...to the government of Sweden for the business like way in which it has handled the presidency of the European Union's Council of Ministers since it took over the responsibility in July. In particular its consultations among the EU's 27 member states about the choice of the first permanent president of the Council and the first High Representative for foreign affairs were undertaken with great diplomatic skill and enabled agreement to be reached much more quickly than had been expected and without any public disagreements.

Not all EU presidencies have gone so smoothly in the past but even Sweden's performance will not change the fact that this rotational system, devised when the EU had only six members and was concerned only with trade, had become inadequate for an association four times as big whose responsibilities stretch across the full spectrum of European and international relations.

Spain, which assumes the presidency on January 1, 2010, will probably be the last country to hold this job in its original style; working with the new president, Herman van Rompuy, it will have the important and sensitive task of overseeing a smooth transition to the new style.

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