Our Europe – our shared responsibility

Speech by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at Uppsala University, 26 October 2017.

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Students,
ladies and gentlemen,

Today I want to talk about the future of Europe. And what more appropriate place to look at the bigger picture than at the oldest university in the Nordic countries. Since the 15th century, Uppsala University has looked outwards towards the world. This is a distinguished seat of learning in Europe, and one of the world’s 100 best universities according to the most important rankings. This makes me proud.

The place is the Plenary Chamber of the European Parliament in the city of Strasbourg on the French-German border. The date is 1 July this year. Helmut Kohl’s coffin is draped in the European flag. And in the front row, Bill Clinton stands up, walks past the coffin towards the podium. He sounds slightly hoarse, and begins by turning to Europe’s leaders. Chancellor Merkel and President Macron are sitting in front of me, side by side. President Clinton asks us all to think about something that has just occurred to him – something that was not in his notes. Why have so many political leaders come to say farewell?

“Why?” he asks. “Because Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our terms of office, bigger than our fleeting careers.” And he says, pointing to the former German Chancellor’s coffin: “Because all of us, sooner or later, will be in a coffin like that. And the only gift we can leave behind, is a better future for our children...”

The project – that is bigger than ourselves, that can guarantee our children a life in peace and freedom, that gives us opportunities we often take for granted – is the European Union. Helmut Kohl helped unite East and West Germany. He was part of laying the foundations for the successful and peaceful post-Cold War era. He said that Germany is his home country, but that Europe is our common future.

Today I want to talk about the future of the European Union.

Europe is the second-smallest continent. It is far from the most populous. But we are rich in many other ways. We have a European culture, recognised for its world-renowned composers and musicians, authors and artists. We enjoy a high standard of living. We are the world’s second-largest market.

But times are changing rapidly. The map of the world is being redrawn. China’s economy is expected to be twice the size of the EU economy by 2050. But we don’t need to look that far ahead to see global challenges. Some are confronting us here and now.

The United States is leaving the Paris agreement on climate change. Russia is breaching the European security order. North Korea is sending the most alarming signals. The number of displaced people in the world is the highest since the Second World War.

At the same time, we are grappling with internal difficulties. In some EU countries, developments are at odds with our fundamental values. We have Member States that are refusing to shoulder their share of our joint responsibility for migration policy. The after-effects of the financial crisis are still tangible. In recent years, we have seen growing distrust in the ability of politics to solve these difficulties. In the wake of all this, we have to tackle populism and xenophobia. And one Member State has chosen to leave the European Union.

So what are we to learn from this? Those of us with political responsibility for Europe must step up and respond more effectively to the challenges of today.

How do we do this? The first step is to remember why the EU was founded. The Treaty of Rome, signed in March 1957, set the course. Economic and social progress would be secured. The living and working conditions of citizens would be improved. Economic and social differences between regions would be reduced, and the principles of the Charter of the United Nations would be followed.

From the outset, the EU has had the wellbeing of its people as a goal, a single market as a means, and the rest of the world as partners. Thus no new major projects are needed right now. Amending the EU treaties would not solve any problems. Rather, we must focus on the key issues where the EU brings added value. This makes us strong.

So let me address the most important issues: jobs and the economy, a fair labour market, environment and climate, peace and security, migration and our shared values.

The one thing that really changed our European continent was the creation of the single market. The EU is our home market. Almost 80 per cent of all foreign direct investment in Sweden comes from the EU. Of our exports, 71 per cent go to the EU single market. These figures speak for themselves.

Sweden must be a driving force behind continued efforts to tear down trade barriers so that we can all benefit from the free movement of goods and services. We will push to ensure that the EU is the world-leader in digital transformation. This is necessary to promote innovation – an area where Sweden is already world-class.

We will push to increase gender equality and the number of women in work. According to a recent report, we could increase EU GDP per capita by up to nine per cent. Increased gender equality would mean adding another Germany to the EU economy.

We will push to bring down unemployment, which is beginning to fall but is still far too high, especially among Europe’s young people. An entire generation must regain hope and confidence in the future.

