Sweden warns EU not to rest on its laurels

Sweden has warned that the European Union cannot rest on its laurels if it wishes to enhance its global reputation but must take action on pressing regional security and economic issues.

“The EU’s credibility on the global stage will be determined by two things – one, the way in which we handle peace and prosperity in our part of the world, and two, if we are seen as successful managers of our economy or as failures,” Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times in an interview.

“In neither case should a positive outcome be taken for granted,” Mr Bildt added.

Sweden, which is wrapping up its six-month EU presidency, ran a professional and level-headed presidency, according to EU officials and diplomats, after a more unpredictable spell under the Czech Republic in the first half of 2009.

The Swedes secured final approval of the EU’s Lisbon treaty, a set of institutional reforms almost a decade in the making, restored momentum to the bloc’s enlargement plans, and oversaw a modest economic recovery – at the expense of soaring budget deficits and public debt.

“We have a significant build-up of debt in a number of countries, and they must start a credible process of getting themselves back into long-term sustainable shape,” Mr Bildt warned.

Iceland and Serbia have since July applied to join the EU but the bloc needs to do more to stabilise its eastern and southern flanks and should focus on three countries, Turkey, Ukraine and Serbia, he said. Ukraine is one of six former Soviet republics linked to the EU in an “eastern partnership” that was launched in May and for which Mr Bildt has high hopes – as long as the pact receives sufficient funds.

He said the most delicate moment in steering the Lisbon treaty to a successful conclusion had been in October, when Václav Klaus, Czech president, vowed to block it unless his country was granted an exemption from its charter of fundamental rights. Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s premier, crafted the compromise that persuaded Mr Klaus to sign the treaty.

“This was the sensitive bit. The work was done by the prime minister. It required a lot of tact and finesse, and it could easily have gone wrong,” Mr Bildt said.

Sweden’s presidency saw the appointment of the EU’s three highest-level officials in the space of two months. Portugal’s José Manuel Barroso was given a second five-year term as European Commission president, and Belgium’s Herman Van Rompuy was chosen as the first full-time president of the European Council, which groups national governments.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Lady Ashton has been designated as the EU’s foreign policy supremo, but her nomination needs to be approved by the European parliament – a reminder, says Mr Bildt, of the legislature’s rising importance.

“One lesson from this process is that the European parliament and the party groups are playing a more significant role in the EU than they did even a few years ago,” he said. “The process was significantly influenced, if not determined, by the party groups and the links between them. This is here to stay – for better or worse.”

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