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Sweden takes on Council of the EU presidency at times of turmoil

Sweden takes on Council of the EU presidency at times of turmoil

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: European Union

On 1 January 2023, Sweden takes over the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the next six months. The presidency means looking after all of the member countries’ interests and leading the work with all the issues in the Council’s in tray – including major decisions on migration, climate and EU expansion.

Sweden takes on the presidency at a time of big challenges for the EU. The war in Ukraine is raging on with undiminished force and brutality, the energy crisis is hurting all of Europe and inflation is having an impact on member countries’ economies and labour markets. 

But the EU was built out of the ruins of WWII and crises have been shaping the Union from the start, said Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson when he presented his government’s priorities for its EU work at the EU policy party leader debate in the Swedish parliament on 16 November.

Photo: European Union

Ulf Kristersson met the President of the Council of Europe, Charles Michel, already on his third day as Prime Minister of Sweden.

“We have a new, bloody war in Europe and a European energy crisis in the wake of that war. How to tackle crises is a necessary core skill, but longer-term planning is as important now as it was before the invasion. So we must manage to hold not only two but several thoughts in our mind simultaneously,” said Ulf Kristersson.

The government’s priorities, or “all of the fateful questions in Europe” as Ulf Kristersson put it, are: Europe’s internal and external security, climate change and Europe’s competitiveness. The fourth area is to protect the EU’s shared values, which are built on the rule of law and the freedoms and rights of citizens.

”Member states that limit freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary or LGBTQ-people’s rights will face Swedish opposition. Sweden will continue to prioritise the EU’s right to make access to funds conditional on respecting the principles of the rule of law,” said Ulf Kristersson.

Sweden last in the trio

This is Sweden's third presidency of the Council of the EU since the country joined the Union in 1995. The last time was in 2009. The presidency rotates between all member states and lasts for half a year. 

The presidency countries are always divided into a trio of countries. Sweden is number three in a trio with the Czech Republic and France. Each trio sets out long-term goals together and agrees on how to carry out the work during the coming 18 months period. Each country chooses its own direction based on the agreed programme. This is what Ulf Kristersson will be presenting on 14 December.

The overarching political direction was decided on already in spring, based on the then parliament. Since then, Sweden has got a new government made up of the Moderates (M), the Christian Democrats (KD) and the Liberals (L), whose mandate is dependent on the support of the EU sceptic Sweden Democrats (SD). This cooperation is regulated in the so-called Tidö agreement. It is unclear to which extent the social-conservative SD will be able to influence the presidency, but some worry because several of the big decisions in the EU in the coming spring are about migration and climate, where SD has strong opinions.

Jessika Roswall

Sweden's EU minister Jessika Roswall met her French counterpart Laurence Boone, Secretary of State for European Affairs on 24 November, during one of many meetings as part of the Swedish presidency of the Council of the European Union. Photo: Ninni Andersson/Regeringskansliet.

Like Finland, Sweden has also applied for Nato membership, a very important issue during the mandate period.

350 issues in 2000 meetings

As president of the Council of the European Union, Sweden will lead all meetings on all levels in the Council, be the continuity of the EU’s work in the Council and make sure law-making processes are correctly executed. A presidency country can also aim to improve the cooperation between member countries, and if needed function as a neutral facilitator. 

Being the last presidency holder in the so-called trio means there will be many bills waiting to be passed. During the presidency, some 350 issues will be dealt with during 2000 meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg, but some 150 meetings from the north to the south will also be held in Sweden.

Preparations for the Swedish presidency have been going on for around two years and started long before the change of government. One crucial part of these preparations, which many people across the government offices work on, is to keep up to date and try to predict which issues will be negotiated in the Council during the presidency.

Photo: European Union

Some 150 meetings from the north to the south will be held in Sweden, during the presidency, but morsty of the meetings will be held in Brussel and Luxembourg. The picture shows the main meeting room of the Council of EU.

They must also assess how far down the line various negotiations have come and what can be achieved in the presidency’s six months. It is also important to identify what expertise will be needed and to get the right people with the right skills into the right positions. In Sweden, all the government ministries are involved in the preparations, including the Ministry of Employment. the Prime Minister’s Office coordinates the presidency work using inter-departmental groups among other things.

“Right now, the political priorities and the work programme are being crafted. Like most things at the Swedish Government Offices, this happens through a dialogue between the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministries. You have to strike many different balances. The presidency's key job is to lead the work in the Council and move the EU’s daily agenda forwards,” explains Ulrika Hall, who is responsible for the coordination of the presidency at the Ministry of Employment. 

