‘An EU security force could have helped Syria’

Sweden's foreign minister is not among the visionaries who have said it is time for the EU to have its own security force. A pity, as such a force could have helped stop the slaughter in Syria, argues Swedish Liberal Party MEP Cecilia Wikström.

'An EU security force could have helped Syria'

The debate about Sweden’s defence has intensified lately. Despite our lack of membership, Sweden recently hosted a Nato conference to discuss strategic issues. Sweden’s Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson made his view clear that Sweden’s ability to defend itself will successively degrade if we do not take part in Nato’s rapid response forces.

When Russian fighter jets flew over Sweden at Easter, our planes stood still in their hangars, while Nato responded within the blink of an eye. It became obvious that Sweden is not capable of handling that type of defence threat. Yet, as a non-member of Nato, Sweden cannot rely on Nato action or assume that Nato will come to our defence, which the treaty alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh-Rasmussen made very clear to us at the start of the year.

That is reason enough for the government to immediately order a review of how Sweden can make preparations to join Nato.

Within the EU, meanwhile, such a review is looking at increased coordination of the member countries’ defence resources. Prime ministers and heads of government across the union will be expected to make decisions in this matter later this year. More and more people have begun to realize that the EU must strengthen its cooperation in several areas, in order to remain a strong actor in an ever-more globalized world.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has very clearly said there is a need for a future political union with an elected union president and a seat for the EU on the UN Security Council. French President Francois Holland has proposed a new strategy to coordinate foreign and defence policy, which includes a common union defence. Sweden’s former Supreme Commander Håkan Syrén has said that in the next ten years, member states should come to the agreement to dedicate a fourth of their national defence budgets to a common defence.

Last autumn, eleven EU foreign ministers presented a joint report in which they argued that European cooperation has to become more in depth in order to meet the challenges ahead in a globalized world. They outlined the benefits of strengthened military cooperation.

In the long term, they want to create a common European defence. It is regrettable that we do not find the name of Sweden’s foreign minister among this group of eleven visionaries. I ask myself the question why?

I am convinced that a strong common defence is decisive in strengthening the EU’s military and global security role in the future. Our 28 member states cooperating more in depth and complementing each other would lead to a more responsible defence budget and a more effective defence policy.

Despite no EU country today feeling that they are at direct military threat, a large share of their defence budgets does goes to maintaining and upgrading equipment. If countries instead specialize and the EU has a clear division of military responsibilities between its members – pooling and sharing in military parlance – all countries would get more bang for their buck, as well as being able to prioritize in a more rational way with an eye on effectiveness.

The EU should also, in the long term, build up its leadership potential in order to be able to take on international missions independently of Nato’s engagements. This would considerably strengthen the common foreign and security policy.

The discussions concerning the EU must continue and a substantial contribution to that debate is found in Birger Möller’s new book What is the EU and What Can It Be? I agree with him that it is time for Swedish politicians to lift their gaze and start pondering our role in Europe and our role in the world, and what it will look like the years to come. The world is changing, globalization poses great challenges both for our country and our continent.

If we are serious about belonging to the core of Europe, it’s high time for the next step in strengthening EU cooperation. It is the only way we can take part in shaping the EU of tomorrow, and in that way strengthen our influence and our role in the world.

The EU already has a shared foreign administration, the European External Action Service (EEAS), which today mostly focuses on peace-keeping missions as well as trying to share the union’s values regarding human rights, an independent judiciary, and democracy.

The war in Syria, however, is a sad testament to how the EU today cannot do anything concrete to intervene and put a stop to the mass slaughter that is taking place. I argue that we must change this in the years to come, so that the EU takes greater responsibility for peace and security in the world than it does today.

In order to achieve this, the EU must have a shared stance on security and foreign intervention, and that demands more in depth cooperation about what we want out from our foreign and security policy.

It is clear that the European Parliament elections next year will be make-or-break the future of the EU. We must realize that the time of the sovereign national state is over. We have to dare to admit that Sweden is dependent on the rest of Europe and that we have everything to gain from more in depth cooperation, also when it comes to security and defence.

I am convinced that a more in depth cooperation with our Nordic and European friends will guarantee both security and an effective defence.

