The European Union’s contradictory role in Africa, the new EU Global Health Strategy, Team Europe Initiatives, and the opportunity for Swedish ministers to act as honest brokers. Those were some of the themes raised when the EU’s role as a global actor was discussed during CONCORD Sweden’s kick-off event for the Swedish EU presidency.

CONCORD Sweden arranged a kick-off for the Swedish EU presidency in January 2023
Jessica Poh-Janrell from the NGO Kvinna till Kvinna, moderator, Teresa Küchler, Brussels based journalist, Louise Bengtsson, researcher at the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies (Sieps), Louise Grabo, The National Council of Swedish Children and Youth (LSU) representative in the EESC, Jesper Bjarnesen, researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute.

Teresa Küchler opened the panel discussion by describing the presidency as, on the one hand, a “glorified secretarial role” that mostly consists of issuing new draft proposals, and on the other hand, a chance for Swedish ministers to show that they are good diplomats, capable of encouraging nations to agree with one another. According to Küchler, being a small country, as opposed to, say, France or Germany, may be advantageous. 

– The perception of Sweden is that it is an effective country avoiding conflict. Sweden has a lot to say in proportion to our population. We are regarded by others as knowledgeable in a variety of fields, including gender equality and environmental issues. 

The perception of Sweden is that it is an effective country avoiding conflict. Sweden has a lot to say in proportion to our population. We are regarded by others as knowledgeable in a variety of fields, including gender equality and environmental issues.

Teresa Küchler, Brussels correspondent at Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet

Louise Bengtsson, researcher at Sieps, highlighted that one of the government’s priorities is to reach council conclusions for the EU Global Health Strategy.

– The pandemic intensified the geopolitical tensions between the EU, Russia and China. The EU provided the most support, but others were better at marketing their efforts. As a result, Team Europe was established, as a marketing strategy, said Louise Bengtsson.

Jesper Bjarnesen, researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, also addressed the struggle between the EU and other major powers. In contrast to France’s predominate role in Africa, the EU lacks the capacity to act independently. This is a loss, according to Bjarnesen. 

– The EU often takes a reserved and condemning role in Africa, at the expense of presence and influence. It is not only military regimes that are critical, but also the population. There is a populism in Russia’s rhetoric that many buy in to. The EU must work very hard to convey its values ​​and find other ways to be present, if that is what they want, said Bjarnesen.

The venue was well-attended when CONCORD Sweden organized the kick-off for the EU-presidency

Bjarnesen, who is an expert on migration issues, believes that these issues, along with security policy, are the most pressing concerns for the EU right now. He believes that even if the asylum and migration framework will not solve all the EU’s problems, it is extremely important that an agreement is reached. However, international expectations of Sweden pursuing it during its presidency have lessened with the change of government.

Will the Swedish government’s aid cuts make Sweden a less relevant player in the EU in these matters? Yes, maybe.

Louise Grabo, The National Council of Swedish Children and Youth

Louise Grabo represents The National Council of Swedish Children and Youth in the European Economic and Social Committee EESC (formerly Ecosoc) and advocates for the EU to strengthen civil society both inside and outside the EU, as well as to protect the democratic space. In the priorities of the Swedish president, she believes there is a lack of a global perspective.

– Will the Swedish government’s aid cuts make Sweden a less relevant player in the EU in these matters? Yes, maybe, she said.

On the other hand, she sees the EU as a global player at the forefront of environmental and climate policy. In those and other topics, Louise Grabo stated that it is important that Sweden has a good dialogue with Spain so that the work can continue when they take over the presidency on 1 July.

The guests at the kick-off could play Memory with images of members of the European parliaments and Swedish EU politicians

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