Sweden’s EU presidency is about making the union greener, safer and freer

Russia, climate change, long-term growth and domestic immigration have been Sweden’s preoccupations during its term

Conserving European support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression has been the top priority of Sweden’s EU presidency, which continues until June 30th.

EU financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine were already programmed when Sweden assumed the presidency in January, so Stockholm concentrated on keeping ammunition supplies flowing, says Christian Danielsson, secretary of state for EU affairs at the Swedish prime minister’s office.

Sweden has sought to ensure that ammunition stocks of member states be made available to Ukraine, and organised the purchase of new stocks from manufacturers. The EU budgeted €2 billion for these measures. Now, says Danielsson, “We have started to negotiate the third track, which is to build up the capacity of European industry to produce more ammunition.”

Sweden fought 11 wars with Russia between 1495 and 1809, but that is not why Stockholm feels threatened, says Danielsson. “The reason we are concerned about Russia is because of what we see in Ukraine right now, the fact that Russia is challenging the security order in Europe. Ukraine is defending our democracy, rule of law, freedom, all that we stand for.”


The Swedish presidency is overseeing negotiations for an 11th package of sanctions against Russia, focusing on preventing Russia from circumventing earlier sanctions, for example through trade with third countries.

Like Russia, migration has come to be seen as a threat in Sweden. More than a quarter of the population are of foreign origin, according to Statistics Sweden. The beautiful ideal of an open, generous land of asylum collided with the reality of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Generally speaking, there has been a change in Swedish attitudes [towards immigration]. Nearly all parties advocate a much more restrictive approach towards migration

—  Christian Danielsson

Integration stalled and gang violence exploded. Sixty people were shot dead by gangs in Sweden last year, compared with four each in Norway and Denmark and two in Finland, the justice ministry announced last December. The far-right Sweden Democrats came in second, with 20.5 per cent of the vote, in last October’s general election. Although the party holds no cabinet portfolios, it is involved in all government decisions.

“Generally speaking, there has been a change in Swedish attitudes [towards immigration],” says Danielsson. “We had a very, very strong increase in migration into Sweden. We had to change our approach to enable us to handle those who are here. Nearly all parties advocate a much more restrictive approach towards migration.”

The EU’s three-pronged policy on relations with China, formulated in 2019, defines China as a partner in the battle against climate change and the protection of biodiversity, but a competitor and systemic rival in trade and international relations. This policy “needs to be calibrated to the reality on the ground today”, says Danielsson.

French President Emmanuel Macron shocked European partners by appearing to espouse Chinese positions during his state visit to Beijing in early April. He says the EU must not be dragged into a new cold war between the US and China.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, this month urged member states to reach a “coherent strategy” on China. A summit of EU leaders will discuss the group’s China policy next month. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, wants the EU to “de-risk” by decreasing dependency on China.

“We depend on China for more than 90 per cent of our lithium, which is important for the production of batteries,” says Danielsson. “We are at a similar level for rare earth elements” required for electronics, clean energy, aerospace, the automotive and defence industries.

We respect fully that when one applies to join a club, the members decide. We are waiting for decisions by Turkey and Hungary

—  Christian Danielsson on Sweden's Nato application

Turkey and Hungary have temporarily blocked Sweden’s application to join Nato. Finland negotiated a memorandum under which Sweden is co-operating with Turkey to prevent the separatist Kurdish party PKK from organising in Sweden. Hungary appears to be taking its cue from Turkey, whose autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a runoff in the May 28th presidential election. Regardless of the result, Sweden hopes the problem will be resolved at the Nato summit in Vilnius in July. “We respect fully that when one applies to join a club, the members decide,” says Danielsson. “We are waiting for decisions by Turkey and Hungary.”

Sweden’s pride in being a leader in the fight against climate change has been evident through its EU presidency. The largest iron ore mine in Europe is in the north of the country. Two companies, SSAB and H2 Green Steel, have produced the first fossil free steel by substituting hydrogen for processed coal, says Danielsson.

At the beginning of the Swedish presidency, prime minister Ulf Kristersson said he wanted to make the EU greener, safer and freer. Green refers to completion of negotiations for the EU’s Fit for 55 climate change package. Safer refers to support for Ukraine.

By freer, Sweden means greater long-term competitiveness, says Danielsson. “The EU is lagging behind the US and Asian partners on productivity and GDP growth. US companies invest 40 per cent more in research and develop 40 per cent faster than EU companies. We agreed on a strategy at the European Council in March. It boils down to more growth-friendly ways to regulate, less burdens for companies to grow, and deeper capital markets.”