Boosting the competitiveness of the European Union (EU) amid an uncertain economic climate marked by the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and skyrocketing inflation will be one of the central objectives of the Swedish presidency of the European Council, which begins on January 1.
Sweden has identified competitiveness as one of the four priority areas of its presidency, which will run through the first half of 2023, alongside security, the green transition and the defence of fundamental rights and the rule of law.
“An economically strong and competitive EU is crucial to its global position. Innovative companies in a free and open market not only generate growth and well-being, they also lead to green and digital transitions,” conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said recently in a speech in the Swedish Parliament.
Kristersson stressed then that the EU is “lagging” behind the United States and China, and that a clear competition policy and better regulations for European industry are necessary, in addition to stressing that protectionism “is not the way to go.”
The Swedish presidency’s programme – whose motto is “greener, safer, freer” – includes working towards more predictable and long-term rules to take the lead in digital innovation and remove barriers for goods and services in the EU market.
It also mentions the need to prioritise negotiations on ecodesign and building products regulations, as well as the new Single Market emergency instrument to respond to future crises.
In the industrial area, Sweden wants to start negotiations on the adoption of the new Euro 7 vehicle approval standard for diesel and gasoline cars and deepen the direction marked by the new European Chip Law to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers.
Reviewing legislation on the protection of design and industrial and artisan products, promoting the exchange of knowledge and increasing access to research infrastructures are other areas marked to boost competitiveness.
“To achieve a successful climate transition and strengthen competitiveness, the EU needs a secure supply of non-fossil electricity. And, at the same time, the right of member states to decide their own energy mix must be respected,” highlights the Swedish program.
The Swedish rotating presidency admits that it will have to operate in a climate of “great economic uncertainty” due to the war in Ukraine and that many countries are under “severe pressure” to manage its effects on households and businesses.
“The war in Ukraine will decisively influence the entire Swedish presidency. We have no idea what is going to happen, but we are ready to act quickly and decisively,” Kristersson said recently, alluding to the possibility of approving more sanctions on Russia and new economic aid packages to Ukraine.
Kristersson has admitted, however, that it may be “difficult” to maintain the unity achieved so far within the EU in that area.
Sweden also aims to boost reforms and investments under the recovery and resilience plan during its presidency, as well as the RepowerEU proposal, which seeks to eliminate all dependence on fossil fuels imported from Russia.
Achieving a responsible economic policy that includes public debt at “sustainable” levels and ensures growth, revising the directive on energy taxation, fighting tax evasion and promoting tax cooperation are other lines of economic policy.
The Swedish Presidency will also prioritise combating money laundering and terrorist financing, reforming the customs union and modernising social security coordination rules.