From January 1, Sweden will be taking on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which rotates among the different EU Member States every 6 months. This is the last country of the group made up of France, Czechia and Sweden, which started in January 2022. The country is taking on the presidency in an unprecedented period in the history of the Union, with the Russian threat being the most evident issue, along with the energy crisis and the transparency of the institutions coming to the fore with the Qatargate scandal.
Five main issues may be recognised in the Swedish Presidency’s political direction:
- Providing security for EU citizens and strengthening the EU’s role in the world;
- Reducing organised crime;
- Speeding up the green transition;
- Strengthening the EU’s competitiveness for the jobs of the future;
- Safeguarding the EU’s fundamental values.
The impact of the war on the agenda is clear, with the Swedish Presidency wanting to reinforce EU security and defence cooperation. In doing so, it will resume the discussions in the Council on the security and defence package, put forward by the Commission the last November, and continue to ensure economic and military support to Ukraine. In 2023, the EU will likely provide Ukraine with €18 billion to cover military expenses and the provision of public services.
EU competitiveness will be a hot topic on the table due to the Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden. The plan will subsidise American companies with €369 billion for the green transition, creating a distortion in the competition between the USA and EU, and for this reason it has received harsh criticism from EU Prime Ministers and representatives. The Swedish Presidency has adopted a cautious attitude towards the issue, amid growing pressure from heads of state calling for protectionist measures.
As the Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson commented, leadership in the field of climate transition is being played by the EU and, therefore, the presidency’s efforts will be aimed at advancing proposals already on the agenda, such as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the Carbon Removal Certification Mechanism. The climate dossier in the context of the ‘Fit for 55’ package will remain pivotal, despite the shadow emerging from the confidence-and-supply agreement of the government of Stockholm with the Sweden Democrats.
The energy dossier is closely linked to the geopolitical issues currently affecting the Union. As stated by the programme of the Swedish Presidency: “joint European steps towards independence from fossil fuels are necessary not only for the green transition, but for our security.” Independence from Russia is pivotal to reaching stability and ensuring an environment that may lead to the path of reform in designing the EU’s electricity market as indicated by the Presidency. The energy dossier will also have focus on the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive as part of the ‘Fit for 55’ package. The Presidency has raised the necessity to continue trialogue negotiations with the Parliament for the revision of these measures.
In the digital field, Stockholm intends to begin negotiations on the latest Commission proposals, such as the digital euro. The ECB is currently investigating this digital currency which will be equal to cash, with the investigations being set to conclude in October 2023. Furthermore, the Presidency will put forward the semiconductor strategy with the European Chips Act, and the banking and capital markets union. As well, there will be a focus on the European Media Freedom Act proposal, the set of rules to protect media pluralism and independence in the EU that has been under scrutiny by I-Com, producing a joint paper with PromethEUs and presented to the main stakeholders. In addition, the Presidency will continue the work in the Council of the Data Act along with the Interoperable Europe Act and begin the Council’s work on the Connectivity Infrastructure Act. It is also worth mentioning that the Stockholm Presidency is committed to pushing for negotiations on the Cyber-Resilience Act, to reduce the vulnerability of hardware and software products in Europe.
The Presidency will also address health issues and, in particular, the proposal for a regulation on a European Health Data Space, the revolutionary initiative which aims at establishing an interoperable and common ecosystem making use of electronic health records (EHRs). This will also go hand in hand with the proposal for updating of the general pharmaceutical legislation and the regulation on standards of quality and safety for substances of human origin intended for human application.
In order to guarantee the smooth functioning of the activities during the Presidency, some concerns have arisen due to the new right-wing coalition government in Sweden. Some commentators have highlighted that the influence of the far-right Sweden Democrats could be detrimental to the efforts of the Union as, for example, in the field of climate change and respect for the rule of law. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has reassured the public in his discourse to the Rijksdag saying that “Sweden is taking over the Presidency at a time when the European Union is facing unprecedented challenges. A greener, more secure and freer Europe is the foundation of our priorities”. The Swedish Presidency will be followed by Spain beginning from the second half 2023.