European Union. Here are some of the events and decisions within the EU that got the attention during the year. In May, the EU expanded from 15 to 25 countries, and in June elections to the European Parliament were held.
Alcohol. Disagreements and locked positions continued to prevail in the EU when it came to the view of alcoholic beverages and their taxation. Alcohol flowed across Sweden’s borders due to lower alcohol taxes in other countries and import quotas with basically no upper limits for private individuals. As a result, Systembolaget’s sales went crayfish in borderless landscapes, e.g. Skåne. Only about a third of the alcohol consumption in the country comes from Systembolaget. Large private imports undermine Sweden’s restrictive alcohol policy, Swedish politicians emphasized. The government’s alcohol investigator Kent Härstedt presented his proposal to reduce the border trade of liquor in particular. Although he thought it was painful, and a bit like choosing between plague and cholera, Härstedt still suggested that the liquor tax should be quickly reduced by 40%. However, he proposed no change in beer and wine taxation. With sharply lowered spirit prices in Sweden, we hope to get customers to return to Systembolaget. One effect of this is that there will then be less alcohol in circulation for the desire for young people, according to the investigator. The referral authorities distributed both rice and rose on the investigation’s further journey. Most preferably, Sweden wants the alcohol tax to be increased overall throughout the EU. At a December Council meeting, Finance Minister Pär Nuder demanded increased alcohol taxes and halved import quotas, and he received these demands from the three Nordic EU countries’ health, finance and prime ministers. However, all such proposals face strong opposition from EU wine-producing countries. The EU Commission believes that Sweden, with its construction of different rates for different alcoholic beverages, benefits the country’s own beer producers and disadvantages competition from foreign wine producers. Therefore, the Commission decided to bring Sweden before the European Court of Justice. According to the Commission, the Swedish tax system imposes a higher tax per unit of alcohol on wine than on beer.
EMU, economic and monetary union. In a report, the European Commission made the assessment that not one of the new member states would meet the entry requirements for the currency union. The criteria to be met include: on low inflation, stable public finances, stable exchange rate against the euro for at least two years and low long-term interest rates. The worst situation according to this assessment was Poland and Hungary, which did not meet any of the criteria. An examination of how Sweden meets the criteria was also included, although entry into the currency union was not relevant. The Commission found that Sweden meets most of the criteria, but does not require a stable exchange rate against the euro. Greece received harsh criticism when it emerged that it had left grossly inaccurate information on the budget deficit to be included in EMU. Visit Abbreviation Finder for more definitions of EMU besides European Monetary Union.
Energy Certificates. A new EC Directive on energy certificates, a declaration of energy performance in buildings being built, sold or rented, came into force. The energy certificates should make it easier for consumers to compare different buildings. The overall purpose of the directive is to reduce the energy consumption of buildings, which in turn reduces the environmental impact and reduces the need for energy imports. The EC Directive will be incorporated into the legislation of the various countries over the next few years. A problem in many countries is the lack of qualified energy experts to inspect the buildings.
EUFOR. Responsibility for the peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia in the late autumn transitioned from the NATO military alliance to the EU’s new EUFOR (EU Force) military force. In Bosnia, approximately 7,000 soldiers were stationed for the operation, called Althea, which is the largest military operation in the EU. From Sweden, about 70 soldiers and six staff officers attend for two years. Of the 25 EU member states, 22 countries with soldiers contribute to the force. In addition, another 11 countries are participating in the operation. The presence of a peacekeeping force is based on a mandate from the UN Security Council. NATO deployed peacekeeping forces after the civil war in former Yugoslavia. At most, NATO had 60,000 soldiers, many of whom were Americans, stationed in the area. In the future, NATO will still have a small military force of about 250 people in Bosnia, including
EU treaty. The continuation of the EU constitution, or constitution, continued this year as well. A major step was taken in June when EU leaders could agree on what the treaty should look like. The final document involves a permanent President of the Council, an EU Foreign Minister and a double majority voting system based on both the number of countries and the number of inhabitants. With this construction, Parliament has a greater influence in the Union. Other amendments are a reduction in the number of Commissioners to 2/3 of the number of countries from 2014. In addition, Member States should be allowed to leave the Union. However, the new Constitution did not come into port during the year – to enter into force it must be approved by all 25 Member States. Several countries, including Denmark, the United Kingdom and Poland have decided on a referendum. Other countries, including Sweden, decides the issue in its own parliament.
