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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 17, 2009
Sweden in Poland
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Challenges Ahead
June 17, 2009   
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Amid the ongoing global economic crisis, elections to choose a new European parliament and uncertainty over the Lisbon Treaty-crucial to the future of the European Union, Sweden faces major challenges as it prepares to take over the bloc's rotating presidency July 1, Swedish ambassador to Poland Dag Hartelius tells Piotr Kowalski.

What will Sweden's priorities be during its six months at the helm of the EU?
First, we have the climate change issue. There will be a global meeting in Copenhagen in December and it will be important for success on global scale that the EU can come up with a good, efficient, strong package in order to encourage other important players-like America, China, India, Brazil and South Africa-to also come forward with good, forward-looking proposals. We have to be the leader here and need to get a good result.

Second, the Swedish presidency will introduce a new form of intra-European cooperation-an EU strategy for countries in the Baltic Sea region. This is the first macro-regional strategy of its kind and I believe there will be more in other parts of Europe.

We can pool our resources much more. We can harmonize the way in which we implement EU directives. There's an environmental element but most things in the upcoming strategy will be about competitiveness, conditions for business and growth, and infrastructure.

If we want to be competitive as a region it's a good idea to have similar views on how to develop the transport network, for example. If Poland, for instance, was to build a highway up to the Lithuanian border and on the other side of the border there would only be a small forest road, it doesn't work. So we need to think together.

It's also on the agenda to update the EU's five-year program for justice and home affairs. This involves a number of issues in the legal sphere, including patents and migration. These are areas that have been politically sensitive. There have been some very national perspectives. We don't have a European patent yet and we still need to cooperate better in areas like immigration and asylum policy.

Then there's the need to keep the momentum of the enlargement process going, as well as implementation of the Eastern Partnership [a Polish-Swedish initiative aimed at accelerating political integration and fostering economic links between the bloc and its eastern neighbors; the EU launched the program, which focuses on former Soviet republics Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, during a May summit in Prague.]

We face a number of unusual challenges in this presidency. First of all, we have the economic and financial crisis. It's still difficult to say exactly how it will develop. Secondly, we have uncertainty about the Lisbon Treaty. We are still waiting for the Irish referendum.

Also there are the European Parliament elections. We will not only have a new parliament to work with, but a new European Commission taking office in the middle of our presidency. All these things create a special challenge for us.

Why was the Eastern Partnership something Sweden chose to work on alongside Poland?
The Eastern Partnership was a big success for us. It's important not only for those countries that want to integrate more closely with the EU, but it's also good for Europe. If we want stability on our continent then it helps us if we have stable democracies and prosperous economies in countries adjacent to the EU.

It will be quite a challenge to fill this Eastern Partnership program with substance: things that are wanted by the partner countries and important for the EU. We see this as important in order to promote democracy, good governance and prosperous market economies in these countries.

We can't see Europe stopping anywhere else other than where it stops on the map. Candidate country Turkey and partnership country Ukraine are European countries.

What shape are Polish-Swedish bilateral relations in? What are the weak points?
Bilateral relations are excellent. Trade is good. Sweden is among the biggest investors in Poland.

The weak points are the still unexploited potential in commercial cooperation, in trade and investment in both directions, and in working together in the EU. The EU Eastern Partnership is a good beginning to what I hope will be stronger cooperation between Poland and Sweden.

Swedes voted against switching to the euro in 2003, when they were the first country to hold a referendum on the issue. What now are the chances of Sweden adopting the single European currency?
It's a question of timing. There was an agreement that after the 2003 result, when 56 percent voted against the euro, that this was a very clear message from the Swedish public. Politicians agreed that there was a need to wait before we asked them to return to the issue. Now many have been arguing that the financial crisis shows that it's better to be inside the euro than outside. Like the zloty, the Swedish currency has been weakened. We can see from opinion polls that for the first time since 2003, we now have more Swedes in favor of the introduction of the euro than against. But we have national parliamentary elections in September next year and it won't happen before then. When I listen to different politicians I get different signals about whether there could be a referendum after 2010 or whether we should wait another four years until after the following elections.
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