Swedes in pre-summit split over enlargement

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Series Details Vol.7, No.23, 7.6.01, p1
Publication Date 07/06/2001
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Date: 07/06/01

In an interview with European Voice, the country's premier Göran Persson admitted he was "not as optimistic" as his Foreign Minister Anna Lindh about what could be achieved.

Whereas Lindh said earlier this week she wanted a clear timetable for the closing stages of enlargement negotiations to be drawn up, Persson indicated he would settle for much less.

He expected that the declaration agreed by EU leaders would simply elaborate on the one made at last December's Nice summit, which stated that the first new entrants should be admitted in time for the 2004 European Parliament elections.

Said Persson: "I'm quite optimistic about finding some kind of wording, giving the message to the applicant countries that we not only need to keep the momentum but also speed up the momentum with the enlargement process. But what the wording will be I'm not yet sure."

The prime minister also acknowledged there was little hope that US President George W. Bush's first visit to Europe next week would lead Washington to compromise sufficiently on its opposition to the Kyoto accord on tackling climate change, the biggest single irritant in transatlantic relations during recent months.

Persson said he will try to convince Italy's new leader Silvio Berlusconi today (7 June) to withdraw his threat of also reneging on his country's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "I hope that he [Berlusconi] will be able to confirm that they will stick to the mainstream in Europe," the Swedish leader said. "Anything else would be a political sensation."

But Persson was buoyant about the prospect that the meeting will endorse a deal for the EU's fledgling military force to have access to NATO assets. While Turkey has been blocking the agreement until now due to differences between it and the Union over how much involvement Ankara should have in the 60,000-strong rapid reaction force, diplomats from both sides seem poised to end the row in the coming days.

Despite the active role which the Swedish presidency has played in resolving that dispute, Persson's Social Democrat party is resolutely insisting that Sweden should retain its policy of military non-alignment. "We will stick to our policy of standing outside military alliances," he said. "It has served Sweden well, it has also served the [Nordic] region extremely well. Why should we break this balance by entering into NATO?"

Pressed about when Stockholm will sign up to the euro, Persson was non-committal: "I will not call a referendum before I am convinced that we have met all the economic conditions required but when we have done so, I will."

The main achievement, he said, of the Swedish presidency was to consolidate recent work on making the EU more effective. "We already have grandiose policies. What we lack is the initiative to do what we said we want to do."

After a meeting with Persson in Brussels yesterday (6 June), Belgium's Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt praised Stockholm for making the EU's common foreign policy a more concrete reality. Belgium's six-month stint at the Union's helm starts on 1 July.

Preview of the European Council, Gothenburg, 15-16 June 2001.

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