Sweden concerned by British EU debate
Could Sweden lose one of its closest partners in the European Union? An ongoing debate in the United Kingdom about whether the country should even stay a member of the EU is worrying Swedish politicians.
Leading British lawmakers, including the British finance minister, have recently stated that the EU needs to change if the UK is to stay a member, and that sharpening tone worries Swedish politicians, many of whom see the UK as their natural ally when it comes to European policy. Birgitta Ohlsson is Sweden's Europe minister, she says she's concerned.
"Of course I am", she told Radio Sweden, "and I think it's very important for Sweden to be closely connected to the UK in the EU. We're like-minded when it comes to issues like free trade or deepening the single market, so I really hope they stay an active member in the union, because we need them and they need us."
British Prime Minister David Cameron is to hold a keynote speech on Friday, pointing out his vision of Europe. And some members of his Conservative party have gone even further. They want out, with access to the single European market of course, but away from what they see as interfering Brussels meddling in British politics. Ohlsson says that would be a large blow.
"It'd be devastating for liberal views and ideas in the EU", she says, "they are strong promoters of human rights issues, of free trade, and the single market. So I hope they will still be part of the union in the future, and be a very active member."
Cecilia Malmström is Sweden's European Commissioner in Brussels, and is responsible for Home Affairs issues. She says she respects the British debate, but shares the same fears as her liberal party colleague Birgitta Ohlsson.
"It's fully legitimate for them to have a debate on these issues, of course", she told Radio Sweden, "It's even positive that they do. But our fear is that they will come to conclusions that they should withdraw from the European Union, which would be bad for Britain and bad for Europe."
If they were to leave, there would still be 26 member states, she adds, but it would be sad if the UK were to leave. It would be one voice less, Malmström adds.
But while many Swedish politicians and the general public share some of the fears of the British eurosceptics, the atmosphere in the political debate when it comes to the EU is completely different in Sweden.
Finland's EU minister Alexander Stubb has called the UK one of the world's most civilised countries, but with the most uncivilised debate about the European Union. And his Swedish colleague Birgitta Ohlsson calls on pro-EU politicians to speak out more:
"Sometimes the debate about the European Union in the UK can be very populistic and very tough, and I think it's important that true friends of the EU in the UK really stick together and promote a positive message on the European Union", she says.
Reporters: Anders Ljungberg & Kris Boswell