Presidency reaches halfway point
Support for Ukraine and continued pressure on Russia, climate and energy issues, and putting long-term EU competitiveness on the agenda have defined the first half of the Swedish Presidency. The Presidency has led the work in the Council towards the goal of making the EU safer, greener and freer.
Providing support to Ukraine and putting pressure on Russia is the single most important issue during the Swedish Presidency. From day one, the top priority has been preserving the strength and unity demonstrated by the EU over the past year. The Presidency has therefore made great efforts to continue applying intense pressure on Russia through sanctions and other means.
In February, the EU adopted its tenth sanctions package, and preparations are under way to impose even harsher sanctions. The Presidency has also worked for consensus among the EU Member States on how to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes. This includes backing the establishment of a special international tribunal to investigate and prosecute the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
The Presidency has also pushed to provide as much support as possible to Ukraine – economic, political, humanitarian, military and judicial. The EU Member States have agreed on deliveries of artillery shells and joint purchasing of ammunition, among other measures. In January, the Ukraine Donor Coordination Platform was launched to coordinate support to Ukraine in both the short term and the long term.
The first Ukraine-EU summit since the start of the full-scale invasion was held in February. Ukrainian ministers have also taken part in several meetings of the Council of the EU. In addition to discussing Ukraine’s need for support as a result of the war, reforms and integration into the EU single market were also on the agenda. With the support of the EU, Ukraine is working to develop closer ties as a candidate country and to fulfil the requirements for membership.
The Swedish Presidency has also established an ad hoc working group to investigate how frozen Russian assets can be used to finance the rebuilding of Ukraine.
Earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria
It was obvious that Russia’s war against Ukraine would leave its mark on the Presidency, but the devastating earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria were unforeseen events that demanded immediate action. The Presidency therefore activated the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) mechanism to oversee and coordinate the EU’s and the Member States’ relief efforts.
Together with the Commission, the Presidency also took the initiative to organise a donors’ conference for those affected by the earthquakes. EU and international donors pledged EUR 7 billion during the conference.
Law enforcement and migration
Late last year, the Council and the European Parliament reached a preliminary agreement to give judges and prosecutors greater scope to use e-Evidence. The Council approved the agreement early in the Swedish Presidency. All that remains is its formal adoption before it becomes EU law. The Presidency is advancing negotiations in the Council concerning confiscation of proceeds of crime, digitalisation of judicial cooperation, and men’s violence against women. External aspects of migration issues have been in focus, for example through work to implement the action plans for specific third countries and for various migration routes. At the same time, negotiations on EU asylum and migration legislation continue at all levels in the Council. The Swedish Presidency and the Member States are making progress in this area. During the first half of the Presidency, the Regulation on Asylum and Migration Management and the Asylum Procedures Regulation have been prioritised.
During the first half of the Swedish Presidency, the EU:
- adopted a tenth sanctions package against Russia;
- reached a historic agreement to jointly procure ammunition to Ukraine;
- appointed a working group to investigate how frozen Russian assets can be used to rebuild Ukraine;
- initiated a donors’ conference together with the European Commission to support people affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria; and
- concluded negotiations on the proposal concerning e-Evidence.
The green and energy transitions
Climate and energy issues have also been high on the agenda. In March, the Presidency’s negotiators reached a preliminary agreement with the European Parliament on proposals concerning energy efficiency, sustainable maritime transport and infrastructure for alternative fuels. These legislative proposals are part of the Fit for 55 package aimed at ensuring that the EU reduces emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030. This package also includes a legal instrument on emissions goals for new cars and vans that was formally approved by the Council and the European Parliament at the end of March. The Presidency will continue to promote negotiations on the remaining parts of the package.
As regards the Industrial Emissions Directive, the Presidency succeeded in finding consensus in the Council on a general guideline ahead of negotiations with the European Parliament. The Directive is the EU’s instrument for regulating pollutant emissions from industrial installations and livestock farms and is therefore key to the green transition. Negotiations will begin once the European Parliament has agreed on its position.
Solving future energy supply and reducing dependency on Russian energy has also been high on the agenda. At the end of March, the EU’s energy ministers decided on a general guideline on the gas market package. At the same time, they reached a political agreement on coordinated measures to reduce gas consumption.
The Presidency’s achievements during the first half included:
- agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on energy efficiency, measures to reduce maritime emissions and rules to promote electrification of the transport sector;
- the Council agreed on a general approach to industrial emissions;
- the Council agreed on a general approach to the gas market package; and
- agreement between the Council and the European Parliament on the proposal concerning deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure.
The past few years have been overshadowed by the pandemic, the migration crisis and the financial crisis. In response, extensive support has been provided to businesses and activities throughout the EU, whereas investments in long-term competitiveness have been pushed into the background. At a time when the EU has fallen behind its global competitors, it is now critical that the long-term perspective be brought back into focus. Strengthening European competitiveness is essential to how the EU will succeed with the green and digital transitions. By extension, this affects the EU’s global position and possibilities of meeting challenges such as the reconstruction of Ukraine.
The Swedish Presidency’s prioritisation of the EU’s long-term competitiveness has produced results. At the Presidency’s initiative, the European Commission has drafted a long-term strategy to enhance growth and productivity, with a focus on digitalisation, trade and innovation.
Based on this strategy, the EU’s heads of state and government agreed on conclusions that pave the way towards strengthening the EU’s competitiveness on 23 March. This involves eliminating red tape for businesses, reducing the EU’s strategic dependencies and increasing investments in research, development and skills for the future. The Presidency is pushing to advance the Council’s work on implementing the strategy. Strengthening the EU’s single market is central to these efforts.
In parallel with the strategic discussion on long-term competitiveness, negotiations on concrete legislative proposals in this area are currently under way. Under the leadership of the Swedish Presidency, the Council has also reached agreements with the European Parliament on green obligations, economic coercion and the European Year of Skills.
Recurring crises have put the EU’s framework for financial management to the test. The Presidency has made great efforts to reach consensus in the Council on guidelines for the oversight that is now taking place. This work culminated with the Economic and Financial Affairs Council on 14 March, when an important step was taken towards a reformed regulatory framework that can manage challenges in the economy, particularly with respect to national debt in individual Member States.
During its first three months, the Presidency also reached agreements on the proposal on short-term accommodation rentals and distance marketing of financial services.
Democratic values and the rule of law – our foundation
Under the Swedish Presidency, the Council held its annual rule of law dialogue in March. This dialogue reviews the situation in various EU Member States with respect to the rule of law. This year, the focus was on Finland, Slovakia, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
An important step in the EU’s process of acceding to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was also made in March, when Council of Europe and EU negotiators reached a new agreement on the EU’s accession. All EU Member States are party to the Convention and the ongoing process is aimed at ratification by the EU as a union.
Other achievements during the first half of the Presidency included:
- Competitiveness – one of the Presidency’s top priorities – moved to the top of the EU agenda, and the conclusions of the European Council in March will now be followed up in various Council configurations;
- the Council agreed on a text concerning the main features of the economic governance review;
- agreement between the EU and the Council of Europe on how accession to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms will proceed; and
- rule of law dialogues were held in the Council, and the Presidency took the initiative to immediately start the second round.