Interim PM Fischer’s performance calms nerves ahead of Swedish EU presidency

Catherine von Heidenstam with Jan Fischer and Mirek Topolánek (left to right), photo: CTK

This Wednesday, Sweden takes over the EU presidency from the Czech Republic, and, as its slogan says, ‘takes on the challenge’. Like the Czechs, the Swedes want to use their presidency, which will run until the end of this year, to focus on the economy and the EU’s relations with its neighbours. As far as priorities are concerned, the Czechs and the Swedes may have been singing from the same hymn sheet, but can the handover itself be described as harmonious? I met Swedish Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Catherine von Heidenstam, to find out. My first question was whether the fall of the Czech government in March had complicated matters:

Photo: CTK
“Of course, it was a problem at the time that it happened, and there was a lot of fear about what would happen, because there were so many important issues that the Czech government had had an ambition to finalise, and of course, which the Swedes wanted to have finalised before taking over. So, there was a great worry for some weeks there, but then once Prime Minister Jan Fischer and his government took over, it is clear that they made a very good job of finishing.”

In the run up to the European Council’s summer summit, there was talk of postponing some important decisions because of the Czech caretaker government until the Swedish presidency in the second half of 2009. Has Sweden been left with more work to do because of the fall of the Czech government?

Catherine von Heidenstam with Jan Fischer and Mirek Topolánek (left to right), photo: CTK
“I don’t think it is because of the fall of the Czech government, more because of the circumstances. I know that there was talk about ‘oh, it is necessary now for the Swedes to have a summit’, but the Swedish government has said all along ‘no, we should stick to the timetable of the Czech government, we trust the Czech government to finish things’. Already, the Czechs themselves say ‘ok, there have been some issues we have not been able to fulfill our ambitions with’. For example, the Lisbon treaty, so many wanted it to be finished, but we know it has not been possible, and also nominating the president of the commission, that was a wish but, the Swedes will continue.”

In what sort of state does Sweden inherit the European Union from the Czechs, in your view?

“You should always be ready for surprises, both the French and the Czechs had their surprises, what our surprises will be, we don’t know. There is of course talk of another energy crisis. But I think the Swedish government, as I said, realised from the beginning that this presidency will be very difficult and very complicated, and that’s because of the economic situation, it is because we don’t have the Lisbon treaty yet, and all of this is at a time when the EU institutions are not in place.”