Sweden holds the Presidency of the Council until June 2023 included. A first set of hearings took place between 23 and 26 January.
Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
On January 23, Climate and Environment Minister Romina Pourmokhtari told the MEPs that the priorities are: climate and biodiversity including the “Fit for 55” files, circular economy, the war in Ukraine’s impact on food security and energy prices, the UN conference on climate change (COP28), nature restoration and zero-pollution (air, water, waste). MEPs questioned the minister on several files including nature restoration, deforestation, energy, COP28, circular economy, pollution, pesticides, and transport of waste. They also sought assurances that the Swedish Democrats would not block Council’s work on climate and biodiversity.
Later that day, for Social Affairs and Public Health Minister Jakob Forssmed and Health Care Minister Acko Ankarberg Johansson highlighted health care support for Ukrainian refugees, tackling shortages of pharmaceutical products, access to medical devices, the European Health Data Space (EHDS), antimicrobial resistance (AMR), mental health, fight against cancer and preparedness for future health crisis as priorities. MEPs questioned the two ministers on their plans on shortage of medicines, early surveillance, data sharing, AMR and mental health issues.
Economic and Monetary Affairs
ECOFIN President and Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson said on 24 January that the Presidency would be prioritising a macro financial instrument for supporting Ukraine, tax evasion and avoidance legislation, the finalisation of the banking package and the anti-money laundering rules update, and the economic governance review. On economic governance, she said the hope was to reach a consensus among member states by March regarding the road ahead.
MEPs asked about the state of the debate in Council on the new own resources for the EU budget, specifics about what funds could be earmarked for Ukraine, how the Presidency planned to steer the debate on the economic governance review, and about the next steps for the EU’s green strategic investment fund as a result of the US Inflation Reduction Act.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection
On 24 January, Johan Forssell, International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Minister, emphasised the Presidency’s readiness to support Ukraine and address rising inflation and the energy crisis. They plan to advance on several files, including construction products, empowering consumers for the green transition, products made using forced labour and short-term rentals. The Presidency also hopes to begin negotiations on several digital priorities, namely on the AI Act and the rules on political advertising.
Several MEPs questioned the minister on the Single Market Emergency Instrument, improving European competitiveness, better enforcement of internal market rules and the AI Act. The customs code, right to repair, online video games, biometric mass surveillance, free trade agreements and environmental protection issues were also discussed.
On 24 January, MEPs questioned Foreign Affairs Minister Tobias Billström on two outstanding issues: what will the Presidency do to ensure that Ukraine is supported with most modern arms, including tanks, and to take a tougher stance against Iran regime. They also want to know what the Presidency can do to speed up NATO membership of Sweden and Finland.
The minister told MEPs that the Presidency will focus on providing humanitarian, military economic and political support for Ukraine. He also added that it is vital to ensure full accountability for the crimes of aggression. They will work on close EU-NATO cooperation and follow security developments in Western Balkans and eastern Mediterranean. They will also pay special attention to the fight against hybrid and cyber-attacks, said the minister.
On 24 January, Rural Affairs Minister Peter Kullgren told MEPs that the upcoming Commission’s report on the review on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will deserve great attention, as it allows to assess how well CFP is working and to reach common goals. He also mentioned the forthcoming initiative on energy transition in EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sector, to support the Green Deal targets as priority files.
In addition, the Minister said he is confident that a compromise among co-legislators can be reached on the fisheries control system. Furthermore, the Presidency is in favour of extending the network of sustainable partnership agreements, including a deal with the UK that is in its final steps.
On 24 January, International Development and Foreign Trade Minister Johan Forssell mentioned four priorities: continued support for Ukraine’s recovery through trade policy, negotiations on free trade agreements with third countries, the partnership with the US as well as including the digital and green transitions in the EU trade agenda.
MEPs demanded swift progress on trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. The pending ratification of the trade agreement with Mercosur is a priority, with the new government in Brazil seen as an opportunity. MEPs also quizzed the Presidency about its strategy to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act. Further priorities included the Anti-coercion Instrument and the Generalised Scheme of Preferences, as well as trade relations with China and Taiwan.
