From Sweden to Moldova: A guide to Europe's power brokers in 2023

Leadership of EU, OSCE, Nato force and pan-European forum rotates in new year

Navy ships in Stockholm where EU diplomats will thrash out wartime issues. AFP
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Europe’s corridors of power will run through Sweden, Germany, Moldova and North Macedonia in 2023 as they take on key positions responding to the war in Ukraine.

The new year brings a passing of the torch in institutions such as Nato and the EU where top roles rotate between members.

Each of 2023’s power brokers will have at least half an eye on domestic politics while trying to make their mark on the global stage.

Germany has taken command of a Nato rapid-response force even as it tries to plug gaps in its military hardware. The trip wire force is the most sensitive undertaking sought by leading Nato nations and Berlin will hand over to London some time next year.

A Swedish government backed by the far right is assuming the EU presidency with a focus on security.

North Macedonia will look to boost its image by marshalling the efforts of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

And Moldova, a fellow EU applicant, will get a chance to show off its country to dozens of leaders as host of a European Political Community summit.

Nato: Germany’s military revamp put to the test

When Germany last led Nato’s Very High Readiness Task Force in 2019, the shabby state of its military made it something of an embarrassment.

Equipment shortages meant the German tank brigade leading the force had to borrow military gear from colleagues.

Since then, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has ordered a €100 billion ($105.6bn) military upgrade that will include new helicopters and F-35 fighter jets.

But the refurbishment will take time, and last-minute faults with Puma tanks allocated to the 2023 task force showed the equipment problems have not gone away.

Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht did her reputation no favours with a bizarre New Year’s Eve video in which, barely audible over the sound of fireworks, she said she had met “great people” thanks to the war.

Still, diplomats see Germany’s stewardship of the task force in 2023 as a chance to show its commitment to Nato.

About 11,500 troops from nine Nato countries will be put on standby under German leadership, with Germany also taking on a special forces command.

The rapid-response force was set up in 2014 and deployed for the first time last year, to Romania, as a deterrent to Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Germany has meanwhile laid down the G7 presidency, which passes to Japan.

OSCE: North Macedonia looks to seize Balkan moment

The OSCE had a difficult 2022 as the war in Ukraine called its role into question.

Founded as a Cold War bridge between east and west, Russia is one of its 57 members and is regularly accused of obstructing its work.

Russia has hinted it could walk out of the OSCE altogether, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov branding it a tool of western propaganda.

The task of reviving dialogue now falls to North Macedonia, which holds the OSCE chairmanship in 2023.

The Balkan country is one of several enjoying a sudden interest from European leaders, who are looking for allies in the region.

North Macedonia — which changed its name to smooth its path towards EU membership — plans to use the OSCE role to advertise itself as a European partner.

“A stronger international profile is a long-term investment in economic development, new opportunities for young people, and stability,” said Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani.

“Now we have the opportunity, with our maturity and knowledge, to be a key player, to lead and contribute to international policies and processes.”

Neighbouring Albania said the passing of the OSCE torch from Poland was “a unique moment” for the Balkans.

Albania is in the middle of a two-year term on the UN Security Council. Malta and Switzerland are beginning theirs, replacing Ireland and Norway.

EU: Sweden’s security focus

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson came to power in October with the backing of the far-right Sweden Democrats.

In the shadow of the war in Ukraine, he has ordered a reset in Swedish foreign policy to focus on hard security threats.

As well as seeking Nato membership, the country plans to strengthen its armed forces and is urging people to gather provisions in case of war.

It has promised to bring the same attitude to its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The role involves thrashing out compromises between the EU’s 27 members on sensitive issues such as migration and energy.

Sweden moved quickly to tackle one such issue by triggering an EU crisis response mechanism on the Covid-19 situation in China.

It also plans to drive EU action on organised crime, amid a wave of gangland shootings in Swedish cities.

Mr Kristersson was in Paris on Tuesday for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, widely seen as Europe’s pre-eminent leader.

European Political Community: All eyes on Moldova

The 44-member European Political Community was founded last year as a way of bringing countries such as Ukraine into the fold before they are ready for full EU membership.

One of those countries, Moldova, has been invited to host the first meeting of 2023, in a further olive branch to “wider Europe”.

It means leaders from all corners of Europe will descend on the capital Chisinau for a spring summit.

Little else is certain, since the EPC is a new group with no formal powers, and the inaugural summit in Prague brought a symbolic show of unity but few concrete results.

But Moldova, a former Soviet republic, and other EU candidates are likely to stress that they are not willing to be bought off with the looser EPC.

Milica Delevic, a director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said the new club could help to tackle Europe’s energy problems.

“The next meeting of the EPC will take place in Moldova — one of the countries most severely affected by the energy crisis,” she wrote in an article for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“It would therefore be the right place to discuss strengthening the energy community as a flagship project of sectoral integration.”

Updated: January 03, 2023, 1:25 PM