Through the economic crisis by „business as usual“?

After the controversial Czech EU-presidency there are high expectations within the left camp regarding the new presidency. Unfortunately the programme proposal doesn't fulfill these expectations. A presidency which shows such low reform efforts even in the end of June 2009, and which pretends that the EU can sail through the current crisis by business as usual, hasn't seen the writing on the wall or doesn't want to see it.

Like all presidencies the Swedish presidency has published a programme that highlights it most important goals. The big themes a this time: Economy and employment, climate, justice and home affairs, neighborhood policy and external relations, the new parliament, the commission and the constitutional treaty. Further, the Swedish presidency puts a geographical emphasis on the development of the Baltic sea. Here among others it focuses on energy security, migration e.c.

The EU as an global actor

Right in the beginning the work programme states that: “It is important to use all of the EU’s instruments, from civilian and military crisis management operations…“. Possibilities like foreign or trade policy, or even development policy are only mentioned after the military option. The EU will negotiate further free trade agreements with third countries and strengthen the Euromed dialogue. Bosnia-Herzegovina shall receive support for its political reforms.

In the chapter „Strengthened cooperation and political role in the world“ the programme seriously speaks about a „a transatlantic market without trade barriers “ (p. 17). Similar can be said for international trade where a free trade and investment programme with India is announced. EPA, European Partnership Agreements, shall be put in place with Africa, the Caribbean and the whole Pacific region. Additionally the programme mentions cooperations with South Korea, India, Ukraine, the Golf-Cooperation Council, die Andean Community and Central America (p. 18). The EU shall continue to lead the fight for disarmament (S. 17). This is in so far interesting as today Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy are on the second place in the league of international arm exporters (EU weapon exporter).
It becomes obvious that the EU pursues an armament strategy if one reads on page 18 that „European armaments cooperation must be developed to strengthen the European crisis management capability.”

Reversing economic developments

In this chapter the Swedish presidency seems not to be willing too tackle too many challenges. Here it merely supports the suggestions by the commission to strengthen the control of the financial markets and to create EU-institutions that have authority over the national states. It is considered utterly important to have a common point of view at the next G20 meeting – though it is not mentioned what this common point of view could consist of.

A more secure and a more open Europe

The topics asylum and migration are united in one chapter. This leads to the fact that in spite of all EU commitments to a liberal asylum policy one can´t resist the impression that foreigners only count if they contribute to economic growth. In the words of the programme „The EU Global Approach to Migration is an important tool to strengthen the positive link between migration and development.” (p. 25).

Full employment and health

If one has had too high expectations regarding the Swedish presidency, this chapter will disappoint, too. Already the second sentence of the chapter leads the way: „Good health is crucial for both economic and social reasons“. The succession of words reveals that economy takes priority over the citizens. It is clearly stated: „The EU cannot afford to have people remain outside the labor market“. This appears more like a threat than like a promising social policy approach. Interesting enough is that here and in other parts of the programme the authors speak about “the next Lisboa strategy” (p.27). The controversial patient mobility directive shall be pursued without any changes (Patient Mobility Directive).

The promising title „Strengthened gender equality and improved protection against discrimination“ appears hypocrite when the first sentence starts with „To ensure growth and development …“. The authors state without hesitation „The focus of the gender equality ministers’ work will be directed at the importance of gender equality for economic growth and employment.“ (p. 28). The subordination of even the important debate on gender equality under the imperative of pure growth unfortunately is not the only of its kind in the programme of the Swedish presidency.

A competitive Europe

The first sentence of this chapter mentions an „eco-efficient economy“. Does this mean Europe´s elites have in fact learned anything? Is this chapter speaking about a Green New Deal? Unfortunately not, every commitment to ecology is brushed aside in the next sentence: „The prerequisites [for an eco-efficient economy] are an efficient Single Market characterised by openness, a sound business climate, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, reduced administrative burdens, common consumer protection and free trade.“. Institutionally the contemptuousness of environmental aspects in the so called „eco-efficient economy“ is secured by the fact that the EU Competiveness Council is supposed to play the leading role regarding its installation (EU Competitive Council). Thus it is not surprising that the controversial service directive will be implemented latest in this December (p. 31). It appears almost bizarre that Europe shall improve the exploitation of its natural resources. (p. 31).

A credible EU for the environment

Similar to the latter mentioned women who can only enjoy equality of chances as far as this serves economic growth, the environment is instrumentalised, too, and considered as a pure means to growth. Not once the programme speaks about the existential significance of environment for the survival of humankind. Instead it is merely said that „An eco-efficient economy gives competitive advantages“(p. 38). Another subordination of a crucial topic under economic goals one can see in the chapter „High standards promote better growth”. This one focuses on the European youth. Here the Swedish presidency gives few expectations on libertarian and social politics. „Effective youth cooperation is even more important in the current economic crisis…“ (p. 41)

It is still to early to give a final judgment on what the Swedish presidency will push through in Europe in the second half of 2009. In spite of the listed problems there are two points that allow slight optimism: Apparently it is planned to develop a second Lisboa strategy for the next ten years. There is hope that this time a new discourse on supranational level will develop that will be nearer to the workers needs. Secondly one must not forget that with its experiences from its own banking crisis a few years ago the Swedish presidency is very suitable to pursue an intelligent economic policy on European level (Helmut Steuer: Wie andere Länder ihren Banken aus der Klemme helfen, in: Handelsblatt, 18.03.2008).