Sweden outlines EU presidency priorities

Sweden, France, and the Czech Republic, who will fill the EU's rotating presidency from July, unveiled on Tuesday a 75-page outline for their shared priorities in piloting the 27-nation bloc.

Energy and climate, institutional reforms stemming from the Lisbon Treaty, competition and immigration policy figure among the challenges picked by the trio during for their 18-month stint, according to a joint statement.

“After nine months of work, we now have a large and beautiful baby … the priorities are climate change and energy security, putting into effect the new treaty, the development of a foreign policy and European defence,” French Secretary of State for European affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, told a news conference.

Finding a balance between the Mediterranean Union backed by Paris and stronger ties with the EU’s Eastern neighbours, proposed this week by Warsaw and Stockholm, is also on the agenda, Czech European Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra said.

The trio’s term “is coming at a time which is complicated and exciting,” his Swedish counterpart, Cecilia Malmström, said adding that “it will need great efforts from France, the Czech Republic and Sweden.”

France will take over the EU’s presidency in the wake of the current holder, Slovenia, to be followed by the Czech Republic in the first half of 2009 and Sweden during the closing six months of 2009.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Paris would approach its EU presidency “with modesty” and “in a spirit of responsibility, dialogue and preparedness to listen.”

The trio’s plans have been hampered by uncertainty about when the EU’s reforming Lisbon Treaty will be ratified by all 27 members, allowing it to take effect.

“No one knows what will happen after the rotating presidency,” Kouchner said, referring to the practice of each country taking turns to lead the EU’s Council of Ministers for six months.

“Already the functioning with 12 and 15 members was complicated, but with 27, one could say that it is a miracle that it functions…just giving everyone around the table a chance to speak requires three or four hours if everyone is to have a say,” he added.

Changes swept in by the Lisbon Treaty should include appointing a president of the council of ministers and a new high representative for foreign affairs.

“We must put in place the Union’s foreign service” and define “where they will come from and who will pay them,” Kouchner added at the closing stages of a forum entitled “Visions of Europe.”

Forum chairman, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, appealed for the EU to find a new language and spirit.

“Ninety percent of European discussions concern material questions such as quotas or customs duties…but that cannot be an end in itself: the time has come for Europe to be an inspirational space,” Havel said.