European Commission. There were many trips and lots of trouble before the new President and the European Commission could finally be appointed. An additional summit was convened in June for EU leaders to approve the compromise candidate, Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Barroso, as new President of the Commission for the next five years following the Italian Romano Prodi. When Barroso then presented his proposal to Commissioners, the criticism became harsh from European Parliament against some of the candidates. Most rebellious caused the Italian Commissioner candidate Rocco Buttiglione, whose views on women and statements about homosexuals angered many. He was then replaced by Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Latvia also replaced its Commissioner candidate. Hungary’s Commissioner for nomination, László Kovács, who was nominated as Commissioner for Energy, was considered ignorant and had to find himself in changing territory. After adjustments, there could finally be a vote in the European Parliament, with the majority approving the new Commission. Margot Wallström had declared early on that she wanted to continue to be a commissioner, and she also gained the trust of Göran Persson. In the new Commission, however, she changed her portfolio. She dropped the environmental issues and was given the post of PR commissioner instead. Her task is to convey what the European Union stands for citizens and to be the spider in the network in the relations between institutions and relations with the parliaments of the different countries. In addition, Wallström became one of five vice-chairmen, and if necessary, she is the first to step in as commission chair. From the other two Nordic EU countries Olli Rehn, from Finland, responsibility for enlargement issues and Mariann Fischer Boel, from Denmark, responsibility for agricultural issues. Other EU Commissioners became Günter Verheugen, Germany, Vice President in charge of Industry; Jacques Barrot, France, Vice President in charge of Transport Affairs; Siim Kallas, Estonia, Vice President responsible for Audit and Anti-Fraud; Franco Frattini, Italy, Vice-President responsible for Justice and Home Affairs; Viviane Reding, Luxembourg, Information Society and Media; Stavros Dimas, Greece, environmental issues; Joaquý´n Almunia, Spain, economy and currency issues; Danuta Hübner, Poland, regional policy; Joe Borg, Malta, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs; Dalia Grybauskaité, Lithuania, budget; Janez Potoc¡nik, Slovenia, science and research; Ján Figel, Slovakia, education, culture and language issues; Markos Kyprianou, Cyprus, health and consumer issues; Louis Michel, Belgium, aid and humanitarian aid; László Kovács, Hungary, the Tax and Customs Union; Neelie Kroes-Smit, Netherlands, competition policy; Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austria, external relations and neighboring politics; Charlie McCreevy, Ireland, Internal Market; Vladimir Špidla, Czech Republic, labor market, social issues and gender equality; Peter Mandelson, UK, trade policy; and Andris Piebalgs, Latvia, energy policy. Peter Mandelson, UK, trade policy; and Andris Piebalgs, Latvia, energy policy. Peter Mandelson, UK, trade policy; and Andris Piebalgs, Latvia, energy policy.
The European Parliament, the enlargement of the EU by ten new member states meant that after the EU elections this year, Parliament expanded to 732 members. For Sweden, a whole new party, the June List, came into Parliament. In the next five years, Swedish parliamentarians will spend a great deal of time on the environment, the market and women’s issues, according to Parliament’s allocation of seats in committees. Spaniard Josep Borrell Fontelles was elected new President of the European Parliament following the departure of Pat Cox from the UK.
The European Year of Education through Sport 2004 was announced by the EU to recognize that sport is a significant social phenomenon, which can be used as a tool for education policy, integration and educational efforts. The sport can help young people develop social skills and strengthen self-confidence, the program statement said. The European year coincided with several major sporting events, such as the European Football Championships in Portugal and the Olympics in Athens. The European Parliament and the Council provided a budget of EUR 11.5 million for special projects in the Union countries. In Sweden, the National Sports Federation was appointed national coordinator and distributor of financial resources to applicant organizations.
Toys. Europe’s children get less dangerous toys after the introduction of stricter rules for plasticizers, so-called phthalates, in plastic toys. The most harmful phthalates are totally banned in all kinds of toys and children’s articles, ie not just those that are intended to be put in the mouth. The new rules also impose stricter requirements on the Swedish rules, which previously only applied to toys for children under three years. Sweden has long been a driving force in the issue of tougher EU rules for plasticizers.
