Sweden’s term at the helm of the Council of the European Union looks set to be particularly challenging, thanks to a brewing economic crisis created by the war in Ukraine and a packed legislative agenda. Getting countries to come to an agreement on a host of files with the end of the Commission and European Parliament’s term in office fast approaching will take supreme diplomatic skills.
Here are the people Europe needs to know ahead of the Swedish presidency.
Lars Danielsson: Chief negotiator
As the Swedish ambassador to the European Union, Danielsson will steer the Swedish ship through the country’s third presidency of the Council of the EU. The career diplomat with more than four decades of experience will lead 200 officials in Brussels in tackling some of Europe’s most pressing challenges, including keeping the bloc united in its support for Ukraine and limiting the rise of energy prices, as well as dozens of other laws in the making.
Danielsson is no stranger to brokering European deals on controversial issues. The former state secretary for EU affairs led his country’s first presidency in 2001, when Sweden worked on getting countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the EU.
Beyond the EU, Danielsson has gained diplomatic experience in Geneva, at the United Nations, Beijing, Hong Kong and Seoul. He also knows Stockholm’s political corridors very well: He was twice a foreign policy adviser to prime ministers.
He will need all of that know-how to navigate what will likely prove to be a tricky presidency. With the European election around the corner in 2024, Sweden’s top diplomat in Brussels since 2016 and his teams will have to work twice as hard to finalize dozens of laws under the directions of a new government in Stockholm.
“The challenge for us is not to be submerged by crisis management,” Danielsson told a European Policy Centre event in November.
Jessika Roswall: First-time European minister
Roswall has made her goals as Sweden’s new European affairs minister clear: turning her country into a “leading force to be reckoned with” again.
A former lawyer focusing on family and criminal law, Roswall was elected to Sweden’s parliament from the center-right Moderate Party in 2010. Rising up through the ranks, she became the party’s spokesperson on EU relations in 2019. She’s also a keen (and stylish) skier who has competed for the parliament’s ski team.
The free-trade defender who became a minister for the first time in October will have little time to prepare for her role in the EU presidency but has stated that she felt “as prepared as can be.” Roswall, who also counts Nordic affairs in her portfolio, will work within the prime minister’s office.
She will seek to push forward Sweden’s priorities: stepping up security for EU citizens; stopping organized crime; accelerating efforts to limit climate change; doubling down on the EU’s competitiveness; and protecting the Union’s fundamental values.
Roswall has said that while Sweden is expected to be impartial, there will be room “to put a certain national stamp on the presidency and to focus on issues that are in the interests of both Sweden and Europe.”
There are concerns in Brussels though that this “national stamp” will come with a far-right slant, since Roswall’s coalition government is dependent on support in parliament from the Euroskeptic Sweden Democrats.
Christian Danielsson: Veteran EU adviser
As state secretary to the EU affairs minister, Danielsson will act as Roswall’s adviser and will work on the coordination of the Swedish presidency of the Council of the EU.
Danielsson is a Brussels bubble veteran: He has worked in all three EU institutions and has built a bulky contacts book in the process.
He was in charge of enlargement, or accepting new member countries to the bloc, during his country’s first presidency in 2001. And he was Sweden’s permanent representative to the EU during the country’s second presidency in 2009.
In 2021, he was asked by European Council President Charles Michel to become his envoy to oversee sensitive mediation talks in Georgia to solve a political standoff between the government and opposition leaders. The brokered deal was hailed as a success.
The nomination came after working as the Commission director general for neighborhood and enlargement negotiations (DG NEAR). He was also deputy head of Cabinet for European Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen, responsible for relations with Turkey and competitiveness. Before becoming state secretary, he was head of the European Commission’s Representation in Sweden.
Ylva Johansson: Bullish commissioner
Sweden’s Commissioner for Home Affairs Johansson will feature prominently during her country’s presidency. Even though she is a social democrat, she has embraced many of Stockholm’s new priorities, from fighting organized crime to securing the European Union’s external borders and helping Ukrainian refugees in the bloc.
Johansson has ample understanding of the inner workings of Swedish politics as a former lawmaker. She has also been minister for employment and integration, minister for health and schools minister.
