Sunday 17 May 2009

Swedish EU Council Presidency: Tepid but competent?

The Czech government hands over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July 2009, but the government of Sweden already offers some basic information in English about the upcoming six month term.


Information in Swedish

Ahead of both the European elections and the Council Presidency, the Parliament’s EU information centre (EU-upplysningen) has been churning out short and readable snippets of information on a daily basis.

In the Nordic tradition, the Government (Regeringen) and the Parliament (Riksdag) fairly openly inform the public about the work of the Council ahead of meetings, and the deliberations of the Riksdag’s EU Committee are published with some delay.

Government bills in general and those relating to EU matters are usually detailed and informative.

Minister for Europe Cecilia Malmström, a former MEP, toured Sweden spreading the word about the European Union, before her itinerary turned more towards the capitals of the EU member states.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is continually on the road, and he blogs even more frequently than his FM colleagues David Miliband (UK) and Alexander Stubb (Finland).

Established by trade unions and employers’ organisations, Europaportalen is a lively portal for news and debate on EU issues.


Despite the solid achievements, some observations and critical remarks can be made. (These are my subjective impressions.)

Official Swedish EU policies are pro open markets, competitiveness, budget reform and a radical reassessment of the common agricultural policy. Sweden has not adopted the euro, although it has no opt-out. Otherwise Swedish policies can be described as intergovernmental. Sweden participates in more policy areas than Britain, and its intergovernmental penchant is less adversarial. No visions concerning radical EU reform are to be expected.

Lukewarm Europeans they may be, but many seem to expect a competent Council Presidency.

The Council Presidency will mean a (temporary?) change, but government information is not readily translated into English and other languages for international readers.

The availability of information does not translate into a burning desire to access it on the part of the public.

For 200 years, since 1809 Sweden has stayed out of European trouble by minding its own business and professing neutrality.

Long before joining the European Union, Sweden built a successful but self-contained welfare society, which has not defined itself as European in a deeper sense. Swedish EU debates tend to be limited in scope, centred more on the preservation of a national model than contributing to a pan-European debate. Only last year did the Green Party give up its demand to secede from the EU, in favour of more pragmatic politics within the union (and the Green movement).

Mainstream media can always be criticised for paying too little attention to EU affairs, but my impression is that editorialists and columnists do a decent job, as does public service television. But EU issues do not lend themselves easily to both balanced and interesting reporting, since they disappear in the labyrinth and there are no clear contending government and opposition views at EU level. Anyway, even the best efforts are met by a yawn.

Despite their technical and language skills, very few Swedes participate in EU-wide debates or the Euroblogosphere, at least from a pan-European perspective. It is as if Europe offered little of interest and even less to learn.

Ralf Grahn

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