'US needs European friends right now': expert

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'US needs European friends right now': expert

Sweden's support of the EU-US free-trade agreement could be one reason for President Barack Obama's decision to visit Sweden, rather than to stop off in neighbouring Nato members Norway or Denmark.


"It is unique that a current president visits Sweden, when George W. Bush went to Gothenburg in 2001 it was to meet the EU leadership," political scientist Jan Joel Andersson, at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, told The Local. "It's a way to showcase the two countries' good relationship."

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt commented Obama's calling card on Wednesday by saying he welcomed discussions on trade, reform and the European economic situation.

"Sweden and the US share their views on trade, and on free trade as Sweden is an important proponent of the EU-US free-trade agreement," Andersson said, adding there were probably no topics that were off limits between the two politicians - despite technically being from separate sides of their respective countries' political divide.

"The Swedish Moderates have more in common with American Democrats," Andersson pointed out. "And a Democrat president is more likely to appreciate the solutions we have implemented in Sweden. It would be more surprising if a Republican president visited."

In the past, Andersson noted, America would have prioritized stop-overs in Oslo and Copenhagen rather than head on to Stockholm, as Sweden remains outside of Nato while Norway and Denmark are members.

Yet as Swedish military personnel have now fought alongside Nato not only in Afghanistan but participated in the Libya mission, Sweden's neutrality has perhaps been perceived as thawing somewhat.

"US-Swedish relations have never been as good as they are now," Andersson said.

And while Sweden with its 9-million populace may not be a European heavy-hitter, the US none the less could do with some friends across the pond at the moment, he added.

"Things are frosty in Germany after the surveillance revelations," Andersson said, referring to the Edward Snowden leaks which have also brought the US on the collision path with Russia, where the whistle-blower has been granted asylum much to Washington's widely publicized annoyance.

In Stockholm, meanwhile, the respective leaders should not find too much to chafe about.

"There aren't any mayor irritants, apart from Guantanamo perhaps, but that's not top of the agenda right now," Andersson said. "A lot of the focus will be to show off this nice relationship... the US needs friends in Europe today."

Ann Törnkvist

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