The change of government did not lead to major changes in the preparatory work, says Hall.

“We are expected to perform the tasks of the presidency regardless of political persuasion,” she says.

“In certain cases, however, we have needed to wait for a new government before adopting a direction of travel, for instance when it comes to which issues should be the focus of the political agenda, like in political debates. The change of government has played a big role here in terms of decision-making,” says Ulrika Hall. 

Many of the meetings are obligatory and focus on carrying out the Council’s agenda and making decisions on for instance future legislation. The presidency should be an impartial chair of the Council of the EU and work in the interest of the entire Council.    

The country holding the presidency can also host conferences and other types of meetings in order to focus on interesting issues which can then be debated. There is also some scope for influencing the size of resources being used, for instance in terms of how many meetings are held for certain negotiations and hence prioritising certain negotiation issues. 

“There is additional value in the fact that all member states get the chance to wear a different hat and take on an impartial role. As a presidency country, you get the chance to get a proper overview and not just the national point of view. No matter whether you are a big or small member state you play the same role,” says Ulrika Hall. 

Personally, she thinks it is interesting to work with the presidency.

“It is great fun. It is exciting to see the machinery, how it works and the influence we can have.”

Some of the labour market issues coming up in the first six months of 2023 include negotiations on the platform worker directive, some work environment issues and a proposed recommendation on social dialogue. The priorities and work programme will be published in mid-December.

Filed under:
EU immediately on table for new Prime minister

Ulf Kristerson (picture above) visited Brussels on 20 October, just two days after he formed his government. He attended a meeting in the Council of EU, and met the president of the Council, Charles Michel. Since Sweden will have the presidency of the Council of EU during the first half of 2023, EU will play a large part of Kristerssons first year as Prime Minister.

Four priorities for the presidency:


Källa: Regeringen

Security, competitiveness, green transition, democratic values and the rule of law. These are the priorities of the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2023, writes the government in its presentation.

Labour market issues do not get a special mention, but it is already decided that the EU directive on platform work will be finalised during the Swedish presidency. Sweden's view is that the EU should not decide who should or should not be considered to be employed.

The issue of labour immigration will also be central during this presidency period. Many EU countries have a great need for this kind of immigration, while Sweden has got a new government based on the Tidö Agreement which says labour immigration rules should be tightened

Källa: Regeringen

Presenting the Swedish presidency to the Swedish parliament on 14 December, Prime MInister  Ulf Kristersson highlighted the green transition. 

"The fact that the EU institutions agreed to phase out all new fossil fuel cars by 2035 is a great leap in the right direction. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also made the phasing out of fossil energy even more urgent. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels began in the 1970s when it was a question of cost. In the 80s and 90s, it also became an environmental issue. Today it has also become a security issue," said Ulf Kristersson.

Yet in order to make enough electric vehicles, access to enough high-quality computer chips is crucial.

"That is why Sweden's presidency will lead the continuing work for a European semiconductor ecosystem. It sounds technical – and it is. But it is also absolutely necessary if we are to manage to electrify our vehicle fleet."

So Sweden will prioritise accelerating the EU's electrification process. One strand of this is working towards a new battery regulation and continuing negotiations on increasing fossil-free energy production.

Källa: Regeringen 

The Swedish presidency's visual expression includes a logo where different messages are conveyed depending on which letters and numbers are given a yellow colour.

Read the entire presidency presentation here:

Presidency costs 1.25bn kronor over three years

Much of the preparations for the presidency are handled during Swedish Government Offices  staff's day-to-day business. Just like in 2009, there is a meetings secretariat and a communications secretariat.

65 people, recruited both internally and externally, work in the meetings secretariat. Their job is to handle all the practicalities like booking venues, transport, accommodation and other logistics. For the 2023 presidency, security will be more important than it was during the 2009 presidency.

The EU has 24 official languages and around 35 out of the meetings that will be held in Sweden will have interpreters, according to an agreement between the Swedish presidency and the EU Commission's Directorate‑General for Interpretation. The number of languages to be interpreted depend on the nature of the meeting.

The communications secretariat has a staff of 20, who are also recruited both internally and externally. At the Representation in Brussels 200 people, including 20 new recruits, also work with preparations.

The presidency country will carry the cost and has a budget of 1.25 billion Swedish kronor (€114.4m) to cover the years 2021, 2022 and 2023.


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