Stock-taking at Stockholm

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Series Details Vol 7, No.12, 22.3.01, p9
Publication Date 22/03/2001
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Date: 22/03/01

AS PRIME Minister of the last of the three newest members of the EU to hold the Union's rotating presidency, Göran Persson faces several major challenges at this week's Stockholm summit. First, he must counter growing criticism that, after the acrimonious end to last year's French presidency, Sweden is too afraid to ruffle any feathers by pushing other governments into making difficult decisions.

Persson must also show some tangible progress on last year's Lisbon objectives for modernising the EU's economy. Otherwise, he'll merely confirm for a sceptical European public that new forms of European cooperation, relying on benchmarking and peer group pressure, are just a talking-shop that lets politicians duck sensitive issues.

Of course, finding a breakthrough in Stockholm poses more than just an EU-level challenge for Persson. Any agreement on labour market or welfare system reform could backfire with Sweden's voters, who are already suspicious that EU membership will undermine their generous social protection systems.

The prospects in other areas - especially energy market or postal liberalisation - do not look good either. But brokering a tricky deal on the financial services action plan between a European Parliament anxious to retain its veto over legislation and governments eager to rush through new securities market laws would be a major achievement.

The Swedes took over the EU's presidency promising to put the case for the Scandinavian model: efficient and transparent administration, secure social safety nets and the harnessing of cutting-edge technologies to maintain economic growth.

Stockholm will be their first real test of whether the EU is ready for this. But it will also be a test of whether Persson possesses old-fashioned political arm-twisting (or even head-banging) skills. He will certainly need them if he wants to convince his voters and the rest of Europe that Sweden can help the Union move forward rather than just look backwards and across the Atlantic in envy at the economic success of the US.

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