This content was published in the period between 3 October 2014 and 20 January 2019

Ministers on this page who have left the Government

Between 3 October 2014 and 10 September 2019 she was Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Ministers on this page who have left the Government

Between 3 October 2014 and 10 September 2019 she was Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Speech by Margot Wallström at the University of Helsinki


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Ladies and gentlemen,

The Swedish writer Stig Dagerman once wrote: “In times of no hope there is no worse prison than the future.”

And in times of worry it is a comfort to find strength in the best possible neighbours.

So I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to Helsinki and visit the Swedish School of Social Science.

And I would like to begin by stressing that we are living in times that are marked not only by worry, but also by hope.

* * *

Just think, technological developments have placed a mobile phone in the hands of half of all the people on Earth.

And just think, the world’s total GDP doubled between 2000 and 2013.

We achieved the goal of halving the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty some five years ago.

This year we can add to that the fact that infant mortality rates have also been halved compared with 1990.

And the work continues.

Earlier in the autumn, 193 world leaders agreed on 17 global goals that will lead us towards sustainable development.

And keeping climate change as far below the two-degree limit as possible is the goal for the next major summit: COP21 in Paris.

The negotiations on our biggest common challenge begin in just six days’ time. Among a series of key global actors, we see a Union made up of 28 countries in our part of the world.

This European Union has the goal of promoting peace, the well-being of its peoples and the Union’s values.

These values are defined in Article 1a of the Lisbon Treaty as respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights – including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

Society in these 28 countries is to be characterised by diversity, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and the principle of equality between women and men.

When these values are ruthlessly attacked while people in one of these 28 countries are having a Friday-night drink, attending a concert or watching a football match, the very same Lisbon Treaty contains a mutual defence clause:

Article 42(7) states the following:

If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will soon talk about the difficult challenges facing Sweden, Finland and the entire EU.

This sombre list includes terrorism, the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, and Russian aggression.

But let us take on these challenges with an awareness of the relatively strong position that we have created through Nordic and European cooperation.

Let us take on these challenges in the knowledge that fear is poor counsel.

And let us remember that our love for a life based on the values of the European Union is stronger than the terrorists’ love of death.

* * *

In recent times the skies have wept over Paris, but also over Ankara, Beirut, Sinai, northern Nigeria, Bamako in Mali, and other places.

At the weekend the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by France giving member states the right to take “all necessary measures” to combat ISIL.

All of the UN’s 193 member states are now being urged to “reinforce and coordinate” efforts to prevent and repel terrorist attacks carried out by ISIL, al Qaida and other terrorist groups.

A united UN illustrates that the terrorist threat is not a battle of the civilisations, or a conflict between the West and the countries in the Middle East.

An entire world stands side by side against the terrorists’ barbarism.

But our recent history has taught us that such situations call for global leadership.

We must keep a cool head and a warm heart.

And we must be able to hold several thoughts in our heads at once.

* * *

France has requested support in accordance with the mutual defence clause I cited earlier.

Sweden, Finland and the other EU Member States have given their full support to France’s request.

The EU is a community of solidarity. We want to make an active contribution to the concrete and credible implementation of the EU’s solidarity agenda, including the mutual defence clause.

It is important for Sweden’s security that this happens.

Support measures will be undertaken bilaterally, from each individual country in direct relation to France, and in line with the UN Charter.

This support may be political, civilian or military and does not affect Sweden’s non-participation in military alliances.

Our support to France is also in line with what is known as Sweden’s national declaration of solidarity, which is a complement to the EU’s mutual defence clause.

The declaration of solidarity stresses that security is achieved in cooperation with others.

It also confirms that Sweden will not remain passive if another EU country or Nordic country is struck by disaster or comes under attack, and we expect these countries to act in the same way if Sweden is similarly affected.

It is too early to say what form Sweden’s support will take.

Sweden is already making a concrete contribution to the coalition against ISIL in northern Iraq.

An armed force comprising 35 people is helping to train the Iraqi armed forces with the aim of strengthening its capability to fight ISIL.

Sweden is also a donor to the UNDP’s Stabilisation Fund, which is supporting the rebuilding of areas liberated from ISIL.

But France is now going to consult the individual Member States. France will then make a more specific request for support.

Sweden takes a broad approach when we look at what we can contribute, not just militarily, but also from a range of possible civilian and political measures.

This includes supporting the political process in Syria – not least in attempts to unite the opposition – and a broad aid commitment.

Sweden and France had also already agreed on deeper cooperation on the more long-term task of preventing extremism and battling radicalisation.

As we now take new steps, I would like to stress that Sweden and Finland are maintaining ongoing contact with the aim of coordinating and complementing each other’s support measures.

My visit today to my foreign minister colleague Timo Soini should be seen as an expression of the great importance that Sweden and Finland attach to coordinated action.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

A peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria is absolutely essential.

As a result of the conflict, Syria has become a safe haven for ISIL.

To eliminate ISIL in Syria it is of fundamental importance that we work towards a political solution that results in a transitional government to replace Assad’s authoritarian regime.

The ‘Vienna process’ has now been transformed into the International Syria Support Group.