We will push to ensure that the EU secures more free trade agreements. Those with Canada and South Korea are very important. The agreement with Japan is almost finalised, and hopefully a number of countries in Latin America are next in line. I would like to see us resume talks with the United States on the trade and investment partnership where considerable progress had been made. And why shouldn’t the EU be able to initiate negotiations about a comprehensive trade agreement with China in due course?

Europe’s economic outlook is brighter, and it is time to raise our sights. Our goal is this: that the EU will be the most dynamic market, where we compete with the sharpest skills, the best products, the smartest innovations, and the greenest technologies.

Sweden has not introduced the euro. This was a decision taken by the Swedish people, who are in control of the matter. Effective cooperation in the euro area, with growth and stability, is good for Sweden. How euro area countries develop their cooperation is important for the entire European Union. This is why cohesion among all EU Member States must be safeguarded, and Sweden should have influence over decisions that affect us.

The Government will carefully consider the question of whether to join the EU’s banking union, which is now beginning to take shape. By November 2019, an inquiry will be ready regarding the potential benefits and disadvantages of Sweden’s membership in such a union. For me it is natural to continuously evaluate how we can maximise Sweden’s influence in the European Union.

The single market and free movement have been an engine for growth and development in Europe. Nonetheless, this must be complemented by strengthening the rights of citizens. We cannot have a Europe that exists merely to serve the market. Europe must be there for its citizens.

Equal pay for equal work must apply to everyone – both in Sweden and in the rest of the EU. People should be able to live on their wages. And we should work, not wear ourselves out, not jeopardise our health at work. This is why my Government has worked hard from day one to put these issues higher up on the EU agenda. This is not about the EU taking more decisions, or about making everyone do things in the same way. We would never, as some people claim, replace our Swedish model with anything else. Instead, we will draw on our combined knowledge and experience.

And now, finally, we are beginning to reap the benefits – on several fronts. On Monday, the EU’s three legislative institutions – the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament – decided to endorse the European Pillar of Social Rights.

This Pillar consists of twenty principles that put citizens’ interests first and that should be regularly monitored. It is through this kind of structured cooperation that we can bolster each other and together strengthen citizens’ rights in Europe.

Earlier this week, we received another welcome piece of news. The European Council of Ministers has agreed on new rules for posted workers. This is about ensuring that it is not possible to dump wages or working conditions if you are temporarily working in another EU country. These new rules will now be negotiated with the European Parliament, and they mean that equal pay for equal work will apply regardless of whether you work in your home country, or temporarily in another country. After many years of unfair competition, we are on the verge of success on this issue.

So we are now seeing great advances for Sweden, and for EU workers. A great deal remains to be done, however. This is why President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and I have invited EU leaders, the social partners and other stakeholders to Gothenburg for the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth that will begin in three weeks.

This will be the first time that key stakeholders gather to jointly give their views on the way forward. We will then chart the path towards more jobs and better working conditions. I have worked in Swedish industry and gained my political education in the Swedish trade union movement. Throughout my working life I have called attention to the unique role of the social partners in the labour market. I have always recognised European cooperation and said that the EU is what we make of it. And today I can say to you: Soon, Europe’s leaders will come to Gothenburg to put decent work even higher up on the EU agenda. This is proof that we in Sweden can play an important role in moving the European Union forward. The EU must demonstrate that good working conditions, greater equity and increased gender equality, are the path that will secure our leading position in the world.

Emissions from a factory follow the wind or a river – not a national border. Environmental and climate issues are among the areas in which the EU’s added value is most apparent. Sweden’s objective is self-evident: the EU must be a world leader in this area, which offers great opportunities for economic growth, new jobs and better living conditions. Important progress is now being made. The EU is negotiating binding climate and energy objectives. This is absolutely essential if we are to curb global warming. To do this, we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. We will increase the share of renewable energy and reduce our energy consumption. In times when climate change needs leadership, the EU is sending a clear message to the world: we stand firm in our commitments under the Paris Agreement. We are taking responsibility for future generations. We will take the lead in this transition.

One issue, however, symbolises EU cooperation even more powerfully than our borderless environmental and climate efforts. We have enjoyed peace in our country for more than 200 years. We often take this peace for granted.

