On Wednesday, Malmström, who serves as the EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, shared the spotlight in Brussels with US Attorney General Eric Holder as they unveiled a new global initiative to fight online child sex abuse.
“Our responsibility is to protect children wherever they live and to bring criminals to justice wherever they operate. The only way to achieve this is to team up for more intensive and better coordinated action worldwide,” Malmström told reporters.
The Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online, which Malmström played a leading role in creating, marks the latest achievement in the career of the 44-year-old Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) politician, who took over as Sweden’s Commissioner in Brussels from Margot Wallström in February 2010.
Once referred to by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt as a “convinced Europhile”, much of Malmström’s life and career has taken place outside of Sweden and down on the continent.
Born near Stockholm, Malmström spent many of her formative years in France, where she also studied literature in Paris at the Sorbonne.
Before entering politics, she worked in France, Germany, and Spain for Swedish ball bearings giant SKF, experiencing first-hand the kind of “free movement” associated with European Union citizenship and which she now helps shape and protect in her current role at the Commission.
According to Malmström, who lives with her husband and their twins in Brussels, her interest in European politics was awakened at an early age by a visit to the cemeteries near the beaches of Normandy where thousands of soldiers had perished during World War II.
Another formative experience took place when she was living in Barcelona and heard stories from a friend whose grandmother secretly sang Catalan children’s songs while hiding in her cellar during Franco’s fascist dictatorship.
“There are plenty of reasons Europeans should solve our problems around a drab conference table instead of in the trenches like we did before,” she told the Expressen newspaper in 2009.
Returning to Sweden in 1989, Malmström eventually received a doctorate in political science in 1999 from the University of Gothenburg, where she also taught courses on European politics, immigration and terrorism.
Over the same period, she became increasingly active within the Liberal Party, eventually being elected to the governing board in 1997, and taking up a seat on the Västra Götaland Regional Council in 1998.
In 1999, however, she headed back to Europe as a Member of the European Parliament, where she served until 2006 in the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Committees.
Malmström was then appointed as Sweden’s Minister of European Union Affairs in the cabinet of Fredrik Reinfeldt following the September 2006 election victory of the centre-right Alliance coalition back home in Sweden.
In the latter half of 2009, Malmström played a leading role in coordinating Sweden’s Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, which proved to be the perfect precursor to her appointment as Sweden’s EU Commissioner.
“As a liberal, I believe in a strong Europe,” she said at the time.
Soon after assuming her position, Malmström proposed a directive for toughening laws on child sex abuse, including a controversial proposal to block online access to child pornography.
She has also worked to tighten EU border controls, while at the same time striving to develop a common European migration and asylum system.
While the multi-lingual Malmström – she speaks English, Spanish, Italian, German, and French – has thrived in Brussels, she hasn’t fallen in love with the city, but has nevertheless come to recognize its “charms”.
“The big problem is that it’s so frustratingly far away from the sea. For someone who grew up on [Sweden’s] west coast, that’s very irritating,” she told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper in late 2010.
Indeed, spending time on and near the ocean is one of Malmström’s few leisurely pursuits outside of politics, and inspired one of her more curious hobbies: collecting penguins.
“They are cool animals who live under extreme conditions, but still manage to have fun, it seems,” Malmström told Expressen.
“And they’re also feminists. The males incubate.”