Sweden’s top priorities for its European Union presidency include signing a global climate agreement at Copenhagen, managing the political ramifications of the once-in-a-generation economic crisis, and building the infrastructure needed to reflect the EU’s growing global clout. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt outlined the EU’s plans to tackle urgent foreign policy challenges in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran while simultaneously ushering in an era of deeper European integration with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
The EU is emerging as a global power, taking on missions in Darfur, Georgia, and the Gulf of Aden that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. The world is increasingly looking to the EU as both a model for integration and a leader in stability operations, but its governance structure must support this global role. Carnegie’s Thomas Carothers moderated the wide-ranging conversation with Foreign Minister Bildt.
• Iran: The EU will continue to seek a modus vivendi with Iran. Bildt applauded President Obama’s initial outreach, but noted that if Iran clearly pursues nuclear weapons in violation of its commitments the EU will support stronger UN sanctions.
• Afghanistan: A minimalist strategy—achieving a modicum of stability and then withdrawing—will not suffice for Afghanistan. The coalition must seek a functional, self-sustaining Afghan state, which will require a broader international coalition of support.
• Pakistan: The EU is preparing to increase its diplomatic and civilian presence in Pakistan, which faces critical economic challenges in addition to the threat of extremism. Europe and the United States should foster open trade and support recent progress in rule of law and democratic reform.
• Eastern European integration: The forthcoming Eastern Partnership with Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, and the Union of the Mediterranean with North African and Middle Eastern countries, demonstrate the EU’s response to the integrationist aspirations of Eastern Europe, and recognition that greater engagement benefits the EU and its partners.
• EU evolution: The Lisbon Treaty, which would streamline EU institutions and create a de facto foreign affairs ministry, appears on its way to ratification. Much of Sweden’s six-month presidency will be devoted to overseeing the institutional changes the treaty makes.
• Turkish EU membership: Though there are many obstacles to Turkish accession, Bildt stressed that the EU has a responsibility to move forward with Turkey; closing the door risks inflaming nationalism or prompting Turkey to look elsewhere for allies.
“This is the most productive period in the transatlantic relationship that I can remember,” Bildt said, “but we face challenges that are an order of magnitude greater than usual—and if we don’t deal with these challenges now they will deal with us later.”