But anyone who has travelled in Europe has seen another story: military cemeteries in Normandy and Flanders Fields, Auschwitz, the Berlin Wall, and Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid. The EU is a peace project, a way to guarantee that the wars and abuses that dominated a large part of the previous century cannot happen again.

Nothing is more important for a government than guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. The security situation in our part of the world has now deteriorated. In addition to purely military threats, Europe’s nations must be able to combat and overcome terrorism, cyber threats, influence operations, violent extremism and organised crime – to list a few examples.

This is a tough challenge. Evil forces think nothing of turning a lorry into a lethal weapon on a crowded shopping street. In Sweden, we are now strengthening our defence capability, and we have adopted a national security strategy. In the new world situation, the EU is more important than ever for Sweden’s security.

We want to help advance the Common Security and Defence Policy. This does not mean that we want to see a defence union. But our line is clear: the countries of Europe must take greater collective responsibility for European security. We must strengthen intergovernmental defence policy cooperation in the EU and continue to develop cooperation between the EU and NATO. And when we act together, the EU is a strong foreign policy actor that takes global responsibility, with a broad view of security.

The EU has condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea. We agree that sanctions against Russia must remain in place for as long as the reasons for their introduction remain. Stable, prosperous and democratic countries in our neighbourhood lead to a more secure Europe, and thereby a more secure Sweden.

Another challenge is migration. It is a yardstick of our ability to tackle difficult issues. Two years ago, we experienced the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War to directly affect us in Europe. Every week, over-crowded vessels sank and were lost. Children, women and men drowned at sea. For a few weeks that September, the train stations all over Sweden were packed with people who had come to our country, with just the clothes on their backs or, at best, with a bag in their arms.

Many people made tremendous efforts to receive these newly arrived immigrants. But the situation was not tenable – not for anyone. Today, fewer people are coming here. But a lot of work still remains to be done before we have a sustainable and responsible migration policy.

The EU has an important role to play internationally. Because the solution is not that everyone should come to Europe. We are working together with the UN on poverty reduction, conflict resolution and development in the refugees’ home countries. We are combating human smugglers, whose business concept is profiting from people’s desperation. European vessels now patrol the Mediterranean and rescue people in distress. We are making tremendous contributions here. And they are having an impact. Fewer people are now making their way to Europe along dangerous routes, which is an achievement.

These efforts must be combined with shared responsibility by the EU to receive our fellow human beings who are forced to flee. And in this, we have not yet made sufficient progress. We have done what is required at national level to ensure a well-ordered reception system. We accomplished that. And we will keep it that way. Sweden cannot have an asylum policy that differs substantially from the rest of the EU, and we must put in place a new asylum system in which all Member States take their share of responsibility.

We are putting huge efforts into this. I am prepared to compromise in order to agree on a solution. However, if some Member States decline, then I am prepared to come to a decision without consensus. Countries that do not take their responsibility for refugee reception should not have access to economic support from the EU as they do today.

And as long as we do not have an efficient system in the EU, as long as order and security cannot be guaranteed, then it is likely that we will not see the end of border controls in Europe. This will have some ramifications for free movement in the EU for a while, but for the time being, this seems to be a necessary evil. The signal to other countries must be clear. Everyone must take their share of what is our joint responsibility.

What unites us as countries of Europe is more than just geography, history and economic cooperation. Our foundation is our common values, our way of life: freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. For countries aspiring to become members of our European community, these are the values that matter. This is how we have laid the foundation for the democratisation of countries that have left decades of fascism or communism behind them. The pursuit of democracy and the aspiration to belong to the European Union have been intricately linked. But if we are to credibly place demands on others, we must also tackle problems among our own Member States. The EU is not a project where we can pick and choose among the rules and obligations that apply. Nor is the EU a cash dispenser doling out money with no strings attached. Each country in the EU must stand up for the decisions we have taken together. Each country also has an obligation to take care of its own citizens. Freedom of movement does not entitle some countries to shirk their responsibility for citizens who face discrimination or have no means of support. Throughout Europe today, we see a large number of beggars; this is completely unacceptable. I also find it deeply troubling that some Member States today no longer seem to share our fundamental values. There must be consequences for this. We need to find better ways to ensure that everyone respects democracy and human rights, and follows the rule of law. Belonging to a club and breaking its common rules must come at a price.

