Errant European

To our Swedish friends who have today taken over the helm of the EU Presidency, hej!

To the people from Prague who kept the seat (luke)warm for six months, ahoj! (“goodbye” in Czech; couldn’t find “good riddance” in the online dictionary).

After six months of the frenetic French présidence, followed by six months of Czech I-don’t-want-to-be-here questioning of the very concept of Europe, we will now return to a more classic activist term by a government of committed Europeans.

I confess to a certain affinity for the Swedes, in part because my daughter has been studying there for the past year. I’ve only been there twice, but Stockholm has to be one of the most functional and beautiful capital cities in the world, and the city of Lund on the other side of the country is an ideal university town nestled in beautiful countryside.

But it’s the Swedes’ success in melding capitalism and social welfare and environmental responsibility that will serve it well over the next six months. Last fall, as the Bush Administration was floundering with its bank bailouts, more than one observer pointed to the Swedish experience in the ’90s, when it rescued – with strings – its banking industry.

The timing of the Swedish presidency is either inspired or fortunate, or both, given the upcoming Copenhagen climate change conference. The EU will have at its helm a country that walks the walk when it comes to environmentalism.

Not that it will be all sweetness and light: today the Russians said nyet to the Stockholm venue for EU-Russia talks. And the Swedish Presidency will have to deal with the unresolved matters of the second term of EU Commission Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso and the still unratified Lisbon Treaty.

But it will be a breath of fresh air to have a coordinated, conscientious, and image-conscious leadership at the European Council. Just look at the logo above for the just-inaugurated Swedish Presidency. Its simplicity is worthy of the country that gave us IKEA and its universally-recognized brand.

Maybe the Swedes can give the European brand a lift while they’re at it.

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