Sweden’s drive for democracy at the negotiating table in Brussels

Published 17 October 2019 in:

This week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde tweeted “Sweden driving force behind strong EU commitment to democracy – today and 10 years ago”. But what was the occasion? Josefine Hellgren, First Secretary at the Permanent Representation of Sweden to the EU, was working behind the scenes in Brussels. Together with Emanuel Lundin, desk officer at the MFA in Stockholm, they paved the way for EU’s first Council Conclusions on democracy in ten years. Here is their story.

Sweden strives to be a leading global force that promotes the advancement of democracy. This is more urgent than ever as democracy is being challenged. More people currently live in countries where democracy is backsliding, than in countries making democratic progress. This is a new and growing trend that Sweden is countering by pursuing a global drive for democracy.

The European Union is Sweden’s most powerful platform; the voice of all EU Member States combined in the Council of the EU is louder and stronger and can achieve much more than each individual Member State on its own.

An important part of the Council’s work is to negotiate and adopt Council Conclusions – a document that expresses a joint political position on a particular topic. This month, the Council negotiated conclusions on democracy. The result? Ten years after the last Council conclusions on democracy support in the EU’s External Relations, the EU renewed its commitment to democracy in a significantly changed global context.

Sweden’s role at the negotiating table

“Sweden has played a very active role in the negotiations for the EU to take an ambitious political position in support of democracy”, says Josefine Hellgren, First Secretary and Sweden’s delegate at the negotiating table.

“Negotiations take place in Brussels between delegates of all EU Member States, but Sweden’s positions are prepared “back home” in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm”, she says.

The policy is formulated

Emanuel Lundin, desk officer in the Department for International Law, Human Rights and Treaty Law, explains the process further:

“The Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm is where the policy is formulated. This is where Sweden outlines what our priorities are. For example, Sweden attaches great importance to support for women’s political participation and representation in the EU’s support for democracy. We also believe that fighting inequalities of all kinds is crucial in building strong democracies”, he says.

During the negotiations – which lasted several weeks and required multiple meetings in Brussels – Josefine Hellgren and Emanuel Lundin maintained daily contact to coordinate and discuss strategies to maximize the impact of Swedish priorities.

Listen, negotiate, and get support

“Sweden’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels is responsible for negotiating Sweden’s position in the Council and for making sure that our positions are reflected in the final document. In the process of a negotiation, Member States work to agree on a joint position, which can take several hours and even several days of discussions. Each Member State must look for support and compromise on their positions. The work is about looking at ways to make everyone agree and still have your position represented,” says Josefine Hellgren. “My role is to put Sweden’s positions forward. This requires the ability to listen to views from other Member States’ delegates, to be able to explain our position clearly, and to be flexible and innovative to gain support for our ideas”, she says.

EU Member States adopt the conclusions

The conclusions were formally adopted by the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council which met in Luxembourg on 14 October, where Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde participated. After the long-lasting preparations, important Swedish positions on women’s political representation and the link between inequality and democracy were reflected in the final conclusions – perhaps you can find them? Following the meeting, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde commented on the Council Conclusions, referring to them as “#DriveForDemocracy in practice!”

“New EU Council Conclusions on democracy underlining challenges, highlighting opportunities and agreeing on EU common response. Sweden driving force behind strong EU commitment to democracy – today and 10 years ago. #drivefordemocracy in practice!”, she tweeted.

A leading global force for democracy

“Sweden’s support for democracy defines our policy, in relations with individual countries and in our work in multilateral organisations, including the EU and at the United Nations”, says Emanuel Lundin. “Sweden looks to uphold the respect and protection of the fundamental principles of what makes a democracy – including human rights, representative governments, a free civil society, separation of powers, a functioning rule of law, free media and independent institutions,” he says.

Emanuel Lundin, desk officer in the Department for International Law, Human Rights and Treaty Law.

Text: Josefine Hellgren/Emanuel Lundin

Photo: Anna-Charlotta Eriksson/Sweden’s Permanent Representation to the EU