Speech by Foreign Minister Margot Wallström at the European Commission Representation in Paris – ‘What role for the EU in a worrisome world?’

18 May 2018

I am delighted to be in Paris today.

But I am also pleased in view of our important launch, at the OECD, of the flagship report of the Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth. I am happy to note that Sweden and France are strengthening our cooperation to lead the way towards a globalisation that creates more and better jobs and makes inclusive growth a reality.

But this is not the topic of this lecture; instead I will talk to you about the role of the EU in a worrisome world.

Today the threats to our common European Union are everywhere. From populism and radicalism to climate change and inequality. The eight wealthiest people today own as much as 50 per cent of the world population. Multilateralism is threatened as militarism and polarisation dominate the global stage. The EU was constructed for another purpose, it was constructed to show that differences can be resolved in dialogue instead of on the battlefield. This is why we must now show unity, that the European Union is a partner to count on when times are tough, and that it does not shy away from global responsibility.

Critics never hesitate to point to flaws in the EU construction; I think we would do well to remember that it is remarkable we have come this far. Over the past decades we have joined East and West and showed progress, growth and freedom of movement never thought possible in Europe. And we have only just got started. Sweden strongly believes in the European project – we believe in our ability, as a Union, to overcome divisions and move forward to address common challenges and create a better future for all our citizens.

We know that the strength of our Union lies in its soft power – this is the appeal also to our neighbours. The EU is a problem-solving machinery, a machinery that step-by-step tackles the problems that affect us as individual Member States, but that must be solved collectively as a Union.

Let me give you some brief examples:

The greatest challenge of our time is without doubt climate change. The US announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement means that the EU must defend it even more strongly. All our political tools must be used to strengthen its implementation around the world: development cooperation, trade, diplomacy and confidence-building measures.

The migration issue continues to create splits between Member States. We need to act together and in solidarity in the EU to handle the challenges caused by migration flows and to address the root causes. Sweden will continue working for a new asylum system which is sustainable and where all Member States take their share of responsibility.

We need to work for a social Europe for jobs, equality and growth. The Swedish Government is working hard to contribute to a more social Europe. The Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg in November was a concrete contribution to the efforts to move these issues higher up the EU’s agenda.

It is impossible not to mention Brexit, the most dramatic challenge our Union has seen in decades. The negotiations on Brexit have been characterised by unity and cohesion among the EU27. We believe that we all, the EU27 as well as the UK, will benefit from close future EU-UK relations.

At the same time, we see several signs of a positive development in our Union. The European Commission’s spring 2018 economic forecast notes that growth rates for the EU reached a 10-year high and that growth is set to remain strong in 2018, while unemployment continues to fall.

Concrete decisions have been taken to improve the everyday lives of our citizens, such as the abolishing of roaming charges. We have negotiated free trade agreements with Canada, Japan and most recently with Mexico.

In this context I would also like to touch upon the worrying development regarding the American tariffs on steel and aluminum, a development that may have systemic consequences for our rules-based trading system. It is important that the EU continues to stand up for free trade and the multilateral trading system.

Our defence of free trade, multilateralism, democracy, human rights and the rule of law is what makes the EU a soft super power. These are the tools we must strengthen to engage with the rest of the world and show that differences are best solved together, in a respectful dialogue, around a table of equals.

I would like to share my views more specifically on three important areas of our cooperation today:

  1. strengthening the EU as a security policy actor;

  2. addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by developments in the Union’s neighbourhood; and

  3. developments in the Middle East.

EU cooperation is more important than ever for Europe’s security. We face grave and complex security policy challenges – crises to our east and south, a security policy situation in our neighbourhood that has deteriorated, cyber attacks, climate change and terrorism.

Sweden attached a lot of importance to responding quickly and relevantly to the multiple terrorist attacks in Paris during the autumn of 2015, when France requested support in accordance with the solidarity clause. 

Therefore, Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security, while maintaining the transatlantic link that remains central to European security. Sweden wants to strengthen the EU as a foreign and security policy actor comprehensively. The EU Global Strategy is our compass for what needs to be done to achieve long-term sustainable security.

I am also proud that Sweden is one of only a few EU Member States that have contributed to all 37 EU CSDP missions so far, both civilian and military ones. That shows that we have a systemic interest in a strong CSDP.

