|Author (Person)||Taylor, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol 7, No.19, 10.5.01, p7|
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhosfstadt has risked a rift with Sweden after launching his country's agenda for its presidency of the EU two months before it takes over at the helm.
Verhofstadt, who announced Belgium's plans last week, irritated the Swedes in two ways. First, he claimed that it was perfectly usual for the next presidency to announce its programme several weeks before the outgoing nation handed over the reins.
Sweden was quick to respond. "They said we presented our programme three months before the end of the French presidency but in fact we only did it on 20 December," a diplomat at Stockholm's representation pointed out.
Verhofstadt also implied that the Swedes would not achieve some of their goals before July, leaving his country to make breakthroughs in areas such as the enlargement negotiations. He said that he hoped that Belgium could broker a deal on the free movement of workers by the end of this year, although the Swedes are still adamant they can reach a deal before the hand-over.
"They have made predictions about the outcome of the Swedish presidency but if you do that on the enlargement negotiations, for example, you can send the wrong signal to the candidate countries," said the diplomat.
Verhofstadt, whose profile has soared since his stand on behalf of the Union's smaller countries at the Nice Treaty, has rejected comments that Belgium's 16-point programme is confusing and unfocused.
He said he was not able to sum up his country's programme with the simple "three E's" (enlargement, employment and environment) slogan the Swedes had coined - a light-hearted remark which could also backfire.
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has risked a rift with Sweden after launching his country's agenda for its presidency of the EU two months before it takes over at the helm.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|