Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty and the Swedish Presidency’s contribution

Gunilla Herolf
Herman Van Rompuy was initially described as a person about whom little was known outside Belgium. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, when asked in March 2010 about his opinion concerning Van Rompuy, indicated that he did not know him too well as of yet.[1] Among the newspapers, judgments about Van Rompuy have gone from wait-and-see to describing him more and more often, in the words of one newspaper, as “an accomplished player in the power game, determined to take a lead position in Brussels.”[2] Within a very short time, he has, among other things, built up a cabinet of experienced Belgian diplomats, called EU heads of state and government to an extra meeting and suggested far-reaching proposals on EU policy.[3]
Fredrik Reinfeldt, when asked about the changes taking place after the Lisbon Treaty, brought up the fact that he saw only heads of state and government around the table as compared to the previous situation in which foreign ministers were present. A positive consequence of having fewer persons present, as he saw it, was that the discussion became freer. Another positive consequence expected to take place with a President of the European Council, appointed for two years, is to have greater continuity. This effect is, of course, not yet possible to see. A not so positive consequence of the present set-up, according to Reinfeldt, was the discussion on who should be present at which meetings in which the presence of Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso were set up against each other. At this early stage, most of the changes have, however, not yet come into place and not much more can be said at this point.[4]
Generally, the Swedish comments about Catherine Ashton have centred on describing her tasks as very difficult and the situation surrounding her position as a tough fight for power in which different actors do their utmost to increase their own influence over the new European External Action Service (EEAS). Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was, however, highly critical after her appointment of Barroso’s aide, João Vale de Almeida, as EU Ambassador to the United States. He referred to the fact that member states had not been consulted and to the break of an “understanding” reached in 2004 that the Washington position should go to “a person with experience from a high political post.” Bildt repeated his criticism at the following foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, at which Ashton defended the appointment, claiming that she had followed exactly the right procedure.[5] Together with then British Foreign Minister David Miliband, Bildt wrote another letter to her, just before the foreign ministers’ meeting in Cordoba in early March 2010. In this letter, the two gave her advice on which competences they believed that the EEAS should have. “We want to strengthen Ashton vis-à-vis the Commission. This is how the letter should be seen”, said Bildt. Indirectly, however, the letter contained criticism towards her.[6] Clearly, the Swedish Foreign Minister prefers to have Ashton’s position close to the Council rather than to the Commission.
Sweden, having the Presidency of the EU during the autumn of 2009, was also the author of the report outlining the EEAS. Two important factors included in this report, which was accepted by the European Council in late October 2009, were the need for budget restriction and the manning of the EEAS. According to the EEAS report, one third of the personnel were to be member state representatives. As described by State Secretary Frank Belfrage to the parliamentary committee on EU affairs, these two principles are an absolute demand from member states, including Sweden. As he saw it, it would both be costly and lead to a loss of expertise if, by not sticking to the level of one-third being manned by present diplomats, experienced diplomats would be left outside the EEAS. Member states, again including Sweden, do not agree with the European Parliament’s idea that Ashton should also have three political aides in order to give the EEAS the possibility to devote more time to the Parliament. Belfrage expressed the hope that this could be settled early and that rivalry among institutions would not delay this question longer.[7]
On the proposal for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the Swedish standpoint in the debate in the Council of the European Union has been that it has to be user-friendly. Sweden is therefore arguing for a simpler model than the one proposed by the Commission. The risk with the present proposal, Sweden argues, is that the initiative becomes so complicated that it might lose its power as a new democratic tool. In particular, the so called “control stations” are seen as overly bureaucratic. This view also found support among the parties in the parliamentary committee on European affairs. As stated by members, the issues included in such European Citizens’ Initiatives would be restricted to those that are within the competence area of the Union (or actually of the Commission), but it was seen as important that the mechanism for deciding this would not be of the kind in which considerations of political nature might play a part.[8]

[1] Fredrik Reinfeldt before the Parliamentary Committee on EU Affairs, 30 March 2010, p. 3.

[2] Ingrid Hedström: Rompuy tar rodret [Rompuy takes the helm], Dagens Nyheter, 27 March 2010.

[3] Henrik Brors: Smutsig maktkamp om EU:s utrikespolitik [Dirty power fight about the foreign policy of the EU], Dagens Nyheter, 5 March 2010.

[4] Fredrik Reinfeldt before the Parliamentary Committee on EU Affairs, 30 March 2010, p. 3.

[5] Toby Vogel: Swedish Minister criticises Washington appointment, European, 22 February 2010, available at: (last access: 8 July 2010).

[6] Henrik Brors: Pressad Ashton fick stöd efter hård kritik [Ashton under pressure got support after hard criticism], Dagens Nyheter, 6 March 2010; David Charter: David Miliband tells EU’s foreign chief how to do the job he rejected, TimesOnline, 5 March 2010.

[7] Frank Belfrage before the Parliamentary Committee on EU Affairs, 23 April, p. 7.

[8] Ibid., p. 8.