Sweden, which has expressed determination to continue full membership negotiations with Turkey, today takes over the European Union’s six-month presidency from the Czech Republic amid difficult conditions.
The 27-nation bloc’s enlargement process is among the topics that top the agenda for Sweden as the Nordic country has said it is determined to continue progress in Turkey’s accession negotiations.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told The Associated Press last week that membership negotiations with Turkey are of "utmost strategic importance for Europe," adding that it was one of the most divisive issues in the bloc.
"I would like to see the opening of a chapter if possible, but as a president you need to be an honest broker, you need to find a solution that can be accepted by everyone," Reinfeldt said in an interview in Stockholm on June 25. "If I'm able to succeed in this, it is too early to say, but we will try our best," he said.
Reinfeldt said he believes the conditions attached to membership negotiations will result in reforms that will improve the human rights situation and turn Turkey into the "rule-of-law democracy" that Europe wants to see.
He said Turkey would be an important energy partner for Europe, which needs alternative energy routes to avoid getting entangled in gas disputes between Ukraine and Russia. "Look at a map. It is very clear that the Turkish influence on transports of fossil fuel into Europe is very important," the Swedish center-right leader said.
Meanwhile, the country’s foreign minister echoed Reinfeldt’s remarks about Turkey’s EU bid as he underscored Sweden’s commitment to continue negotiations with Turkey. Carl Bildt said his country is determined to move forward in negotiations with Turkey on June 22, according to an account by Anatolia news agency.
Turning problems into opportunities
Bildt held a press conference at the European Council in Brussels and said his country was aware that it would come across some important problems during negotiations with Turkey. However, problems could also be turned into opportunities, the Swedish foreign minister said.
The Swedish foreign minister said his EU vision is a Europe uniting every one, not excluding some nations. Bildt said he is aware of the difficulties of this vision, however, he said these difficulties might be overcome with open debates.
Bildt also made comments on the knotty Cyprus issue and said the EU had never been an actor in the settlement of the Cyprus problem. However, he expressed his willingness for a solution to the Cyprus problem and pointed to the United Nations as the address for resolving the problem. Furthermore, Bildt also underlined the EU's readiness to extend technical support.
Turkey became an EU candidate country in December 1999. The union launched accession talks with Turkey on Oct. 3, 2005.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy opposes Turkish membership, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has advocated a vaguely defined partnership with the country. However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reacted bitterly to these proposals saying Turkey rejected proposals by France and Germany offering it enhanced trade and other ties instead of full membership in Brussels last week.
Apart from the enlargement process, there are tough tasks awaiting Swedes such as the global economic crisis, soaring unemployment and climate change. Sweden, which, similar to the Czech Republic, is not a member of the eurozone, wants to see the EU emerge stronger from the economic crisis. Alongside the economic crisis, the other priority is addressing global warming.
"Together we must deal with the economic crisis and unemployment, but also unite the world to tackle climate change," Reinfeldt told the Swedish parliament last week.
"Right now, as I stand here talking to you, the ice sheets in Greenland and the Western Antarctic continue to melt and sea levels continue to rise," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
Reinfeldt stressed that the economic downturn should not give governments an excuse to put off initiatives to halt climate change. Countries "both can, and must, manage the climate and their public finances," he said.