In Brussels, she has built a reputation as a bullish politician, pushing for her files to give more power to Europol and fight child sexual abuse material online. Her combative approach has worked well: She was instrumental in the swift intervention by the Commission to secure a historical deal to give protections and rights to Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country.
Away from politics, Johansson is an honorary member of Hammarby football club in Stockholm — though she also appears to have a soft spot for Liverpool.
Johansson will also rely on her head of Cabinet, Åsa Webber. A Brussels insider, Webber started working at the Swedish permanent representation in 2005 and was the deputy permanent representative to the EU from 2014 to 2019.
Gertrud Ingestad: HR chief
Want to secure a lofty and powerful job at the European Commission? It won’t hurt to be on good terms with Gertrud Ingestad, director general for human resources and security.
The Swede has, since 2020, been overseeing the recruitment policy, training and working conditions for around 32,000 permanent and contract employees at the European Commission.
Ingestad got her foot in the Commission door in 1995, when she started as a translator. Before becoming the Commission’s HR chief, she headed the IT department at a time when 82 percent of adviser-level staff were men.
She took over the human resources helm on the day Belgium entered its first lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic. She has since led work policy changes to nudge Eurocrats to bid goodbye to their offices — that’s involved ramping up teleworking and the use of shared desks in open-plan floors.
Some of her goals have been to increase gender parity in the Commission, increase the use of digital tools and make the institution climate neutral by 2030. As the Commission starts enforcing sweeping tech laws like the Digital Services Act, Ingestad will also have to attract the best candidates to do it.
If you encounter Ingestad with a shotgun and a pack of hounds, don’t be (too) alarmed. She hunts game birds with her three short-haired Weimaraner hunting dogs: Viktor, Max and Charly.
Jessica Polfjärd, Karin Karlsbro, Sara Skyttedal: The European Parliament trio
Out of Sweden’s 21 representatives in the European parliament, three European lawmakers hailing from political parties in the coalition government have been working on crucial laws for Sweden.
Polfjärd (Moderates, EPP), Karlsbro (Liberals, Renew), and Skyttedal (Christian Democrats, EPP) will be Stockholm’s lifeline to the European Parliament.
Polfjärd has a strong background in Swedish politics. A member of the parliament from 2016 to 2019, she was the Moderates’ group leader from 2015 to 2017 and a spokesperson for the party on two separate occasions on labor market policy and tax policy.
A first-time European lawmaker, Polfjärd has made her mark as a fierce defender of nuclear power. She is a member of the committee on the environment, public health, and food safety and the delegation to the Euro-Latin American parliamentary assembly. She has also been the lead lawmaker on national climate targets for EU countries and greenhouse gas emission cuts ,and is currently working on a law for the circular economy and second-hand market, as well as on a law to make batteries more sustainable.
Skyttedal (Christian Democrats, EPP) has been working on tougher border rules and a 2022 plan to beef up the European defense industry through common procurement. She is a member of the industry, research and energy committee as well as the committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs. Skyttedal hasn’t shied away from making her positions emoji-clear on Twitter, including on a rumored tax on beloved Swedish tobacco pouches snus. The Commission later clarified it had no plans to impose such a tax. Before entering politics, Skyttedal was a Miss Sweden entrant in 2006.
Karlsbro is trade coordinator for the Renew group as a member of the committee on international trade. She is also vice chair for the delegation for relations with Belarus. She works on the EU’s law on deforestation, a critical file for Sweden, and on batteries. Karlsbro’s position in Brussels and at home will be tricky. The Swedish Liberal Party faced heavy criticism in the Renew group after it entered a government with the support from the far-right Sweden Democrats party. Karlsbro has also expressed her fears about the Sweden Democrats’ views on EU policy.
Karlsbro enjoys hiking and protested against France’s atomic bomb tests on the islands of the South Pacific in her youth. She also recently acquired a cat, but family negotiations are currently underway over whether to call him Karsten, Frans, Bilbo, or Stefan.
Wilhelmine Preussen, James Randerson and Tristan Fiedler contributed reporting.