‘Germany is Sweden’s most important EU ally post-Brexit’

OPINION: As Britain leaves the European Union, Sweden must turn its gaze towards Germany, writes communications expert Magnus Ehrenberg.

'Germany is Sweden's most important EU ally post-Brexit'
Stefan Löfven and Angela Merkel in Stockholm earlier this year. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Angela Merkel will, as expected, stay on as Chancellor of Germany for the next four years.

The German election results have been referred to as an earthquake. Merkel's centre-right CDU and Bavarian sister party CSU won only around 33 percent of votes, which is the worst result in many years.

CSU lost the most ground. Merkel's main opponent, SPD, got 20.5 percent. That was the party's worst result ever.

Right-wing populist AfD got around 13 percent and became the country's third largest party, followed by the liberal FDP with 10.7 percent. Left-wing extremist party Die Linke got 9.2 percent and the Green Party 8.9 percent of the total vote.

Coalition negotiations are about to start. It will in all likelihood result in a so-called Jamaica coalition consisting of FDP, The Green and CDU/CSU. Germany is going to change.

THE LOCAL GERMANY: Everything you need to know about the German election

But what does the election mean for Sweden and European cooperation? First and foremost, political stability in Europe and a strong German economy is of great importance to Sweden. Germany is Sweden's most important trade partner and represents around ten percent of Swedish exports and 17 percent of imports.

Even if Merkel is forced to lead from a weaker position and in a more complex domestic political landscape, the voters have not rejected Germany's fundamentally trade-friendly economic policies. That is positive for Sweden.

For the past 70 years, Germany has been the engine of the EU. The country will remain in that position after the election. But great plans to strengthen the Eurozone – proposed by the EU Commission and French President Emmanuel Macron – will run into problems.

READ ALSO: Macron confident German government won't oppose EU reforms

Macron is not likely to find much sympathy in Berlin for changing the current Eurozone's rescue fund to a more flexible financial-political tool, as long as new funds are not supplied by countries other than Germany.

The bid for a Eurozone finance minister could also become a point of contention between Berlin and Paris. The FDP has been very clear in its rejection of the proposal to use German money to limit other countries' budget deficits and bad financial-political discipline.

However, Brexit strengthens the French-German engine and a process of EU reforms in the Eurozone gets underway. That's why this is a definitive moment not just for the EU as a whole, but also for the Swedish-German relationship. Angela Merkel is the best leader for Germany and the EU for the difficult negotiations of the coming years about the future of Europe.

READ ALSO: Sweden and Germany emphasize 'shared values'

Sweden will lose a close ally and important partner in the EU when the UK exits the union. Sweden now has to choose a path in the new, likely more tightly-knit, Euro community. Without a doubt, Sweden will have to build stronger bridges with Berlin when the Brits leave.

This shift has been a long time coming, but among the wider public a recognition of Germany's great importance to Sweden is still missing. Far too few young people learn German in school and our eyes are still turned towards the UK and the US.

But recent years have shown that Sweden's interests and future to an increasing degree should be aligned with Germany. That's why our focus has to be on Berlin to a higher degree in the coming years. In the new government in France, almost half of the ministers speak German. What is the score in Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's government?

Germany will now become Sweden's most important ally in the EU and Sweden should see this as an opportunity to influence the EU in a direction which boosts increased economic integration, which in turn would benefit the Swedish business industry.

Delivering financial results for the citizens can alone increase support for the European project. Now, more than ever, we need results.

Magnus Ehrenberg runs an international communications firm with offices in Scandinavia and Germany. This is a translation of an opinion piece first published by Sydsvenskan.

For members


How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.