. If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, every Member State will be in a position to nominate a member to the European Commission and this is a direct response to a concern expressed in Ireland.

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