Sweden’s prime minister Göran Persson has declared that he does not want EU Commissioner Margot Wallström to take part in next year’s national election.
Speaking to the media on Thursday evening, Persson said that the Swedish commissioner in Brussels should represent all of Sweden and “stand above party politics”.
“I don’t want a commissioner who takes part in domestic political discussions and elections, that would be wrong,” he told Swedish Radio.
“Right now we have a social democrat EU commissioner. We could have another person in future with a different political standpoint.”
Margot Wallström is one of Sweden’s most popular politicians and has been widely tipped as a future prime minister. But her relationship with Persson has been frosty since May 2004 when he invited her home from Brussels to take a ministerial post as part of a planned a government shake-up in preparation for the 2006 elections.
Wallström refused the prime minister’s offer, leading him to question her loyalty in public.
“I think it’s sad. When the party calls, you usually answer,” he said at the time. “It’s a matter of principle that you will be there for the party you serve. Many of us have accepted jobs we didn’t want.”
There is nothing in EU regulations to prevent commissioners from taking part in national elections. Indeed, the Portuguese president of the EU Commission, José Manuel Barroso, recently involved himself in his home country’s election, as did his predecessor Romano Prodi in Italy.
Dagens Nyheter pointed out that preventing Margot Wallström from lending her political weight to next year’s election in Sweden could damage the Social Democrats’ chances of re-election.
“That’s another matter,” said Göran Persson. “That is obvious, but it does not mean that we should violate our principles.”
The latest spat between the two Social Democrat heavyweights began last weekend when Wallström pre-empted the prime minister’s statement in an interview with Swedish Radio’s ‘Saturday Interview’.
She said that she thought it would be impossible for her to take part in next year’s election. Then on Thursday she clarified her comments, adding that Göran Persson had said that he thought it inappropriate that she had been involved in last summer’s European election.
“It’s absolutely not that I consider myself too good or too lazy to be involved – quite the opposite,” she said.
“I’ve tried to make the distinction between where my heart and my sympathies lie and at the same time do my job in a completely correct way.”
Wallström said that she had not spoken to the prime minister about the matter and that she had read his comments in the paper.
“It is not just the prime minister but also the leaders of the opposition parties who think that it is inappropriate. I’m not going to force myself on anyone.”
But Swedish Radio said that many observers will be wondering if this is about “another question altogether”. “Such as the fact that Wallström is critical of many of her party colleagues’ attitudes towards the EU – or maybe that she wants to be a party leader.”
Wallström herself refused to rule anything out.
“Thankfully you never know what’s going to happen in the long run,” she said.