Swedish presidency in the EU Council: supreme diplomatic skills needed

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Sweden’s term at the helm of the Council of the European Union is going to be particularly challenging due to mounting continental crises in growth, energy, post-pandemic syndrome, etc. Tough legislative agenda is expected during a half-year presidency, which required agreement among the member states, as well as the Commission and European Parliament on most vital issues in the presidency’s program. No doubt, it all needs supreme diplomatic skills.   

Background. The Council of the European Union is the institution representing the governments of the member states in the Council of Ministers as it is informally known; the member states’ sectoral government ministers are meeting regularly in the Council’s ten configurations to adopt laws and coordinate socio-economic policies.
The Presidency of the Council rotates between EU states every six months. During a six-month period, the Presidency will drive forward the Council’s work on EU legislation, ensure continuity of the EU agenda and ensure that legislative processes are carried out in an orderly manner and that the member states cooperate fruitfully.
The two main tasks of the Presidency are to plan and chair the meetings of the Council and its preparatory bodies, and to represent the Council in its relations with other EU institutions.
The rotating Council’s Presidency baton has been handed over from Prague to Stockholm in the start of 2023. Chairing the Council of the EU, Sweden’s diplomacy and negotiating skills will help forging agreements on a range of difficult issues with the approaching next EU’s parliamentary election in 2024. Besides, Swedish internal issues, such as Stockholm’s coalition politics, the governances’ positions on sustainable growth, on forests and free trade, will also impact the EU-wide agenda.
Sweden will hold the Presidency of the Council from 1 January to 30 June 2023; Spain will take over the rotating Council presidency in July.

Presidency’s priorities
Security, resilience, prosperity, democratic values and the rule of law are the priorities of the forthcoming Swedish Presidency; this was conveyed by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in a speech in the Riksdag in mid-December. The following main priorities were mentioned: security and unity, resilience and competitiveness, prosperity focusing on green and energy transition; and democratic values and the rule of law, as the foundation of the Union.
General source: https://www.government.se/press-releases/2022/12/priorities-of-the-swedish-presidency-of-the-council-of-the-european-union-presented/
= First, the Swedish Presidency will activate the implementation of the objectives in the EU’s Strategic Compass, prioritise internal security and the fight against organised crime.
= Second, the European competitiveness will be decisive in terms of the EU and the member states’ economies. Hence, the EU will capitalise on the dynamic forces residing in successful companies, not obstruct them with over-regulation; this approach will support European companies in the global competition.
= Third, the Presidency’s intention is “safeguarding diversified and mutually deepened trade with other countries” in order to spread the risk, as well as facilitating digital services in new trade agreements and in the internal market. Besides, it is important to increase European own production to secure the supply chains in strategically important areas.
= As soon as the EU is reducing its net emissions by 55 per cent by 2030, it is crucial to facilitate climate transition in Europe and around the world. The EU’s “fit-for-55” package will play a decisive role in the process; the Presidency’s ambition is to conclude the negotiations. The EU is a world leader in climate action, and Sweden wants to strengthen this position during its Presidency. The EU institutions agreeing to phase out all new fossil-fuel cars by 2035 is a major step in the right direction.
= Sweden will also prioritise efforts to hasten the electrification of the EU member states: it will include working on a new Batteries Regulation and continuing the negotiations on increasing fossil-free energy production. Sweden will advance the work on the proposals in the gas market package to replace Russian fossil energy with other, low-carbon energy sources; at the same time, the EU states that wish to proceed with atomic energy can continue to take responsibility by building new nuclear plants.
There are going to be about 2 thousand meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg, and around 150 informal meetings in Sweden during this half year.

Source: https://www.government.se/speeches/2022/12/speech-priorities-and-work-programme-for-the-swedish-presidency-of-the-council-of-the-european-union-in-spring-2023/

Some focal persons to steer the Swedish Presidency
Besides the national Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, there are some focal persons that would drive the Council Presidency.
= Thus Lars Danielsson, Swedish ambassador to the European Union (since November 2016) will steer the country’s third presidency of the Council of the EU. As a career diplomat with more than four decades of experience, he will lead 200 officials in Brussels in tackling some of Europe’s most pressing challenges, including keeping the bloc united in its support for Ukraine and limiting the rise of energy prices, as well as dozens of other laws in the making. “The challenge for us is not to be submerged by crisis management,” Danielsson told at the European Policy Centre at the end of 2022.
As the EU “veteran”, Danielsson worked in all three EU institutions and created fruitful contacts in the process. He was in charge of enlargement and accepting new member countries to the bloc, during his country’s first presidency in 2001. He was Sweden’s permanent representative to the EU during the country’s second presidency in 2009.
As state secretary to the EU affairs minister, Danielsson will work on the coordination of the Swedish presidency of the Council of the EU.
= Jessika Roswall: Swedish ever first European minister since last October; she has made her goals as Sweden’s new European affairs minister clear: turning her country into a “leading force to be reckoned with”. A former lawyer in family and criminal law, she was elected to Sweden’s parliament from the center-right Moderate Party in 2010; she became the party’s spokesperson on EU relations in 2019.
As a free-trade defender, she has had little time to prepare for her role in the EU presidency; but she stated that she felt “prepared for the job”. Roswall also includes Nordic affairs in her portfolio and will work within the prime minister’s office. Among Sweden’s priorities during presidency, she will step-up EU security, stopping organized crime, accelerating efforts to limit climate change, doubling efforts on the EU’s competitiveness, and protecting the Union’s fundamental values.
Roswall has said that while Sweden is expected to be impartial, there will be room “to put a certain national stamp on the presidency and to focus on issues that are in the interests of both Sweden and Europe.” There are concerns in Brussels though that this “national stamp” will come with a far-right slant, since Roswall’s coalition government is dependent on support in parliament from the Euroskeptic Sweden Democrats.

= Gertrud Ingestad, director general for human resources and security; she has been (since 2020) overseeing the recruitment policy, training and working conditions for about 32,000 permanent and contract employees at the European Commission.
She has been engaged in the Commission since 1995, when she started as a translator; before becoming the Commission’s HR chief, she headed the IT department at a time when 82 percent of adviser-level staff were men. She took over the Commission’s human resources issues when Belgium entered its first lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic; she has since led work policy changes to combat Eurocrats which involved ramping up teleworking and the use of shared desks in open-plan floors. Some of her goals have been to increase gender parity in the Commission, increase the use of digital tools and make the Commission climate neutral by 2030. As the Commission starts enforcing sweeping tech laws like the Digital Services Act, Ingestad will also have to attract the best candidates to do it.

=Jessica Polfjärd, Karin Karlsbro and Sara Skyttedal as the leading Swedish European Parliament trio; out of Sweden’s 21 representatives in the European parliament, these three European lawmakers from political parties in the coalition government have been working on crucial national laws. Thus, Polfjärd (Moderates, EPP), Karlsbro (Liberals, Renew), and Skyttedal (Christian Democrats, EPP) will be the country’s main “combating force” in the European Parliament.

Important contacts during Swedish Presidency:
= Hanna Strömberg, Press Secretary to Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
= Susan Vo Bergqvist, Press Secretary to Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall.

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