France is a key partner for us, not least in Africa where our cooperation is long-standing and remains strong today, both in EU missions such as in the Central African Republic or UN missions such as MINUSMA in Mali.

But the EU is so much more than a military actor. Its greatest strength is its broad range of instruments. In my view, the progress made on defence cooperation last year must be followed this year by bold steps to strengthen our civilian crisis management capabilities as well. Look at the situation in Iraq, for example. We have just started a civilian EU mission to help reform the Iraqi police. This is what is needed for the ‘day after’ a conflict.

So, we are eager to deliver a substantial civilian capability development plan to establish how we can reduce the gap between what the EU currently has the ability to do and what a deteriorating security situation requires the EU to do. Already this year, this should be followed by a pact to strengthen civilian common security and defence policy – a kind of civilian PESCO.

Strengthening the EU as a global actor in the pursuit of peace and stability, an actor to be reckoned with, is in the interest of our countries as well as of the EU.

Let me now move on to speak about our neighbourhood. Of central importance to our unity, and to the EU’s strength and credibility as an actor, in our neighbourhood as well as globally, is that we can safeguard our fundamental values. Our common values of freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights are not negotiable, they are the foundation of the EU. They are also a precondition for our credibility vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

It is therefore deeply worrying that developments in some Member States create doubts as to whether our fundamental values are fully shared by all Member States. There must be consequences for this. We support the European Commission’s important work to uphold respect for our common values.

Yesterday, the EU and the Western Balkans met in Sofia at the first summit since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003. Since then, much has changed in the Western Balkans, as well as in the EU, and our joint commitment to a European future for all Western Balkan countries is perhaps even more important today than it was 15 years ago. If we do not support strengthened rule of law, democratisation and economic development in the Western Balkans it will come back to haunt us. We believe that a credible EU perspective remains the strongest driver of much-needed reforms and positive change in this region that will benefit us all.

Both our countries see Turkey as an important partner to the EU. Having said that, I am deeply concerned about negative developments, including constraints on freedom of expression, continued arrests and the prolonged state of emergency.

Another concern to us all is Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, together with the ongoing Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine. This is not only a matter of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It also represents a threat to the security order of the whole of Europe.

Developments in the Middle East

Today, many of the world’s greatest threats to peace and stability lie in the Middle East. This is why it is very regrettable and deeply concerning that President Trump has decided to end US participation in the JCPOA. It increases instability within Iran and in an already volatile region. It also poses a threat to the global non-proliferation regime.

Sweden, together with the rest of the EU, continues to fully support the nuclear agreement and its implementation, and will work to preserve the JCPOA despite the US withdrawal.It is key that the EU Member States stand united, speak with one voice and act in a coherent manner.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the way the stalled peace process is handled by the international community, are clear examples of why the EU must stand up for and protect international law. The violent developments in Gaza that we have witnessed over the last week are truly appalling and have rightly been criticised by the international community, including by the EU. These developments show even more clearly the need for all of us to take a clear stand on international law. France’s leading role is commendable.

The EU has an important role to play in reviving the Middle East Peace Process. As the largest donor to Palestine, the largest trading partner to Israel, and as a concerned neighbour, the EU can and should play a role. Our two countries are very much like-minded regarding the Middle East Peace Process. I hope we will increase our cooperation even further here.

Increased cooperation is also needed for Syria. Seven years of conflict teaches us that there can be no military solution, contrary to the actions we witness from the Syrian regime and its allies, Russia and Iran. Therefore, the EU together with partners, particularly the US, needs to remain steadfast and engaged in supporting the UN-led political process – the only way to achieve sustainable peace.

This afternoon I will attend the meeting addressing these issues.

As the leading humanitarian donor to this crisis, the EU also needs to continue to press for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2401 – demanding an end to the violence and safe, sustained and unhindered humanitarian access to everyone in need across Syria.

We are living in a worrisome world and it is down to us to defend our basic values. As Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven put it recently: “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.”

Strong and well-functioning EU cooperation is crucial to our security and our prosperity in Sweden, in France and in Europe. A strong EU acting in support of established international norms, cooperation and institutions is needed, more than ever, on the global scene.

I look forward to continuing close cooperation with France and our other partners in the EU to face our shared responsibility to build an even better and stronger EU.