Food. New rules on labeling food packaging make life easier for anyone who is allergic or hypersensitive to certain foods. A list of ingredients known to be able to induce allergies or hypersensitivity reactions was introduced. If a food contains any of the substances on the list, it must be indicated on the label. The “Allergy List” contains cereals with gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, various nuts, soybeans, milk products, celery, mustard, sesame seeds and sulfur dioxide and sulfite concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg. The new labeling rules are voluntary from the end of 2004 and mandatory from the end of 2005. In April 2004, new EC regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced in food and feed. Compared to previously, the requirements for labeling were sharpened and consumer interest was put at the center. It must be clear from the labeling whether a food contains, consists of or has been produced by GMO. The labeling requirement applies regardless of how small the amount is added. Swedish food prices continued to be high in EU comparison, according to the EU statistics office Eurostat. After the new member states were incorporated into the EU, the difference increased and showed an average of 24% higher food prices in Sweden. The difference would have been even higher if low-price chains from other countries had not established themselves in Sweden in recent years. The low price chains have increased competition in the food trade in Sweden. Frameless people had to change the text on their labels to adapt them to an EC directive on limit values in natural mineral water. The directive states that there is a risk of tooth fluorosis (disruption of tooth enamel formation) when the fluoride content in the water exceeds 1.5 mg per liter. Frameless mineral water has no additives, but contains by nature 2.7 mg of fluoride per liter. The packaging of Ramlösavater must therefore have the warning text in accordance with Swedish regulations “Contains more than 1.5 mg fluoride/l; should not be taken regularly by children under seven years ”. The maximum permissible content of fluoride in natural mineral water is 5.0 mg/l. In small amounts, fluorine compounds are caries prevention, and the substance is therefore often added to toothpaste and other oral care products.
Oil Storage. The new EU country Estonia signed an agreement with Karlshamn to store the country’s oil reserve in the storage room in the port of Blekinge municipality. According to EU directives, the new EU countries are obliged to store oil for 90 days for readiness. In Karlshamn there is plenty of storage space in the old mountain room, which is not too far away from Estonia. In the first stage, one of the rock cavities will be filled with 60,000 cubic meters of oil for five years, but the plans are for the volumes to increase.
Tax on interest rates. It will be more difficult for EU citizens to escape tax on interest income by opening a savings account in other countries as before. It may be several billion SEK that Swedes have placed in bank accounts abroad. A directive on cooperation between EU countries means that banks in other countries automatically send information to Swedish tax authorities on interest income from Swedish bank accounts in their own bank. Special rules apply to some countries. Luxembourg, Belgium and Austria, for example, collect tax directly from the interest income of foreign EU citizens. The tax, which after a few years should be 35%, is shared with the bank customers’ home countries. Similar rules are introduced through cooperation with a number of “tax havens”, such as Switzerland, Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein.
Snuff. In the future, it will be prohibited to sell snus in all EU countries except Sweden. It upheld the ECJ’s ruling. The case was driven by the snus manufacturer Swedish Match, which wanted the court to lift the ban on sales, which was taken in the EU as early as 1992. The court emphasizes that the product contains nicotine, which is an addictive and toxic substance, and that there are major disadvantages of introducing snus in new markets. In particular, the court is concerned with young people, who may be tempted to start using snuff if another tobacco product is available for purchase. The arguments put forward by Swedish Match that snus is less dangerous to health than other tobacco products, such as cigarettes, did not bite the members of the European Court of Justice. However, the snus in Sweden can continue to place their pills without restrictions, as long as purchases are made within the country.
Waste oil. Sweden was convicted in the European Court of Justice for inadequate handling of waste oil, e.g. old lubricating oils and other oil residues from engines and vehicles. Despite EC directives on how waste oil is to be collected, stored and taken care of, no recycling took place at all from 1995 and five years on. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström noted that there were no facilities in Sweden for such purposes either. The Swedish government explained the shortcomings of a review of waste oil recovery. However, according to the Court, a Member State cannot blame the national decision-making process or the legal system when EC directives are neglected. Waste oil contains carcinogenic substances such as can damage life in rivers and lakes.
Terrorism. After the Madrid bombing on March 11, the fight against terrorism in the EU intensified. EU leaders agreed to help each other in the event of a terrorist attack. A special anti-terrorist coordinator, Gijs de Vries from the Netherlands, was appointed.
US trip. An agreement between the US and the EU meant that an expanded control system was put into operation at US airports for incoming EU citizens. The US Customs and Passport Authorities were given the power to register names, personal data and so-called biometric information; inter alia two fingerprints are scanned and stored from each person entering and leaving. From October 2004, requirements were introduced that travelers from EU countries to the US must have a machine-readable passport in order to be granted entry without a visa.
Transition and social tourism were concepts that were used extensively in the flaming debate about how Sweden would relate to residents of the ten new EU countries who might possibly apply here to work. Transitional rules meant temporary special rules (maximum seven years), e.g. requirements for work permits, permanent employment and housing, to protect the Swedish welfare system against misuse. The fact that the issue came up precisely for the last ten EU members is due to the fact that the standard of living there is considerably lower than in Sweden. Migration Minister Barbro Holmberg pleaded for the transitional rules to be introduced in order to be able to review the Swedish welfare system and how to reduce the risk of misuse. However, when the issue came up in Parliament, the government suffered defeat and the proposal was voted down.