Progress was recently achieved on the role of the UN, a possible ceasefire, a timetable for the peace process and confidence-building measures.

The UN Security Council has a special responsibility in efforts to combat ISIL and achieve peace in Syria. This also applies to efforts to stabilise Iraq through dialogue and a policy of inclusion.

Sweden also supports the efforts of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to reach a political solution in Syria and I look forward to meeting Mr de Mistura in Stockholm later this week.

At the same time we must work even more actively on the root causes of terrorism throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Peace and democratic development, like hope for a better a future for people who are struggling – not least young people – is absolutely crucial.

Sweden has contributed extensive humanitarian support to the region and the people affected by ISIL.

We must deprive ISIL and other terrorist groups of their recruitment base and draw attention to the breeding ground for violent extremism.

In this context, we must not forget all the people who are fleeing from terrorism, conflict and war.

This brings me to another of our challenges.

* * *

The Emigrants is the name of the first book in a series of novels by Vilhelm Moberg.

In these books we follow a few of the more than one million Swedes who sought a better life in America.

Do you remember what the second book is called?

It translates as The Immigrants. And it was followed by the third book: The Settlers.

The names of these books remind us that flight and migration have several dimensions.

Migration creates opportunities for development, both for the country of origin and the recipient country – and not least for our fellow humans who are fleeing or migrating.

We are currently experiencing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Around the world, 40 conflicts are ongoing, of which 11 are full-scale wars. Over 60 million people are displaced.

For us in Sweden it is a given that we should help. It is an obligation, it is a matter of solidarity – but it is also about our positive experiences of the various facets of migration.

Immigration to Sweden has made us considerably richer as a country. This applies to all areas of society.

The newspaper Dagens Nyheter recently reported how the increased reception of refugees is leading to increased consumption and growth in Sweden.

A little further down the road it will be absolutely crucial that those who come to us enter the labour market.

It is necessary that our social systems can manage to offer schooling to the young people coming here alone. That we have homes for the families who have fled from ruins. That there are education and routes into the labour market as people build a new future in our country, in line with the pioneering spirit in Vilhelm Moberg’s books.

We need to achieve all of this on a scale that has already required an enormous effort, through which many people have already been helped.

But Sweden is currently receiving about 30 per cent of all unaccompanied refugee children coming to Europe.

Around 8–10 000 asylum seekers are arriving every week.

By the end of the year it is expected that over 160 000 people will have found their way to Sweden, of whom 35 000 are without a parent or guardian.

We have reached a point that requires a greater sense of community in the EU, including with regard to the refugee situation.

Sweden expects two things of our EU friends in the here and now.

Firstly: we expect all EU countries to demonstrate solidarity and ensure that we share the responsibility.

Secondly: we expect EU countries to stop hoping that temporary measures and old solutions that have already failed will be able to resolve a common and long-term challenge.

Giving protection to people who are fleeing from war is an international obligation under well-known conventions. And this must be done in a dignified and efficient manner.

If the EU has a common external border it is everyone’s responsibility.

And when refugees come to this border they are everyone’s responsibility.

The decision to redistribute 160 000 refugees that was recently adopted by the EU must be implemented in practice.

Centres known as hotspots must be established with the aim of registering and distributing the people coming to the EU via a permanent redistribution mechanism.

An orderly system also requires that those people who do not have grounds for asylum return home.

At the same time, the EU must continue to assist countries such as Jordan and Lebanon where the situation in the refugee camps is in some cases acute.

The EU must also strengthen its cooperation with the countries in the Western Balkans, and not least with Turkey, which has a crucial role to play in managing the flow of refugees to Europe.

And remember that these wars are constantly occurring. People will continue to flee.

The EU must therefore respond with solidarity and sustainable systems that guarantee both an orderly reception and the right to asylum from war and the barbarism of terrorism.

And remember that societies characterised by diversity are far from being a naive aspiration. They are the reality of our time.

Of course, it is a challenge to receive far more people than planned. I know that Finland has also seen a considerable increase in numbers of asylum seekers.

That is why the countries of the EU must become better at exchanging positive experiences and policy proposals that facilitate integration.

We must see today’s challenges as an opportunity to develop the way we build our societies.

It is an opportunity to tell the story of how our Nordic model builds on openness and how 500 million people in the EU can indeed cope with receiving 1.5 million refugees.

The alternatives – attempts to close the borders, only a handful of EU countries taking in the majority of all those fleeing, returning people to the hell of war in Syria – have one thing in common.

They are worse than the option of European solidarity, a more orderly system and shared responsibility.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

Hillary Clinton has described the job of foreign minister in the following way: “The problems we inherited... new, often unexpected events... opportunities presented by an increasingly networked world.”

And it is true that the situation in the world places great demands on the simultaneous capacity of the entire international community.

The act of aggression that Russia has committed against Ukraine is the greatest challenge to European peace and security since the end of the Cold War.

First Russia’s occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea were completed.

Then we saw how the Russian aggression continued through support to ‘separatists’ in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has not hesitated in the slightest to use advanced Russian units for this purpose, both across the border and in Ukraine.

All of this is accompanied by a propaganda machine at full throttle.

