Sweden is assuming the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a historically challenging time, which means that many of the priorities have not been set by us, but by the reality, we live in, said Ambassador of Sweden to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johanna Strömquist, in an interview with FENA on the occasion of the six-month Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU.
At the beginning of the conversation, she said that it was clear from the outset that the EU continued support to Ukraine will define the Swedish presidency. It is not only a moral obligation. It is also a precondition for lasting peace in Europe. The outcome of this war will shape Europe’s future.
“We must also handle the many crises the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has created: migration crisis, energy crisis and global food supply crisis as well as rising inflation, interest rates and energy and food prices,” said Strömquist.
She stressed that these crises are added to the ones we were facing already before the war, climate change, and the still ongoing pandemic. In parallel to these tasks, Sweden’s ambition is to drive the EU agenda forward, for a greener, safer, and freer Europe.
Therefore, Sweden has set four priorities for our Presidency: security, competitiveness, green and energy transitions, as well as democratic values and the rule of law.
Security and unity come first to ensure continued economic and military support for Ukraine and to move towards a robust European security and defense policy with our partners in the US and UK, and intensifying the fight against cross-border organized crime
“Resilience and competitiveness are in second place. Addressing short-term consequences of the war in Ukraine need to be complemented by efforts to drive long-term economic growth in Europe,” Ambassador Strömquist stated.
This process includes further strengthening the EU single market, standing up against protectionism, and promoting open economies based on free competition, private investment, and successful digitalization.
Thirdly, prosperity as well as the green transition and energy transition, and in that area, it is necessary to ensure European independence from fossil fuels which will be central to our energy security.
“The Swedish Presidency will both tackle high energy prices and address long-term energy market reform. We will also work to ensure that Europe leads by example and combines a swift green transition with boosted innovation and competitiveness,” added the Swedish Ambassador.
The global and foreign policy dimensions of climate issues, including the security implications of climate change, will be important during the Swedish Presidency, as will continued efforts to enhance EU climate diplomacy.
The global climate challenge requires a global response and Europe must lead by example. European steps towards independence from fossil fuels are necessary not only for the green transition but also for our security.
“European companies that provide green solutions can help drive the green transition globally. This will require major investments that can translate the best ideas and innovations into functional solutions,” she pointed out.
The EU will also include the countries in the Western Balkans in this work. A big Energy Package has been announced to support the region and we are looking forward to the implementation, and Sweden will also continue its bilateral support.
The Swedish Ambassador expressed hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina with their support will continue to increase efforts in reducing emissions, improving air quality, improving solid waste management as well as wastewater treatment.
Some important steps have already been made in this regard supported by Sweden, such as energy efficiency measures in public and residential buildings throughout the country and the use of renewable sources of heating, which greatly contributed to environmental protection and the transition to non-fossil fuels.
“We are glad to see increasing demands and commitment by local authorities to participate and scale up activities in the area of energy efficiency and renewable energy and hope that investments in innovative industries will be more intensified,” she said.
She stated that the fourth priority is the protection of democratic values and the rule of law because the European Union is based on democratic values, paving the way for cohesion, individual freedoms, non-discrimination, increased economic output and global influence.
“Upholding the principle of the rule of law and fundamental rights is, therefore, an essential element of Sweden’s – and indeed every – Presidency of the Council,” Strömquist stated.
When asked what will be Sweden’s policy towards the region of the Western Balkans and in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina after receiving the EU candidacy status, the Ambassador said that at the EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana in December last year, the EU message was clear that we are firmly committed to welcoming the Western Balkan countries into the EU family.
The Swedish Presidency will work for a united EU, contributing to an active EU integration process in the Western Balkans and continued support of the countries to implement reforms.
“We have some recent positive movements in the region with the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, and Candidate Status for Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the hard work must be done by the governments in the region,” the Ambassador said.
She said that there will be no shortcuts and that the countries’ own progress will decide the pace of the integration. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, this means that substantial progress must be made on the 14 key priorities before negotiations on membership can start.
Ambassador Strömquist stated that most of these 14 key priorities can be fulfilled quickly if the newly elected politicians focus on them and she expressed hope that the Candidate Status will lead to positive energy and that we will see real progress in the next four years.
“Another important issue will be to ensure that the whole region aligns with the EU common security and foreign policy, including measures against Russian following the aggression against Ukraine. This is an important part of the EU integration process,” Strömquist stated.
She thinks that the four priorities of the Swedish Presidency are also relevant to the relationship between the countries in the Western Balkans and the EU. These are areas where we want and must work together in Europe. Green transition, economic development, rule of law and, in a particular security.
During the spring, Sweden will organize events in Bosnia and Herzegovina on all these themes together with the EU delegation, EU Member States and our local partners.
“The war in Ukraine and the fundamentally changed security situation in Europe has made close cooperation between like-minded countries even more important, to face the challenges in front of us. By that the continued EU integration process also of the Western Balkans has become more in focus,” she stressed.
When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Strömquist believes that by granting candidate status, the European Union has sent a clear signal and the ball is now in your court. This year has the potential to be the year when developments turned in a positive direction.
The swift process of forming a government on the state level is a promising sign. As is recent statements of several members of the government coalition, highlight the ambition to put EU integration at the top of the agenda.
“I am very much looking forward to seeing these statements materialize into concrete action and change that will benefit the people and the country,” the Swedish Ambassador to BiH said.
“This is the moment for the new government to deliver on much-needed and long overdue reforms in line with the 12th of June agreement, and the 14 key priorities set out by the EU. They focus on strengthening the functionality of the institutions, rule of law, human rights, and public administration reform,” said Strömquist.
BiH’s accession to NATO is one of the key goals of BiH’s foreign policy, but at the moment there is no political agreement on this issue, Sweden is also in the process of joining NATO, and Strömquist says that by invading Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated its utter disregard for the European security order and the Charter of the United Nations.
She announced that Sweden will continue to work together with like-minded countries to uphold a rules-based world order. It is essential for peace and stability, as well as our continued prosperity, she added.
In an interview with FENA, the Swedish Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johanna Strömquist, emphasized that it is a fundamental principle that each country has the right to make its own decisions regarding its security arrangements.
Sweden has decided to join NATO, and to quote the Swedish Minister for Foreign affairs, Tobias Billström: Sweden and Finland will be more secure as NATO members, and NATO will be stronger with Sweden and Finland as full members. It’s a win-win situation.