The past French and Czech presidencies were marked by crisis after crisis, something that will not change for the Swedes. The invasion of Ukraine has been the overarching theme in the European Union, combined with the ensuing refugee influx from and direct aid to Ukraine. This crisis has had major impacts on European energy supplies. On the one hand, there is concern about massively increased gas and electricity prices; on the other, as a result the transition to green energy sources has gained momentum. In this blog, colleagues Valérie Mendes de León and Rosan Speek look ahead to Sweden’s EU presidency next semester and what priorities Sweden will be working on.
Brussels has not been the only one to see major changes in recent months, Sweden itself has had a political landslide. Whereas Scandinavian countries are known as progressive and left-wing, Sweden has had a (centre-)right minority government with tacit support from the radical right since October. The cabinet has not been so right-wing since the 1980s, with the notable exception of 1991-1994 and 2006-2014. During the presentation of their work programme, the Swedes received criticism that their right-wing government would water down ambitious EU plans, especially concerning sustainability. To this, brand-new Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson responded diplomatically: “The aim of the government is to ensure that the EU can agree, so that we can get things done, that is the job of the presidency”.
Priorities and expectations
During the presentation of Sweden’s work programme, a number of topics were identified as priorities. At the forefront are still the crises which the EU has faced in the last year: the Ukraine crisis, the highest inflation since World War II, the energy crisis and the climate crisis. The Swedes will take over from the Czechs as “crisis president”, with energy supplies remaining top priority in the upcoming cold winter months. In addition, Prime Minister Kristersson mentioned the following topics to guide their programme: security, resilience, prosperity, rule of law and democratic values. Their work programme then elaborates on the priorities, three of which we will highlight below: energy, trade and digital.
Energy as a broad topic is one of the four top priorities of the Swedish presidency. This is not only about supply, but also about the (green) transition. Over the past six months, several measures and transitions have already (necessarily) found their way through the Czech presidency. For instance, at the very end of their presidency, the Czech Republic managed to strike a deal on the reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the creation of a Social Climate Fund (SCF). A deal was also reached in the EU Energy Council on a temporary gas price cap, with far-reaching European cooperation between member states. This prompts curiosity about how Sweden will follow this up, especially with winter approaching.
For Sweden, besides the gas price cap and sufficient energy supply, the “Fit-for-55” package will be central. In its implementation, it is important that the EU can achieve its climate neutrality target by 2050. The presidency will continue to push forward the trilogue negotiations on the Renewable Energy Directive and Energy Efficiency Directive proposals. The Swedish presidency’s programme states that the implementation of the “Fit-for-55” package requires a regulatory framework, which they will work on. It is important that the EU continues to have high ambitions, but also takes into account that member states are in different positions to help achieve its 2030 energy targets.
On the trade front, the Swedes are experiencing tension both internally and externally. The European Union is necessarily focusing its full attention on the current supply problems caused by the war in Ukraine. In recent months, supplies of essential raw materials and essential food items such as oil and grain declined sharply. The Swedes see it as their task to nevertheless increase the economic resilience of the single European market.
Sweden is characterized by their liberal trade agenda, something that is being challenged by protectionist US investments and increasing power of the Chinese market. The European Union will have to invest in European industry in these already expensive times to keep Europe competitive with the United States. President Biden recently introduced the Inflation Reduction Act with $369 billion in state subsidies and tax breaks for US industry. As a counter, Europe is discussing safeguards for its own industries to protect them from this outside pressure. There is also a new impetus to continue investing in European industry and manufacturing due to the current supply issues.
Unlike their predecessor’s prioritization, digital policy is fairly low on the Swedes’ working agenda. This may be because many big digital policies have been already developed in the past year, think of the DMA, DSA, Data Act and AI Act. The topics that do get mentioned are quite vaguely outlined and are mainly shaped by the war in Ukraine (such as cybersecurity and the regulation of political advertisements). Nonetheless, there are indeed big topics on the agenda over the next six months: trilogues are expected on eGovernance, the Data Act and the AI Act, but progress is also planned on telecoms and ePrivacy. One of the more complex files in the coming six months is the ‘Regulation for the prevention and protection of online child sexual abuse material’. Member states take divergent positions on this, with the Swedish presidency acting as an ‘honest broker’.
Ahead of the handover from Prague to Stockholm, experts have raised concerns about the Swedish government’s right-wing domestic political influence on the work of the next EU presidency. Given the trend of radical right-wing parties in governments across Europe, this presidency will serve as an example of how this could play out. The challenging dossiers on the above priorities are just a fraction of all the issues that will be under review over the next six months. Curious about what this presidency means for your organization? Let’s get in touch.