Swedish EU Presidency and Swedish defence issues

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
The presidency issues
Many of the issues to be put in focus during the Swedish Presidency have been mentioned above. Climate, energy and environment are often mentioned as the most important issues. Another one is employment, growth and competitiveness; a third one is a safer and more transparent Europe; a fourth one is the Baltic Sea region and relations with neighbouring countries; and a fifth one is the EU as a global actor together with continued enlargement. A further theme is that of efficiency: making the EU work better. This has been brought up by Cecilia Malmström, Minister for EU Affairs, mentioning crisis management, which today is a responsibility shared by several Commissioners rather than having one person responsible for it.
Baltic Sea initiative
The core of this initiative is to deal with all the problems and challenges related to the Baltic Sea region together: energy, environment, trade etc. The background to the initiative is that the economic development in the region is very uneven; the financial crisis has hit certain countries very hard, and the environmental problems of the Baltic Sea are considerable while at the same time there is much traffic across the waters. Germany is also behind this project and the Commission is engaged in developing a strategy for the Baltic Sea region.[1]
Swedish defence forces and the defence of Sweden
Discussions on Swedish defence have recently become heated. Repeated cut-downs of Swedish defence forces combined with continued emphasis on international crisis management as compared with defence of Swedish territory is one part of it. The other part of the discussion is the conflict in Georgia, which has caused some to ask for a new analysis on Russian policy and the Swedish threat scenarios. The third component of this discussion concerns the Swedish relations to NATO and its present status of non-alignment.
The cut-downs of the Swedish forces and the emphasis on the international tasks have been a recurrent theme for some years. International missions are generally endorsed, including by the Swedish public (see below), and the discussion has therefore been on the effects on Swedish territorial defence. During the autumn another reduction was announced as well as plans aimed to give faster reaction time, based on professional soldiers and officers.[2] The supreme commander, Håkan Syrén, has underlined that a national defence capable to withstand a vast attack on Sweden by a major country is since long been an unrealistic level of ambition for a small state. It should, however, be strong enough to deter the attacker. Close cooperation with other countries is necessary today, exercising, training as well as developing and purchasing equipment together with others. Above all, efforts are made to develop Nordic military cooperation.[3]
International cooperation has since the end of the Cold War been substantial and, while remaining non-aligned, Sweden considers itself tied by obligations to the EU and Nordic states. The Parliamentary Defence Commission’s reports and other documents contain what has been called a “unilateral Article 5”: “There is broad consensus that Sweden will not remain passive should another EU member state or Nordic country be struck by disaster or attack. By the same token, we expect these countries to do the same if a similar crisis were to befall Sweden.”[4]
The Swedish public’s views on these matters are complex. The majority of Swedes prefer continued non-alignment, even though support for NATO affiliation has gone up markedly during the last year. Among the respondents of a survey, 36 percent believe that Sweden should join NATO now or in the future, whereas 38 percent think that Sweden should remain outside and 26 percent do not have a view on this. Since 2005, the support for joining NATO has increased by six percentage points each year.[5]

On the other hand Swedes do not generally see non-alignment as the decisive factor for security in Sweden: while 43 percent see military non-alignment as having a positive effect on peace and security for Sweden, other factors are considered to be even more important: 52 percent see Swedish membership in the EU as being positive, 52 percent see Swedish participation in Common Foreign and Security Policy cooperation as positive, and 49 percent see Swedish participation in European Security and Defence Policy missions as being positive for peace and security.[6] As mentioned above, the Swedish public in general, like the government, sees enlargement as a peace-promoting factor: 40 percent of the respondents see EU enlargement as positive for Swedish peace and security.[7]


[1] Cecilia Malmström: Why do we need a European Union strategy for the Baltic Sea region?, speech, Almedalen 7 July 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); Angela Merkel/Fredrik Reinfeldt: Ökat Östersjösamarbete i EU [Increased Baltic Sea Cooperation in the EU], Dagens Nyheter, 4 February 2009.

[2] Sten Tolgfors, Defence Minister: Försvaret klarar idag inte att värna Sverige, [Today’s Defence Cannot Defend Sweden], Dagens Nyheter, 7 November 2008.

[3] Håkan Syrén, supreme commander of the Swedish forces: Att prioritera är att välja (bort)! Anförande av överbefälhavaren, general Håkan Syrén, vid Folk och Försvars rikskonferens i Sälen den 18 januari 2009 [To prioritize is to choose (take away)!], statement by the Supreme Commander at the Annual conference of “People and Society”, Sälen 18 January 2009.

[4] Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs, in: Swedish parliament: Kammarens protokoll, 13 February 2008, p. 4, available at: http://www.riksdagen.se/Webbnav/index.aspx?nid=101&bet=2007/08:63#{35F8E6AD-3FA4-4C88-8F1B-9C59FF4AD3C1 (last access: 25 January 2009).

[5] Göran Stütz (ed.): Opinion 2008, Om den svenska allmänhetens syn på samhället, säkerhetspolitiken och försvaret [Opinion 2008, Swedes’ Views on Society, Security Policy and National Defence], data collection: 25 August-13 October 2008, Styrelsen för psykologiskt försvar [The National Board of Psychological Defence], 2008, p. 77.

[6] Ibid., p. 55.

[7] Ibid.