Employment and Social Affairs
Minister for the elderly and social security Anna Tenje and Minister for Gender Equality and Deputy Minister for Employment Paulina Brandberg told MEPs on 24 January that the Presidency priorities include: strengthening social dialogue at EU level, tackling the risk of accidents and ill health in the workplace (particularly the directives on asbestos and chemical agents at work), and ensuring the smooth running of the European semester.
Specific legislative files high on the Presidency’s agenda include platform work and pay transparency as well as the coordination of social security systems. Finally, the Presidency is committed to promoting the rights of children (European Child Guarantee), persons with disabilities and the homeless, and will organise a conference on social inclusion and access to adequate housing on 4 April.
On 25 January Johan Forssell, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, highlighted three priorities: unwavering support for Ukraine and the acute humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion; global health and better preparation for the next pandemic; and, a cross-cutting effort to tackle corruption worldwide. Minister Forssell also hoped to secure the imminent signature by member states of the Post-Cotonou agreement.
MEPs questioned the Presidency’s commitment to development following domestic cuts to spending on development, and questioned whether broadening the global donor base would be a priority. MEPs also flagged as important issues climate change and its impact on debt burdens and biodiversity loss, migration, and the EU’s Global Gateway initiative.
On 25 January, Minister for Rural Affairs Peter Kullgren highlighted as priorities: the war in Ukraine and related security and energy issues, the need for more competitiveness and for speeding up the EU’s green and digital transformation as well as the role of cohesion policy in helping to achieve these priorities. The Presidency will look into delays in implementing the 2021-2027 funds and on the investments into people in line with the EU’s Year of Skill initiative.
MEPs expressed disappointment that cohesion policy itself was not mentioned among the priorities and quizzed the minister on his plans to tackle the challenges facing cohesion policy, rural areas and local governance. They also called for new financial resources to speed up the energy transition.
Security and Defence
On 25 January, Defence Minister Pål Jonson said the Presidency has three priorities: support for Ukraine, the implementation of the strategic compass and of the EU’s strategic partnerships with like-minded partners.
Some MEPs stressed the need to increase the supply of heavy combat equipment to Ukrainian armed forces and discussed the ongoing process of Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO, asking the Minister also about the tensions with Turkey. Sweden’s industrial capacities in the defence field, boosting the European Peace Facility and implementing the joint procurement instrument for military equipment, the EDIRPA, were also discussed. MEPs finally underlined that the EU must not forget about other regions in the world of strategic importance such as the Indo-Pacific region and Africa.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
On 25 January, Minister for Gender Equality Paulina Brandberg said the Presidency will prioritise work on the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention and negotiations on a directive on combating violence against women, gender budgeting, tackling human trafficking and the inclusion of gender equality in all policy areas. They will also try to advance negotiations on legislation on binding standards for equality bodies and on anti-discrimination.
MEPs pointed out that when Prime Minister Kristersson spoke to the Parliament on 17 January, he did not mention gender equality; they questioned whether Minister Brandberg has the backing of the rest of the government on gender equality issues. Stressing the lack of access to abortion in Poland, they asked what actions the Presidency will take to address the shortcomings in the rule of law in Poland.
On 25 January, EU Affairs Minister Jessika Roswell stated that the Presidency hopes for positive developments on the EU’s ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights, addressing unanimity-related deadlocks on crucial geopolitical matters by activating so-called passerelle clauses, as proposed by the Conference on the Future of Europe, as well as any proposals from the Conference not requiring Treaty changes. She expressed reservations on the reform of the EU electoral law, the statute and funding of European political parties and the establishment of an EU independent ethics body.
MEPs demanded concrete timelines for next steps on these topics and on Parliament’s call for a Convention to revise the Treaties. Some MEPs expressed frustration over the lack of progress on Parliament’s right of inquiry, while others pointed out the need to finalise negotiations on political advertising prior to the 2024 European elections.