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Speech by Jessika Roswall

Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall addressed the European business organisation BusinessEurope’s Council of Presidents


On 25 November, Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall addressed the European business organisation BusinessEurope’s Council of Presidents at the Grand Hôtel in Stockholm. Ms Roswall highlighted a number of priority areas for the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2023.

Check against delivery.

Thank you (Fredrik) for the introduction and thanks to all of you for a great evening yesterday. We will surely continue the celebrations of the Single Market’s 30th anniversary in the near future.

I am honoured to be here to discuss challenges and opportunities on the EU agenda with you, with a view to the upcoming Presidency that the Prime Minister also talked about at the dinner last night.

Right now we are in the final month of preparations. We know that there will be over 350 files on the Council’s table during spring. The formal presentation of our Swedish priorities will happen in mid-December, but I think I shall be able to give you an idea of what we will be focusing on.

First, European security.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has reminded us that our liberties should never be taken for granted. The European Union has been united in its robust support for Ukraine. That support will continue in every form:  politically and economically as well as with military and humanitarian aid. The Russian aggression has had major consequences for the security situation in Europe. It is clear that we must take greater responsibility for both European and transatlantic security.

The invasion has led to an energy crisis, to levels of inflation that we haven’t seen in many years, and to economic decline when the Union is already lagging behind US and China in key economic areas. It is more apparent than ever that the EU’s strength and global clout depends on our collective economic performance.

We obviously need to deal with all these crises and take appropriate measures regarding the energy market and the economy. In the EU generally, we need to step up our work to deal with new geopolitical realities.

But we also need to have the strength to go back to basics and look at how to safeguard the long-term sustainability of European economic growth. We need to place competitiveness firmly at the top of the European agenda. Too often, competitiveness has been forgotten or at least become a secondary concern. But it has to be put front and center because it is the very basis of our prosperity.

During the Swedish Presidency, we would like to help set a steady political course in that direction. From the highest level, European competitiveness should be highlighted, and with that the need for a better functioning Single Market, for better regulation, for skills and innovation and – not least – for as free and open trade as possible. To emphasize this, we will put a discussion on competitiveness on the agenda of the European Council in March.

The recipe for competitive businesses has not changed – it is still not about state-sponsored mega fabs or full focus on strategic dependencies.

Instead, openness must remain the basis of growth policy. That is not to say that the EU's own capacity must not simultaneously increase in strategic areas, where there are obvious vulnerabilities in the supply chains. This can be delivered through our own increased production or increased trading opportunities with more partners.

It is through competitive and innovative companies that we create sustainable growth, accelerate the green and digital transition, increase the resilience of the economy, and strengthen the Union's geopolitical importance. As businesspeople you all know this is what’s needed. But sometimes it can be forgotten in the European political debate. Therefore, we need you to continue to push for an ambitious and outward-looking competitiveness agenda in the EU.

During the Swedish Presidency we will also celebrate 30 years of the Single Market. We have had 30 good years of work to get rid of trade barriers for goods and services. That work will continue, as will the efforts to improve compliance of Single Market rules already in place. We will also focus on the opportunities for the digital and service sector.

To secure the EU's economic recovery and long-term competitiveness, the regulatory burden needs to be reduced. Decisions about new rules need to be consistently based on good impact assessments. I know this is a key priority for you, and we must together make every effort to ease regulatory burdens to ensure growth and competitiveness.

The target for reducing regulatory burdens in the form of the Commission’s ‘one in one out’ principle is positive. The Commission must continue to systematically apply this principle, so that competitiveness is enhanced.

Innovation and research are key elements in the long-term engine of our economy. Some of the world's most important inventions are European. But today the EU spends considerably less on research and development than the US, Japan, South Korea or China. We need to step up our efforts and make more investments in R&D that are crucial for European companies to assert themselves in the global market. Europe should import talents for future industries, not export them. The best climate for research must be here in Europe.

It is high time for EU member states to reach our own goal of three percent of GDP in R&D investments.

The Swedish Presidency will promote measures for an open exchange of knowledge and data within the European Research Area to increase the use of knowledge in society, to accelerate the transition to open science, and to increase access to research infrastructures.

Our ambition is to do everything we can to help promote the need for our Union to build strong and sustainable trade relations with the rest of the world. Trade policy aspects are key to the reconstruction of Ukraine,  and we will obviously focus on trade relations with the United States, including within the Trade and Technology Council.

In this respect, the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act is of course a cause for concern. We must avoid a subsidy race, both with the U.S. and between EU member states. Therefore, we appreciate the Commission’s efforts to set up a task force and to have a frank dialogue with our U.S. friends, with which we should seek a WTO compatible solution. In any case, part of the EU’s response should be to put further focus on sharpening our companies’ competitiveness.

To strengthen European competitiveness, we must continue negotiations on ambitious free trade agreements with third countries. We will work for continued support for the EU's free trade and partnership agenda in the Indo-Pacific and Latin America, including with New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, India, Mexico, Chile and Mercosur.

Third, the Swedish EU presidency will focus on the green transition.

The goal of making Europe the world's first carbon dioxide-neutral continent by 2050 is fixed. New green jobs are emerging as Europe take the lead in this transition. Here in Sweden we are proud of pioneering businesses such as LKAB, SSAB, Northvolt and others.

We are positive when it comes to high climate targets for businesses, and we must make sure that policymaking does not hinder the ability to innovate. Careful balances must be struck when there are conflicting interests. One example is forestry, where the EU should recognize the role that the forest plays as an energy source, as a basis for sustainable products and as an economic engine. But also – of course – as a carbon sink and a source and of biodiversity.

The Swedish Presidency will also be ready to act firmly to meet urgent challenges during the current energy crisis. Europe cannot be allowed to depend on Russian energy sources. Reliable energy production is a critical foundation of our societies, and we must use all energy sources to end our reliance on fossil fuels. We need nuclear as well as wind and solar, hydropower and hydrogen.

Lastly, let me also say a few words about the rule of law and our foundation in common and fundamental values.

These democratic values are obviously important in and by themselves – they are at the core of why Europe remains so attractive to the rest of the world. But they are also a condition for the mutual trust that is necessary for the deep and comprehensive legal and economic cooperation within our Union. It is therefore the duty of the Swedish Presidency – indeed of every Presidency – to keep focused on upholding our common values and the rule of law.

So, these are some key elements for our Presidency. We hope to have a good dialogue with you, and most of all your strong support to get competitiveness back on top of the EU agenda!