Although the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks are demanding more of our attention, we must still focus on the east.

On the one hand we hopefully have the same goals as Russia in the fight against ISIL.

A responsible and cooperative Russia is an essential component if the conflict in Syria is to be resolved.

But it is still unacceptable to send soldiers into Ukraine, to contravene the UN Charter and to take another country’s territory.

This is why we must maintain the consensus in the EU – and also the transatlantic consensus between the EU and the US – in our view of Russia’s actions in Syria and in Ukraine.

This is why, on both sides of the Atlantic, we must extend our sanctions regimes that are based on the Russian aggression.

This applies for as long as Russia does not live up to the Minsk Agreements.

It applies for as long as Ukraine has not regained full control of its internationally recognised border.

And at the same time we must remain steadfast in providing our support to Ukraine and its reform efforts.

I recently visited Ukraine with Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Linas Linkevičius.

This trip strengthened my conviction that the EU has an obligation to help Ukraine to succeed, and that Ukraine can succeed.

There are strong expectations of change, not least from young people and from Ukraine’s dynamic civil society.

This is perhaps Ukraine’s greatest and most important asset.

Ultimately, it is about respecting the right of countries to choose their own future themselves. This is of course something that must apply to the EU’s entire eastern neighbourhood.

At the same time, we must maintain both our bilateral relations and the EU’s contacts with Russia, which remains our, and the EU’s, largest neighbour.

We have to talk to one another and cooperate where possible.

The many contacts between Russian, Swedish and Finnish society – between individuals, between municipalities and counties, and between organisations – are hugely valuable.

A critical dialogue is essential between neighbours.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Centre for Climate and Security recently reported that in Pakistan today, more people die of heatstroke than in terrorist attacks.

And remember that the revolution in Syria was preceded by a four-year-long drought that was the worst in modern history.

This is the face of our modern world. Most things are linked.

The fact that climate change has a clear security policy dimension is just one of many examples of a broader security concept.

At the same time, we see crises and challenges in several directions, which as I said places demands on our capacity to act on several fronts simultaneously.

Navigating this landscape requires courage and patience.

Courage to stand up for the values that are the foundation of EU cooperation and that are contained in the solemn introduction to the Lisbon Treaty.

And patience, which allows us to manage to do several wise things simultaneously and over time, even if this may seem difficult in the short term.

European countries need to regain their self-confidence, because we need strong European cooperation.

And this means that we cannot have an EU à la carte where you choose when the EU’s fundamental values apply to you specifically.

We need strong European cooperation where we act together and in solidarity, irrespective of whether we are facing aggression in the east, war and refugee flows in the south, an attack, a crisis or a disaster in an individual country, or climate change, which none of us can avoid.

Together, we are Europe.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

In times of worry and great challenges, security policy must be handled responsibly, with a long-term approach and with broad parliamentary support.

It therefore sent a clear signal to the world around us when five Riksdag parties – from the Government and the opposition – agreed on Sweden’s security and defence policy earlier this year.

Sweden is sticking to its course. We remain clear. We do not participate in military alliances and will not apply for membership of NATO.

Non-participation in military alliances gives us freedom of action in standing up for Sweden’s sovereignty and working for security in our region. We pursue the same line as previous Swedish governments, which I stressed most recently in the Swedish Riksdag just the other week.

An active, broad and responsible foreign and security policy is Sweden’s primary line of defence. It is based on cohesion among EU countries and increased cooperation on a broad front: in the Nordic region, the Baltic Sea region, the UN and the OSCE, with NATO and through the transatlantic link.

Sweden’s defence capabilities are now also being strengthened. The Swedish Government is reversing a trend and investing a great deal in reinforcing our defence.

Exercise activities will be further developed and the capability of defence units enhanced. Appropriations will be raised by SEK 10 billion in 2016–2020. Together with previously approved increases this will mean a rise of SEK 17 billion, or 11 per cent.

The Swedish Government is deepening its bilateral and multilateral security and defence policy cooperation projects.

Among these cooperation projects, the Government values Finnish-Swedish cooperation very highly.

Sweden and Finland are currently developing defence cooperation both vertically and horizontally.

Let me also underline that in terms of security policy choices, consultations between Sweden and Finland are of course crucially important.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank you for the opportunity of being able to speak once again at the University of Helsinki.

During the Swedish State Visit to Finland in March, I spoke in English about Sweden’s feminist foreign policy.

But now it is of course nice to be able to speak in my own native language at the Swedish School of Social Science.

I would therefore like to finish by reading something beautiful in our Swedish language by the writer and poet Ragnar Thoursie.

This poem was written in 1951, but it places our current challenges in perspective:


Through the murmurs of time in the pines, through the flight of the years on the cirrus wing, broad and strong,

yearns from night to day, from distress to freedom, away from fear, the pursuit that binds us all.

An open city, not a fortified city, we build together.

Its light strikes up towards the solitude of space.


Thank you.

Ministers on this page who have left the Government

Between 3 October 2014 and 10 September 2019 she was Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Ministers on this page who have left the Government

Between 3 October 2014 and 10 September 2019 she was Minister for Foreign Affairs.