Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström at Hanalys in Hanaholmen, Finland
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Excellencies, distinguished guests,
The late Finnish author Tove Jansson once wrote: “All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.” As I begin my fifth year as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have realised that this is the best way to relate to the surrounding world.
It is always a pleasure to see the beautiful surroundings and familiar faces of Hanaholmen. I am very pleased that my first trip of this electoral period is, as tradition has it, to Finland.
As neighbours and likeminded partners in the European Union, the United Nations and Nordic forums, the Finnish–Swedish relationship is stronger than ever. For small countries like ours, it is particularly important to have close friends. Both Finland and Sweden are militarily non-aligned and highly dependent on foreign trade. We are facing an uncertain and complex global environment that is tilting towards increased isolationism and where international norms and institutions are being called into question.
The Council of Europe has stated that Europe is facing its worst democracy crisis since the Cold War. Democracy will therefore be a focal point of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs during this electoral period.
The trend towards authoritarianism can be seen in our continent. Our open democracies are facing new and unprecedented challenges. Antidemocratic forces are seeking to sow uncertainty and division. In several parts of Europe, the space for those who seek to hold power to account – civil society and independent media – continues to shrink. Disinformation and propaganda are being employed to effect political change.
In this context, it is crucial to continue working for a socially fair Europe. Social gaps feed into nationalist tendencies and jeopardise unity and cohesion. Sweden will always be a strong voice in defence of democracy.
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We are at the beginning of an important year for the future development of the EU. The European Parliament elections, which will see a new Commission and new leaders in central positions, will have a crucial impact on the EU in 2019.
The leaders of the EU27 will need to continue their discussions on the future of our Union. Sweden will work actively for a Union that defends its fundamental values and is a strong voice for the protection of international norms and cooperation.
With regard to Brexit, the objective of the EU remains an orderly withdrawal. That is without doubt the best basis for a close future relationship.
At the same time, there is a clear risk of a disorderly withdrawal, and we need to be prepared for that too – to be able to deal with the immediate and most serious consequences, not least regarding citizens’ rights.
The EU is Sweden’s most important foreign and security policy arena. Strong and effective EU cooperation is crucial to our security and our prosperity – both in Sweden and in Europe. But Europe must take greater responsibility for its security. We need a more capable Union, not least for our security and defence policy, and we need a Union that collaborates closely with the UN and NATO.
A more capable Europe will also create better conditions for transatlantic cooperation, which remains central to Europe’s security. In line with this, an open and pragmatic approach to third state participation is key to making EU security and defence cooperation as effective as possible.
This is of course also relevant in light of Brexit. We have strategic interests in maintaining close security and defence cooperation between the EU and the UK. The UK is not leaving Europe – it will remain an important partner for our security.
There is mutual interest in continued UK contributions to EU crisis management operations and cooperation projects, such as on military mobility. This is a question of both our capacity to act, and of sticking together – as much as we can – in a more unpredictable world.
So, the EU must be open to partners. It must also mobilise a broader range of capabilities. This is why Sweden and Finland have championed a ‘civilian PESCO’, which was endorsed by the European Council in December. The Civilian Compact opens up new opportunities for the EU’s ability to act in the field, and we are keen to take this work forward together with our Finnish partners. For instance, we hope that the EU can contribute to the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement with civilian support in Yemen.
We look forward to continuing our close cooperation with Finland in these endeavours. Finland is assuming the EU Presidency at a very important juncture.
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Together with our Nordic friends, we have spoken with one voice on matters related to security in the Baltic Sea Region, enlargement and the Eastern Partnership. Nordic cooperation strengthens the European Union. We also agree on the need to be able to respond to newer, more complex threats. Disinformation campaigns, cyber attacks, acquisition of strategic assets, influence operations, sabotage and so on are all included in the toolbox employed by antagonistic actors to further their interests, exploiting vulnerabilities in our open and democratic societies.
To address hybrid threats, a broader view of resilience is needed, as well as improved coordination within the EU and with NATO. We appreciate the leadership that Finland has shown, including through the establishment of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats and in the context of the upcoming Finnish EU Presidency. You can count on our cooperation and support.
Climate and Security was a top priority for Sweden as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2017–2018.
The UNSC made considerable progress during these two years and, in several mandate decisions for UN Missions in Africa, has acknowledged the link between climate change and security. There was also recognition that the UN needs to strengthen its capacity and establish an institutional home to provide climate-related risk analyses and strategies for the UN.
As a first step, we have supported the establishment of a mini-mechanism in the Department for Political Affairs.
The EU is also an important actor in this area. Not only in climate negotiations, but also in addressing climate-related security risks, making climate adaptation support sensitive to conflicts and ensuring that crisis management and peacebuilding efforts are aware of the impact of climate change in a geographical context.
We are working to ensure that the EU tackles the threat of climate change and stands firm on the Paris Agreement.
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Gender equality and women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights are fundamental values of the European Union. But the EU’s work on gender equality is under pressure, not least when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
The EU already has important tools for the promotion of gender equality. These include the EU Gender Action Plan and the comprehensive approach to the EU implementation of resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security.
Globally, gender equality work is being challenged. Therefore, we constantly need to build and develop networks with actors at all levels. The cooperation between Finland and Sweden is fundamental in this work.
United we stand, divided we fall. That’s why it is crucial to EU strength and credibility that we can safeguard our common values of freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. These are the foundations of viable cooperation and mutual trust. Developments in some Member States are worrying. Together with the Commission and other Member States, we must continue our efforts to ensure that all Member States uphold respect for our common values. This endeavour must also extend to our neighbourhood. The continued EU integration of the countries in the Western Balkans, and the welcoming of these countries into our community, is the best way of promoting stability, prosperity and democratic development in Europe.
Finally, I wish you every success in your important task of leading the European Union in the autumn. We stand ready to assist wherever we can and look forward to continuing our close cooperation.