Speech by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the Strategy Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

Speech held in Stockholm at the Strategy Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region 8 November, 2016.

Check against delivery.


friends from around the Baltic,

The theme of this conference is Vision 2030 for the Baltic Sea Region.

We are here because we want to have our own hands on the rudder, and not simply be steered by events elsewhere.

We are here to shape the future of the Baltic. So welcome to Sweden, welcome to Stockholm, and welcome to the incredibly important work we have ahead of us.

We learned to cooperate early on. As early as the 12th century, the Baltic was bound together by the Hanseatic League, and the prosperity created remains in evidence in many of our ports and cities.

But the Baltic has also been a region marked by conflict.

Throughout history, states and warlords have forcibly occupied land and moved borders back and forth around the Baltic. Plundering. Attempting to control people and trade. Making short-term gains.

For a large part of the 20th century, the Baltic was divided by the Cold War's iron curtain.

But through the independence movement at the end of the century, trade and growth increased again. And when Poland and the Baltic States jointed the European Union in 2004, the old tradition of mutual dependence and trade around the Baltic was restored.

And that is why we are here today. To develop this cooperation further.

We are meeting at a time when the security situation in the Baltic is once again deteriorating. Our situation is becoming hallmarked by unease and fear. This is dangerous.

It could lead us into a new era of arms race, which would freeze and paralyse development in our region.

I am a firm believer in the idea of common security. Common security is a term coined by one of my predecessors, Olof Palme, and is based on the idea that we must cooperate across national borders and create a common future built on trust and dialogue. Exactly as we are doing here today. Common security is built on international law. On strong international institutions. On reduced tensions and on disarmament. Trusting dialogue together with trade, investment and increased cooperation. This must be the future of the Baltic – and we can only build this security together.

Peace and growth are also created by tackling the two crucial global challenges for the future: poverty and climate change.

Last year, I met my good friend and colleague Jonas Gahr Støre at the World Economic Forum. We noted that the tide has turned in discussions of equality and sustainable development.

Some 25 years ago, when Gahr Støre was working on follow-up of the Brundlandt report on sustainable development and equality, he encountered considerable resistance. The goals were considered unrealistic and wrong.

That has now changed. And this was visible in Davos. Now sustainability and equality are on everyone's lips. It began with the realisation that equality and sustainable development are tools for change.

Now we have reached a point where people understand that they are prerequisites to bring about positive change. This was also clear when the world's leaders gathered in New York at the end of last year and agreed on the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Global Goals.

And the work in the 2030 Agenda is not to be done by someone else, somewhere else.
It has to be done by all of us together.

The goals place great demands on all countries and all actors.

It is my ambition to see Northern Europe take the lead.

And there are two reasons for this.

1. It is morally right.
We have a responsibility towards others, and not just ourselves here and now. We have a responsibility towards people all over the world, but also towards future generations.

2. But it is also economically smart.
Our companies can be the ones to develop the new technologies and solutions that the world is crying out for to reduce carbon emissions. Our region will benefit from being at the forefront of climate adaptation.

This is why we should take the lead.

It is time to get stuck in.

The Baltic is now a polluted sea. Large areas of the seabed are suffering from oxygen depletion. Levels of several hazardous pollutants are high. Severe algal blooms bear witness to an ecosystem out of balance.

For far too long we have allowed excessive nutrients to feed into our shared sea. Eutrophication affects all of our countries in the form of a declining marine environment. We must live up to the commitments we have made under the Helsinki Commission.

The Baltic is already one of the world's busiest waterways. And traffic is expected to double by 2030. In essence, this is positive: we should continue to bind our countries closer together. But at the same time, we risk both increased emissions and a higher chance of serious accidents as traffic expands. This is unacceptable. We must be able to interconnect our countries safely while at the same time increasing security and reducing emissions.

But we need to continue to tackle environmental damage in the Baltic together. The joint strategy is needed if we are to meet the environmental challenges we face.

No country can resolve the environmental challenges alone, but together there are few issues we cannot resolve.

And in our efforts to improve our weaknesses, we can mobilise our region's great strengths.

We must take advantage of the fact that our region is at the cutting edge of digital development. We have the technological know-how. But we also have people – customers – who are world leaders in drawing on digital innovations.

Whether it is the latest way of listening to music or talking to each other by telephone, or furious feathered creatures from Finland, we possess an innovative power that often astounds the world.

With us here today we have Niklas Zennström, who changed global perceptions of communications with his Swedish-Estonian collaboration, Skype. I am sure that I am not the only one who is looking forward to hearing about his experiences.

Another opportunity is the transition to a fossil-free society. Here too we have the right conditions. We have rivers. We have plenty of wind. And we have forests. We can do a great deal with our forests.

The bioeconomy offers fantastic opportunities. Renewable fuels. Clothing made from forest-based materials. Bioplastics replacing fossil-based plastics. Anything that can be done with oil can also be done with wood – the KTH Royal Institute of Technology here in Stockholm is, for example, currently undertaking research to produce the first transparent wood-based material that could replace plastic.

It is important to strive to find common strengths and explore joint opportunities. For the development of sustainable products that can be exported beyond our region. For the growth of countries in the Baltic region.

Digitalisation and fossil-free societies are just two of the opportunities open to us.

There are probably thousands more – and they are precisely what we hope will emerge from this forum. None of us know exactly what the path to 2030 will bring.
But from our thousand-year history, we do know this:

When free trade and joint development are the hallmarks of our region, and when we discuss our common security in a trusting dialogue, life is improved for people all around the Baltic.

Thank you.