With Sweden still without a new government nearly three months after the September 9th parliamentary elections, there is a good chance that the nation will be represented by an empty chair at the key summit.
Only heads of state and governments can have a seat at the talks and with Sweden lacking a prime minister only King Carl XVI Gustaf could fill Sweden's seat in Brussels, an option that is not on the table.
Instead, it is likely that another country’s leader will be asked to express Sweden’s wishes at the summit, which will be held just days after the British House of Commons votes on the UK government's Brexit deal.
The unusual situation arises as Sweden enters what is sure to be one of the most intense political weeks in recent history. Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven is currently trying to form a new government. There was originally supposed to be a formal vote on installing Löfven back in the PM post this week, but that timeline has been extended due to “productive” talks that are underway.
On Monday, Löfven is expected to inform parliamentary speaker Andreas Norlén on the progress of scheduled weekend discussions with representatives of the Green Party, the Liberal Party and the Centre Party. The latter two parties have both expressed conditional support for Löfven as prime minister, but only if he is willing to move his Social Democrats “to the right” on a number of issues.
Depending on how these talks progress over the weekend, Löfven is expected to either announce a result on Monday or request additional time to negotiate.
In theory, Löfven could be installed as prime minister by the middle of next week, which would allow for him to form a new government and present his cabinet just in time to make it to Brussels for the key EU talks.
There is no set deadline by which Sweden must form a government, but the number of prime ministerial votes that can be held before a snap election is automatically called is capped at four.
The vote on Löfven will be the second chance after parliament voted down Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson. This happened after the Centre Party and Liberals refused to back a government that relied on support from the far-right Sweden Democrats. This means the country is now in untested waters — previously, parliament had always accepted the first candidate to be proposed.
Under Sweden’s system of negative parliamentarism, a government proposal does not need a single vote in its favour in order to pass, but it will fail if a majority votes against it. This means that a government can be “tolerated” by abstentions, sometimes called “passive support”.