Illegal eels add to mounting crises for Sweden’s embattled PM

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Europe edged a little closer to becoming a fenced-off continent yesterday. EU interior ministers discussed migrants “clogging up the [border] system”, according to home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, while her boss, commission president Ursula von der Leyen, promised member states “EU funds . . . [for] reinforcing border control capabilities and infrastructure” and “expedited returns” of those deemed undeserving of a home here.

Today: In Sweden, an illicit eel fishing expedition has created yet more strife for the country’s crisis-wracked prime minister. Our man in the Nordics reads the runes. And my Brussels colleague has details on the EU’s latest brilliant idea for us all to fly around the skies of Paris next summer in pilotless drones. Don’t all rush at once.

Sweden already had major headaches with its foreign policy priority: Nato membership. But now new centre-right prime minister Ulf Kristersson has his first big domestic scandal to deal with too, writes Richard Milne.

PM Nilsson, a state secretary and Kristersson’s closest adviser, resigned late last night after admitting lying to police about illegally fishing for eel.

It leaves Kristersson dealing with headaches everywhere he looks: on domestic politics (after conceding he knew of Nilsson’s illicit fishing when he hired him late last year), on Nato (where Sweden’s bid is in deep trouble) and on the gangland crime he came into office claiming to fix (following a spate of shootings and bombings in recent weeks in Stockholm). All this while holding the EU presidency.

Little wonder then that public trust in Kristersson has dropped sharply. In January it was down 8 percentage points in a month to 29 per cent, according to a poll by Novus. Strikingly, his predecessor — social democrat Magdalena Andersson — is almost twice as popular at 54 per cent.

Andersson had called on Kristersson to fire his adviser before Nilsson finally bowed to the inevitable, acknowledging: “Sweden is in a vulnerable situation.”

Too right. That’s a nod to its precarious Nato bid. Not only is Turkey’s opposition at its highest after a far-right Danish provocateur burnt a Koran in front of its Stockholm embassy at the weekend, but the story behind the incident poses more awkward questions for Kristersson.

His government is only in power due to the support of the far-right Sweden Democrats. But Rasmus Paludan, the Dane who burnt the Koran and is threatening now to do so weekly outside Turkey’s embassy in Copenhagen, could only do so in Stockholm thanks to a payment from a journalist on the Sweden Democrats’ TV channel.

The questions about the suitability of his far-right supporters, already intense from the European parliament, may get even louder.

Chart du jour: Currency crash

Turkey has unveiled a new scheme to incentivise exporters to convert foreign currency into lira as the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan steps up its battle to defend the currency ahead of critical elections in May.

Seat of your pants

The future is closer than you think. It’s coming to Paris in 2024, writes Alice Hancock.

The EU’s drone strategy (bear with us), which came into effect yesterday, is the first law to govern unmanned airspace — dubbed the “U-space” — helping to pave the way for remote controlled air transport, like air taxis at the Paris Olympics.

Volocopter, the company that aims to run the pilotless helicopters at the sports jamboree, said that the “stable regulatory and political framework” would make it able to “scale our business and expand operations”, adding that securing the necessary approvals from the EU Aviation Safety Agency is “on track”.

The idea of the EU’s strategy is to set out safety requirements and geographical zones where drones can operate, co-ordinating traffic and providing weather data.

One EU official said they expect air taxis could become a more common reality by 2030 when the U-space should be a working alternative to the traditional airspace, slotting in below planes.

Note: the regulation does not cover military, search and rescue, police, border control or other “public interest” aircraft. Instead it is aimed at drones that transport things like medical samples or review buildings from on high.

National governments will now have to work out their U-space areas and requirements for operators.

Volocopter said not to fret about the safety of floating in an unmanned craft above the world’s best sports stars next year. The taxis will have a pilot on board, just in case, “due to regulatory reasons as well as to heighten public acceptance”.

What to watch today

  1. Voting opens in the Czech presidential election run-off, with former army general Petr Pavel favourite to defeat ex-prime minister Andrej Babiš.

  2. European parliament president Roberta Metsola meets the president of the Spanish senate Ander Gil in Madrid.

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