The most important thing for the EU is to resolve concrete and relevant issues. But let me say a few words about the forms of our continued European cooperation. One matter under discussion is whether all countries must keep pace and move forward in unison. Or can some countries take the lead and deepen their EU cooperation further?

Having different forms of cooperation on some issues is not so strange. Schengen and the euro are two examples of how this is already the case today. And will be so in the future as well.

But there is an apprehension that we are in the process of creating different types of membership: an ‘A team’ and a ‘B team’, if you will. This apprehension creates a fear of divisions in the EU. It is a concern that we must take seriously. Those of us who choose to remain outside areas of our cooperation must demonstrate that we are nonetheless constructive and engaged. Those participating in the areas of cooperation, such as the euro area, must show consideration for us all.

In recent weeks we have also heard suggestions for everything from a joint finance minister to combining the offices of European Commission President Juncker and European Council President Tusk. I think it would be unfortunate if we get bogged down in discussions about amending treaties or changing individual positions. This is not where the EU’s problems lie. Besides, we already have the world’s best Minister for Finance: Magdalena Andersson from Uppsala. We don’t need anyone else.

Discussions about our future EU have taken on even greater relevance now that one of our Member States has voted to leave. Good relations with the UK are an important component of a strong future EU. An orderly exit creates opportunities for close relations following the divorce, too. It is important for us to establish strong trade relations, favourable conditions for our citizens and continued cooperation wherever possible, such as in education, research and security. This is why it is imperative for an essentially negative event such as Brexit to end as constructively as possible.

The UK’s exit will naturally mean a loss, financially, for the EU. This will have consequences as we revise the EU budget. The EU must cut its coat according to its cloth. Sweden, however, needs to also reflect further on how we can help to take on the role the British have played. The UK and Sweden have often pushed in the same direction – stood side by side in negotiations. We must now continue to build alliances and pull harder on our own as we move forward without the UK’s efforts.

But every cloud has a silver lining. EU cohesion has improved. Perhaps the importance of European cooperation has once again become more apparent. Support for the EU is currently on the rise, both in Sweden and the rest of Europe. We Swedes should be proud of what we accomplish in the European Union. Aside from the six largest Member States, Sweden and the Netherlands – an EU founder – are said to have the greatest influence in the EU.

The work we do for our Europe can only grow in strength if support at home – in Sweden – remains strong. The Government also aims to strengthen participation, awareness and engagement with respect to EU issues in our country. Through the ‘EU handshake’, a number of different actors – from municipalities to the social partners and student organisations – have agreed to promote greater citizen participation. I hope we will also continue to have constructive cooperation on EU issues between the political parties in the Riksdag.

We have a shared responsibility for our Europe. This applies to you as well. You are our future, all you students who are at the beginning of your life journey. I hope that many of you will study in another European country, if you have not done so already. I hope that you find European friends and discover how similar our thoughts and dreams are.

I hope that some of you will apply for jobs in the various EU institutions, as these are important workplaces in need of even more competent Swedes. I hope that you learn more European languages, not just English. And I hope that you will think about the kind of Europe you want, and that you find contexts in which you can realise your ideas.

We find ourselves at a crossroads. Either our continent will cope with global competition by being united and focusing on the challenges that lie ahead of us, or our future will be marked by dissension, where we all lose out, where we fall behind countries in other parts of the world.

The path we must choose becomes clear if we think back to the words spoken at Helmut Kohl’s memorial. European cooperation is something bigger than ourselves, our terms of office and our fleeting careers.

A successful Europe will improve the prospects of a successful Sweden. I am convinced that many of the challenges we face can only be resolved together. This is why my Government and I will continue to work for a better and stronger EU. An EU that is closer to its citizens, that gives priority to the major, significant issues in which the EU has clear added value.

The challenge lies in this very moment. The time is always now. Together – and only together – we can build a better Europe. This is our shared responsibility.

Thank you for your attention.