The British government is trying to drum up support for reforms to the European Union ahead of a UK referendum on EU membership which could come as soon as June 2016.
George Osborne is hoping to convince other European governments that the UK should be allowed to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the other 27 member states, before British voters are given the chance to decide whether to remain 'in or out' of the European Union.
His visit to Scandinavia is part of a wider tour of European capitals, which kicked off in Paris last month.
He and Sweden's finance minister Magdalena Andersson told a joint press conference on Monday afternoon that they had discussed Sweden and Britain's shared interests.
“We have talked about something Sweden and Britain have in common: we are not part of the eurozone. Therefore it is important to make sure that our interests are protected and that there is fair and equal treatment of countries that are not in eurozone [compared to] those that are,” said Osborne.
While Sweden's ruling Social Democrats take a different stance than the UK's Conservatives on some economic issues, Andersson underlined the two countries' strong relationship within the EU and said that she was keen to work together with Britain on at least some of its proposed reforms, although she gave few details about how exactly their cooperation might work.
“Sweden and the UK share common interests and often have similar perspectives when it comes to maintaining a sound EU budget. (…) When we see closer integration in the eurozone we also have to look at non-eurozone issues,” said Andersson, referring to the use of EU cash to bail out Greece earlier in the summer.
The Swedish parliament recently voted yes to tapping into the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM) to help tackle Greece's acute financial needs only after receiving assurance that Swedish taxpayer money would not be used to fund the bailout.
But on Monday both finance ministers expressed disappointment that they had not been part of the discussions from the start.
“It is not a great secret that the Swedish and UK governments were disappointed. (…) We worked closely together to make sure that Swedish and British tax payers would not be liable. But we're looking at [creating] more lasting change — we should not have to do this on a case to case basis,” said Osborne.
Swedish and British flags flying in Mariatorget, Stockholm. Photo: The Local
George Osborne was also holding talks on Monday with Finland’s Finance Minister Alexander Stubb and Foreign Minister Timo Soini, as well as Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen.
His press office said that the discussions would focus on three key issues for the UK's ruling Conservative Party – protecting the integrity of the single market and the rights of non-euro members as the euro area continues to integrate; working together to complete the European single market to deliver lasting benefits for citizens across the EU and expanding the EU’s external trade with the fastest growing economies.
“This government has been given a very clear mandate to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU and to reform the EU so it works for all its citizens. We are determined to deliver a new settlement for Europe that works for everyone within it,” the finance minister was quoted as saying in a press release put out by the UK's Treasury just ahead of his trip.
“As part of that, our process of renegotiation must include engaging actively with our key partners in Europe and that’s why today’s meetings in Finland, Sweden and Denmark are so important,” he added.
Top Swedish ministers have previously been very vocal about their hopes that the UK will remain part of the European Union but have had less to say about the possibility of the UK renegotiating its terms of membership.
Margot Wallström, Sweden's Social Democrat Foreign Minister told The Local in May that she found the ongoing debate about the United Kingdom's upcoming in-out referendum on the European Union “sad”.
“Britain needs to decide for itself what it wants to do. But it is very important to the EU. And to Sweden it has been a partner nation on very many issues – everything from free trade to social issues and other things – so we would of course miss them, and it would be, I think, a very serious blow to the entire EU if they were to leave.”