Political priorities for the Swedish Presidency of the European Union
October 6th, 2023
Under the Swedish Presidency, the EU institutions will focus in particular on security, competitiveness, the environmental and energy transitions, and the rule of law.
On the 1st of January 2023, Sweden took over the European Union (EU) Council presidency for a period of six months. On the 17th of January, during the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson presented his government’s European priorities, aimed at creating “a greener, more secure and freer Europe.” According to the presidency’s work programme, it will focus on 1) protecting Europe’s security and unity, 2) ensuring its resilience and competitiveness, 3) achieving prosperity and accelerating the green and energy transitions, and 4) safeguarding democratic values and the rule of law.
Picking up the work from the previous Czech presidency, Sweden will aim in particular to mitigate the energy crisis, finalize negotiations on the Fit for 55 package, and pursue military and financial support for Ukraine.
Security and Unity
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown that the EU needs to strengthen its security and defence capabilities, while ensuring close partnerships with its allies. In this spirit, the Swedish Presidency will continue to push for a common strategy against Russia, including through new sanctions, while ensuring the necessary funding for the defence and reconstruction of Ukraine. In his speech, Prime Minister Kristersson noted that the war was “about fighting for democracy and decency” and that “Ukrainian victory is existential for Europe and for the whole world”.
Sweden believes that the EU should provide the right environment for companies based on open market rules and fair competition. The Prime Minister highlighted that if “European companies are to produce the energy, and make the batteries, the electric cars and the fossil-free steel of the future, they need good conditions to compete”. He also stressed that EU’s coordinated response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) should become a priority.
The Green & Energy Transitions
The Swedish Presidency is committed to tackling high energy prices and will launch an energy market reform in order to address some of the structural challenges relating to the crisis. Similarly, concluding the Fit for 55 files and effectively speeding up the environmental transition will be high on its agenda. Prime Minister Kristersson pinpointed the key role the European electricity market should play to support the EU’s ambitious decarbonization targets.
Democratic Values & the Rule of Law
For cultural and historical reasons, Sweden is strongly committed to protecting democracy, citizens’ rights and the rule of law. Throughout its presidency, it will uphold the EU’s values which ensure cohesion between Member States and its global influence.
In the sections below, we outline in more detail Sweden’s policy priorities and what can be expected over the next semester.
The Swedish Presidency will take stock of the annual Rule of Law Report published by the Commission and will support in addressing issues on a country-by-country basis.
Similarly, the Presidency will progress on granting EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova while offering a European perspective to Georgia. Sweden will aim to build a stronger relationship with the United Kingdom and together with the European Commission resolve outstanding issues relating to Brexit.
Finally, the Presidency will follow up on the work of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and by way of a consensus, seek to advance debates on qualified majority voting in areas such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
During its Presidency, Sweden will aim to counteract Russia’s aggression by imposing direct sanctions, but also via political, economic, humanitarian, and military support for Ukraine. The war has also underlined that Europe needs to manage its dependencies and build resilience, by boosting domestic production and diversifying its imports. It has led to greater military spending, and in some cases created supply chain disruptions. As a result, the Presidency will support short-term instruments that allow Europe to boost its defence industry, such as joint procurement, while working to establish long-term European investment programmes in defence and cyber-security.
The Swedish Presidency is committed to developing and enhancing the Trans-Atlantic relations and strengthening cooperation with NATO. This ambition is closely related to the country’s recent application for membership to the organization.
However, the rocky trade relationship with the US has also increased the need for the EU to enhance ties with other regions (in particular Canada, Latin America, Africa, the Gulf and members of the European Economic Area). The Swedish Presidency will aim to develop new partnerships, support developing countries through trade and implement the Global Gateway Strategy to enhance connectivity. It will actively promote cooperation to address global challenges such as climate change and migration.
Economic and Financial Affairs
In terms of domestic economic policies, the focus will be on an economic growth in all the Member States. To support the economic recovery and limit the effects of inflation, the Presidency will advance work on the Recovery and Resilience Fund. In the aftermath of the COVID crisis, the EU institutions will also focus on advancing the negotiations on the Single Market Emergency Instrument. Sweden will aim to initiate discussions on new measures to tackle tax evasion and financial crime, while promoting tax transparency. It will in particular kick-start discussions on the Regulation aimed at prohibiting products made with forced labour.
Financial and non-financial reporting will continue to remain a priority for the Council, with the Swedish Presidency committing to establishing new financial instruments and a European single point for financial and non-financial information. This will make it easier for companies, investors, and consumers across the EU to get access to information and guidance about new requirements. Additionally, the Swedish Presidency announced that negotiations will start on a new proposal for the digital euro.
Justice and Home Affairs
In the light of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, Sweden will look to achieve progress on a new legal framework for asset recovery and confiscating the proceeds of crimes.
