Daniel Freund

17. January 2023 Democracy

Sweden takes over EU Presidency: progress on rule of law, but standstill on EU reform

Sweden took over the EU Presidency on 1 January. Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson presented the priorities that will set the EU policy agenda for the next six months today (Tuesday) in the European Parliament. According to his own statement, he wants to make the Union “greener, safer and freer”. The Swedish Presidency’s clear focus lies with the European response to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Sweden wants to prioritize economic and military support for Ukraine and expand European cooperation in defense. But ‘European democracy’ is also part of the work programme:

Rule of Law

One of the four priorities of the Swedish Presidency is the defense of the rule of law in Europe. Sweden wants to push the Article 7 proceedings against Hungary and Poland forward in the Council. Prime Minister Kristersson made clear in his speech today that the “EU is a club of democracies”. The fight against authoritarian tendencies in some EU member states could thus increasingly appear on the agenda of the next six months.

EU reform

Sweden wants to continue working on the implementation of the results of the Conference on the Future of Europe and to establish a “broad consensus among the member states”. In concrete terms, this means continuing to work on abolishing unanimity in the areas of foreign and security policy. Treaty changes – as demanded by the EU Parliament and European citizens – are not foreseen. The convening of an EU Convention is not on the Swedish agenda. Important EU reforms are thus blocked for the time being.

European elections

The window of opportunity for a reform of European electoral law is currently closing. Changes are only possible until one year before the elections, i.e. until May. The European Parliament had proposed a new electoral law with European, transnational lists. Voters from all over Europe would thus be able to decide in the voting booth who gets a job as Commission President. The previous Swedish government already rejected transnational lists. The current Council Presidency is missing this chance to strengthen European democracy before the next European elections in 2024.

Daniel Freund, Member of the European Parliament for the Greens, comments:

Authoritarian systems and corruption with EU funds are currently the biggest threats to European democracy. It is right that the Swedish Presidency is focusing on this and explicitly wants to push ahead with the Article 7 proceedings against Poland and Hungary. We must not just pay lip service to this. The governments in Warsaw and Budapest must feel that their authoritarian course will not be tolerated by the member states of the Union. EU funds may only flow when the rule of law and democracy are functioning again. However, it is questionable whether the Swedish government is serious about this. The right-wing Sweden Democrats support the governing coalition in Stockholm with an office in the prime minister’s official residence. Viktor Orban, with his authoritarian course, is considered a political role model by many in the party.

Work on urgently needed EU reforms is likely to come to a complete standstill in the coming months. The Swedish government does not want to take any steps either towards convening an EU Convention or towards Europeanising electoral law. Valuable time will be lost here.

The priorities of the Swedish Presidency at a glance: