Swedish troops to join EU strike force

Sweden is to contribute troops to one of 13 "quick-reaction battlegroups" being set up by the EU over the next two years. Despite opposition within its ranks, the Green Party has agreed to vote with the government, paving the way for Swedish soldiers to join a Nordic battalion.

Each battlegroup – not to be confused with the EU’s 60,000-strong rapid reaction force, which can take up to two months to deploy – will consist of 1,500 troops. According to Svenska Dagbladet, the units will be on permanent standby and ready for action in less than ten days.

Sweden is expected to contribute 1,100 troops from 2007, while Norway – despite not being a member of the EU – and Finland will offer 200 each.

Following significant military cutbacks in recent weeks it comes as a surprise to many that Sweden will still have 1,100 troops in 2007. But Wednesday’s Dagens Nyheter said that it is an “important step” for the Greens to agree with the government about what to do with the country’s dwindling forces if they are to be involved in a future coalition.

“We stand behind the agreement with the Social Democrats and we will vote for the proposal,” said the Green Party spokesman Peter Eriksson.

“But will make our position clear in a special statement about, among other things, the importance of maintaining Sweden’s neutrality.”

However, the issue has caused a rift in the party, with nine members of parliament signing up to a motion against the proposal. Gustav Fridolin, the man behind the motion, told DN that his opposition to his party’s position was designed to clear up any confusion about where the Green Party stands on the issue.

“It must be made clear that we do not support the militarization of the EU,” he said. “Both the Social Democrats and the Conservative parties are selling out Sweden’s neutrality.”

A similar accusation was made in parliament on Tuesday by Lars Ohly, the leader of the Left Party, but this time the attack on the government concerned Iraq. Swedish Radio reported Ohly’s view that “by remaining silent on the assault against Falluja, Sweden has become an accessory to the violence against Iraqi civilians”.

“Human rights have not been respected in Falluja,” he said. “Will Sweden protest? Will Sweden raise its voice?”

“To take the USA’s words about Falluja seriously is like trusting the Cuban government’s assurances that there is a democracy in Cuba,” said Ohly, a self-confessed Communist who was recently forced to deny supporting Castro after Swedish TV revealed that a submission from the Left Party to an international policy document had praised the Castro regime.

Ohly found support in Helle Klein’s leader article in Aftonbladet on Monday, in which she criticised foreign minister Laila Freivalds for not attending an “Iraq hearing” at the weekend. The debate was attended by human rights experts, witnesses from Iraq, publicists and diplomats.

But last week, in a parliamentary debate on the Falluja bombing, Freivalds made her position clear.

“There are worrying developments in Iraq,” she said. “Combatant groups, terrorists, are opposing the process of democratisation and rebuilding. It is important that the interim government, with the help of the allies, tries to bring about order.”

And on Tuesday Freivalds responded to Ohly’s accusations of silence by saying that it is not true that the Swedish government has not protested against “the outrages which have happened in Iraq from the coalition’s side”.

“We have demanded that they take responsibility and investigations are ongoing,” she said.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, SR