european union

Swedish EU Reaction Mixed

Reaction in the Swedish media to the choice of Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton as the two new big names in the European Union have been mixed. 

With Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in charge of the talks, some are proud that the government managed to pull off the complicated negotiations, others have been unimpressed by the names that were finally pulled out of the hat.

Van Rompuy, who has only been Prime Minister of Belgium for a year or so, will be in charge of the European Council, co-ordinating meetings and the long term planning of the EU, while Baroness Cathy Ashton, who is hardly a household name even in her home country of the UK, will take on the world as the EU's so called Foreign Minister.

Social Democrat paper Aftonbladet was less than impressed by the names in their editorial comments Friday.

"Herman van Who-is-he?", asked the newspaper, claiming that Europe has missed a historic opportunity, choosing now to talk to itself, rather than with the rest of the world. The paper warns that Europe may now spend its time navel-gazing, talking about how to subsidize French farmers, discussing institutions, pretending that Turkey doesn't exist, building higher walls around it, and chasing illegal immigrants.

"The rest of the world doesnt know what Europe wants, and there is a lack of a common purpose within the EU. Herman is a symptom of this problem, not the solution, and that's sad", writes Aftonbladet. The paper isn't overly keen on the choice of Catherine Ashton either, but says it is important that one of the top posts goes to a woman. The male domination of the European Union is a problem, it writes, of the 27 government leaders gathered in Brussels Thursday, 26 are men. It then goes on to quote French EU-correspondent Jean Quatremer, who has described the EU as the "Christian Democratic version of Saudi Arabian government".

But not commentators from the centre-left of Swedish politics were negative, Marita Ulvskog, former Party Secretary of the Social Democrats, and currently a fairly Eurosceptic MEP in Brussels, thought that it was a good idea to pick 2 lesser known candidates:

"I think it turned out quite well if you don't think that the EU should turn into the USA, a United States of Europe with a strong president", she told Swedish Radio News, "if you think that Europe should continue to be 27 national democratically elected governments, then it's a good choice".

She is supported from the other side of the political spectrum by Sweden's new European Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström from the Liberals, who claims that the idea of some all powerful president of the EU is just an invention by the European media.

"This is meant to be someone who is just a chairman", she told Swedish Radio, "someone who leads and gives some kind of continuity between the 6-month rotations of leadership in the EU between the different member states".

Editorial writer Peter Wolodarski from the liberal broadsheet Dagens Nyheter disagrees, saying even Sweden's own Foreign Minister Carl Bildt had called for a big name.