Sweden takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the 27-member European Union today, but the country with a reputation for euro-scepticism faces many challenges during its tenure.
After a troubled Czech presidency, another country with a “euro-sceptic” reputation gets the helm of the EU – Sweden.
The Nordic state takes over the rotating six-month presidency of the 27-member European Union on Wednesday, July 1.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt will host the European Commission for a meeting in Stockholm on Wednesday to formally open the Swedish presidency, followed by festivities attended by Sweden's royal family.
But the Swedes, who are not part of the eurozone, will face a great number of challenges in the coming months.
"The financial crisis and climate change, with the preparation of the Copenhagen conference, will be our main priorities," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told reporters on the eve of the Swedish presidency.
Tackling the economic crisis and increasing employment is certainly one of the hard tasks facing Europe. Reinfeldt also wants to get member countries to tackle soaring budget deficits. This will probably lead to tough talks, especially with the French government, which has argued for greater flexibility in times of crisis.
But one of the major difficulties that Sweden faces is the result of continued delays in the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which is intended to streamline EU bureaucracy and help move the bloc forward.
“The entire institutional framework of the European Union is in limbo,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Marcus Karlsson. Twenty-three of the 27 member countries have ratified, but Ireland rejected it in a referendum in June 2008, and will vote on it again later this year.
Stockholm also wants the EU to agree to a new UN global warming treaty, to be negotiated in Copenhagen this December. This will replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.
As Karlsson says, the next six months will be “intense” and “very difficult for the Swedish presidency”.
Sweden will also have to tackle foreign policy challenges, including fraught relations with Iran and persistent concerns over energy supply from Russia.
Troubled Czech presidency
The previous presidency of the EU was held by the Czechs, whose president, Vaclav Klaus is a known EU sceptic. The Czech Republic has also not fully ratified the Lisbon treaty, nor does it use the euro.
Beset by domestic problems, the government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was compelled to resign half way through its term at the helm of the EU.
As a result, the six months of the Czech presidency have been largely ceremonial. If Sweden wants to take the EU forward, it has its task cut out for it.
Date created : 2009-07-01