Moreover, to facilitate investigations on cross-border crimes, the Presidency will prioritize negotiations on the Prüm II Regulation and Directive on information exchange, while promoting system interoperability across the EU.
Sweden will aim to leverage Europol and Eurojust’s capabilities to investigate and tackle cross-border crime more effectively. In particular, the Presidency will fully support the forthcoming proposal for a Directive on the transfer of criminal proceedings.
Employment, Social Policy, Healthcare and Consumer Affairs
EU governments and companies are expected to improve social policies affecting worker conditions across the EU. The Council will continue the work on most files started during the previous Presidencies. Sweden will seek to advance the legislation on working conditions of platform workers and transparency on salaries in companies to address the gender pay gap. The Presidency will actively support the finalisation of the Regulation on European Health Data Space, to improve healthcare delivery and foster innovation, while creating new business opportunities.
In order to remain a global player, the EU needs to ensure that it creates the right conditions for businesses to flourish. Under the Swedish Presidency, the EU institutions will initiate legislation targeting critical raw materials. More specifically, Sweden will support a European network of raw materials agencies, to build a resilient supply chain. This legislation could have an impact on sector such as batteries and chips. Along the same lines, the Council will seek to further advance the European Chips Act, which will contribute to making Europe less dependent on foreign suppliers for semiconductor technologies.
Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
The majority of policy initiatives proposed under the Swedish Presidency will target emissions from the transport sector. In order to decrease emissions, the EU institutions will prioritise the review of Euro 7, which will set standards for emission limits for all motor vehicles (cars, vans, buses, and lorries). This will have broad implications for the automotive industry as it will require that vehicles comply with lower or new emission limits (including for pollutants previously not regulated), and durability requirements.
Sweden is also committed to advancing the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) revision, currently underway, to include more robust connections with eastern neighbouring countries, such as Ukraine and Moldova while providing adequate funding.
In the energy sector, the Presidency will continue supporting measures to mitigate the energy crisis and improve the EU’s energy security. At the same time, it will aim to speed up discussions on files such as the revised Energy Taxation Directive and overcome political disagreements with the Council. Sweden is also hoping to finalise inter-institutional negotiations on files such as the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive, as well as the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. These files will generally seek to introduce higher targets for use of renewable energy, reduced energy consumption for households and businesses, and a more energy efficient and decarbonised building stock.
The Presidency will try to build consensus on legislation relating to the circular economy, such as the Regulation on Packaging and Waste Packaging and the Regulation on shipment of waste. The first will introduce stringent requirements with regards to single-use plastic across the economy; the second will increase controls of waste and tackle illegal waste shipments. The stream of regulations that promote circular economy will most likely impose higher targets of reusability and recyclability.
Sweden is also committed to reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels. In this light, it will aim to fast-track talks on the proposal for a carbon removal certification scheme and support Commission’s upcoming proposal for the review of the CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles.
Last but not least, the Presidency will seek to advance the revision of the Industrial Emissions Directive, which will set tighter permit controls on air and water emissions.
In the face of the Russian invasion, food supply and food security have become essential. In this context, the Presidency will seek to advance negotiations on files stemming from the Farm to Fork Strategy, such as the Farm Sustainability Data Network, which will expand and streamline the data collected from farms to include social and environmental factors. Similarly, the revision of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation and its food labelling provisions to promote greater consumer information and transparency.
Education, Youth, Culture and Sport
Leveraging the 2023 European Year of Skills, Sweden will promote European initiatives to upskill European workers and help them adapt to the changing labour market. The Presidency will also seek to foster the participation of young people in political decision-making. In the area of culture, the Presidency will advance initiatives supporting displaced artists, with the goal of offering protection and support in their career development. Last but not least, the Council will support a 2020–2024 EU Work Plan for Sports and policies on anti-doping.
Keeping an Eye on National Politics
During its two previous Presidencies in 2001 and 2009, Sweden enjoyed a relatively stable and united domestic political landscape, allowing Sweden to focus on stewarding the Council’s work without domestic distractions. The current situation couldn’t be further from the past, with a fractious government coalition dependent on an insurgent far-right and an antagonistic opposition scrutinising the government’s every move.
The Swedish elections in September 2022 resulted in a centre-right minority government in a confidence-and-supply agreement with the far-right and Eurosceptic Sweden Democrats, who emerged as Sweden’s second biggest party, giving the Sweden Democrats considerable influence on the government’s policies. While the government parties remain staunchly pro-EU, this has cast doubts over Sweden’s abilities to push sensitive EU-files forward. The Sweden Democrats have already split with the government over votes on the rule of law in Hungary and have publicly stated its opposition to the EU’s further “encroachment” over national sovereignty.
Throughout its Presidency, Sweden will therefore have to juggle its own and the EU’s priorities under the shadow of the Sweden Democrats’ Euroscepticism and influence. Much will depend on the government prioritising files where compromise can be found, domestically and externally, and skilfully deciding when to make concessions on certain files to gain progress in others.