Sweden faces some daunting tasks as it assumes the EU’s six month rotating presidency. The Nordic country of just nine milion people – home to less than two per cent of the 27 nation group’s population – is hoping size does not matter when it comes to a range of challenges.
At the top of the agenda is the global economic downturn. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt says the EU must continue with its recovery plan. An integral part of that will be tackling public debt and dealing with unemployment. Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has impeccable credentials. A former prime minister, his government programme was one of liberalizing and reforming the Swedish economy. The Swedish presidency will be tasked with bringing together a coherent position on climate change. EU leaders are committed to replacing the Kyoto protocol. Political analyst Richard Erixon believes pollution could prove to be a distraction: “I think the government’s ambition is way too high, especially when it comes to climate change. The prime minister has high hopes on the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December, but I think China and the United States have other priorities. It’s about the economic crisis and I think he should concentrate on that too.” Managing the downturn – financial regulation – EU enlargement and unexpected crises such as the gas transit debacle on Ukraine all remain to be dealt with. Sweden will have to navigate the EU through negotiations with Iran over its uranium enrichment programme. Sweden’s presidency will be dominated by an Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty due to be held in October. Another resounding “no” vote would plunge Stockholm into damage limitation mode.