Swedish Liberal Party MEP Cecilia Wikström.

This op-ed was originally published in Swedish in the Upsala Nya Tidning newspaper.

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Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU’s minimum wage plan?

EU labour ministers meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the European Commission's planned minimum wage directive. Why is the proposal causing such unease in Sweden?

Explained: Why is Sweden so worried about the EU's minimum wage plan?
Customers visit a branch of McDonalds in Stockholm. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

What’s happening on Monday? 

EU ministers responsible for employment and social affairs, including Sweden’s Eva Nordmark, will meet in Brussels for a two day meeting at which they hope to adopt a European Council position on a directive imposing “adequate minimum wages” on all EU countries. Once the Council, which represents member states, has agreed a common position, it will begin negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission. 

What’s Sweden’s position on the minimum wage directive? 

Sweden has been, along with Denmark, one of the most vocal opponents of the directive, arguing that it threatens the country’s collective bargaining model, in which unions and employers set wages without government interference. 

But on Friday, the government dropped its opposition, together with country’s umbrella union, the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, arguing that a compromise proposal put forward by the European Commission would protect Sweden’s wage autonomy. 

A majority of the members of the Swedish parliament’s employment committee are backing the government’s new stance, but three opposition parties, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, are opposed to the change in position. 

“I am extremely happy that there is broad support and majority backing for us to continue with the negotiations, to stand up for what we have come to so far, and do everything we can to protect the Swedish wage-setting model,” Sweden’s employment minister Eva Nordmark (S) said after a meeting with the employment committee on Friday. 

READ ALSO: Why Sweden doesn’t have a minimum wage and how to ensure you’re fairly paid

Why did Sweden make its dramatic last-minute u-turn? 

Sweden’s government judges that, after the compromise, the directive will no longer mean that Sweden is forced to bring in a statutory minimum wage. 

“I consider, together with experts in the civil service and experts in the unions and employer organisations, that there is no requirement for Sweden to bring in a statutory minimum wage,” Nordmark told TT. 

She added that agreeing to sign up to the directive would give Sweden the ability to take a deeper part in the negotiations giving it the power to make sure that important exceptions are made for Sweden. 

Denmark, however, is still resolved to say ‘no’ to the directive. 

Surely a minimum wage is a good thing? Isn’t Sweden supposed to be a high-wage economy? 

Sweden is certainly a high-wage economy, but that is largely thanks to its model of collective bargaining, under which wages are generally set by negotiations between employees and employers for each sector. 

If the directive sets a precedent allowing governments, either at a national or EU level, to interfere in this process, or for those who disagree with the result of the collective bargaining agreement to appeal to government entities, it could undermine the Swedish system. 

Who is still worried? 

More or less everyone. While the Swedish Trade Union Confederation is supporting the government’s decision, its vice chair Therese Guovelin, described the European Commission’s compromise proposal as simply “the least bad compromise proposal” the union had seen.

She has previously described the European Parliament’s position that the directive should apply to the entire European Union as “a catastrophe”.

“That would mean that a disgruntled employee who is not part of the union, could take their case to court, and would then end up at the EU Court, and it would then be them who would decide on what should be a reasonable salary,” she explained. “In Sweden, it’s the parties [unions and employers’ organisations] that decide on that.”

Tobias Billström, group leader for the Moderate Party, said he was concerned at the role of the European Court in the directive. 

“There are big risks with this,” he told TT. “The EU court might decide to interpret this directive as applying across the board, and then we might end up with what we wanted to avoid. The Moderates have as a result been against this development, and it’s important that Sweden gets to decide itself on the Swedish labour market.”

What might happen now? 

The European Parliament might try to remove the wording and the exemptions which Sweden hopes will allow its employers and unions to retain control of wage-setting. 

Mattias Dahl, chief executive of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents employers’ groups, said that the government needed to stand its ground in the upcoming negotiations, reiterating that he would have preferred that the European Commission had not sought to give itself such a role in the Labour Market.  

Nordmark said that Sweden did not intend to back down to the parliament. 

“These are important red lines for us. If there are demands from the European Parliament that push in a different direction, we can lean on the Swedish opinion and what we stand for,” she said.