Speech from Ulf Kristersson

The Government’s priorities and the programme of the upcoming Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU

Published

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson presented the Government’s priorities and the programme of the upcoming Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Mr Speaker,

Every time has its issue of freedom. And security has become the great Swedish issue of freedom of our time. We see this when gang members restrict the freedom of honest citizens in many residential areas. We see this when threats and extortion afflict many small business owners in socially disadvantaged areas. This is why the new Government and I have made security an absolutely central political priority.

In Europe, security in a different sense has become the great issue of freedom of our time. The main threat is not from criminal gangs, but from a criminal regime.

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of a peaceful neighbour has robbed millions of Ukrainians of their freedom. It has catapulted Europe back to one of the darkest chapters in our history books. Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wrote in 1942 that for his generation, the First World War had burned all bridges to a peaceful Europe – to what he called the “world of yesterday”.

Exactly 80 years later, we observe with sorrow that the Europe we have known since the fall of the Berlin Wall now belongs to the past. A change so huge that it is difficult to take in.

When I awoke at 4 am in Helsinki on 24 February, hours after a discussion with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö about the war that had not yet started, I realised two things. There is war in Europe: the EU’s most fundamental role will be put to the test. And also: there is war in Europe: Sweden’s place is naturally in the EU – and in NATO.

We are all suffering due to the war, but it is Ukraine that is paying the highest price. Many have died in combat or fallen victim in some other way to Russia’s aggression. Many more are refugees in their own country, or in other European countries. In spite of this, the heroic defence on land, at sea and in the air continues. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting not only for their own freedom, but for the freedom of all of Europe.

In this troubling time, Sweden is taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This is a serious responsibility. The Union that has become synonymous with peace, freedom and trade is now living alongside the kind of war that once created the very need for the EU. The war will have decisive repercussions for the Swedish Presidency. In some respects we know exactly what these will be – maintaining European unity in our support for Ukraine; expanding the economic, humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine; continuing to gather countries and resources for Ukraine’s reconstruction; safeguarding international law; demanding accountability; and carefully monitoring Ukraine’s progress as a candidate country. In other respects, we have no idea what the repercussions will be. What will be happening a year after the invasion? Later in the spring, or in the summer of 2023? During its Presidency, Sweden will be prepared to act quickly and resolutely.

The primary task for our Presidency will therefore be to help ensure Europe’s security. By systematically standing up for Ukraine, but also, in an increasingly insecure world, by underscoring the EU’s geopolitical significance.

Alongside NATO, the EU must take greater overall responsibility for European security. The Swedish Presidency will be a driving force for the implementation of the objectives in the EU’s Strategic Compass. But also for prioritising internal security and the fight against organised crime.

Mr Speaker,

If the war in Ukraine is decisive in terms of the possibility of a future in freedom for Europe, European competitiveness will be decisive in terms of our economic future.

Take the European automotive industry as an example.

The motor car was born in Europe, at a time when European innovation was driving the global economy. For more than one hundred years, the car has been a symbol of European inventiveness and industrial capacities – but also of diversity and friendly rivalry. In the post-war period, the Volkswagen Beetle became a symbol of the West German ‘economic miracle’, while the Citroën DS was symbolic of French design. And the boxy Volvo became a symbol for safer cars, with Swedish innovations such as the three-point seatbelt.

The car gave millions of Europeans the chance to move around freely and visit other countries. In the Swedish language, ‘car’ is not only a noun but a verb, meaning to travel around by car – often in Europe. In the time period between the introduction of electric cars and the future introduction of electric flights, we will probably tour around by car again.

But the car is also one of many examples of how free competition in the world’s largest market creates products that make life better. Sweden is a small country, with large companies operating in a tough export market. The EU’s internal market is the foundation of our prosperity and our welfare. But this is dependent on the EU’s four freedoms – the free movement of goods, capital, services and people. And also on a fair and level playing field for European companies.

European car manufacturers are sharper and better when they can compete with US and Asian colleagues on equal terms. The EU must capitalise on the dynamic forces residing in successful companies, not obstruct them with over-regulation. This will allow European companies to continue to hold their own in global competition.

For this reason, protectionism is not the way to go. It wasn’t yesterday, and it won’t be tomorrow – on this side of the Atlantic or the other.

An economically strong and competitive EU is crucial to the EU’s global standing. We know that innovative companies in a free and open market not only generate growth and welfare, but also lead the green and digital transitions. But in truth, the EU is lagging behind. Clear competition policy and better regulations for European industry are therefore necessary. 

However – competitiveness also means resilience. Openness must never lead to naivety, or unilateral dependence on Russian energy or Chinese minerals. The EU must therefore spread the risk by safeguarding diversified and mutually deepened trade with other countries. Facilitating digital services in new trade agreements, and in the internal market, is an important task for the Swedish Presidency. But also increased own production to secure the supply chains in strategically important areas.

During its Presidency, Sweden will therefore lead the continuing work on a European semiconductor ecosystem. This sounds technical – and it is. But it is also absolutely essential if we are to electrify our entire vehicle fleet.

Mr Speaker,

The internal market is a means of achieving both prosperity and the green transition. The EU reducing its net emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 is crucial to climate transition around the world. The EU’s Fit for 55 package will play a decisive role, and our ambition is to conclude the negotiations on it.

The EU is a world leader in climate action, and Sweden wants to strengthen this position during its Presidency. The EU institutions agreeing to phase out all new fossil-fuel cars by 2035 is a major step in the right direction.

The climate transition begins and ends with energy. This applies to transport, and it applies to industry. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also made phasing out fossil fuels even more pressing. Moving away from fossil fuels began in the 1970s as a cost issue. In the 80s and 90s, it became an environmental and climate issue, too. And now it is also a security issue. During a cold winter, the EU must stand united to cope with the twin tasks of achieving the energy transition and warming European homes.

Sweden will therefore prioritise efforts to hasten the electrification of the EU. This will include working on a new Batteries Regulation and continuing the negotiations on increasing fossil-free energy production. We will advance the work on the proposals in the gas market package to replace Russian fossil energy with other, low-carbon energy sources. At the same time, the EU Member States that wish to do so can continue to take responsibility by building new nuclear plants.

Mr Speaker,

The Swedish Presidency will be an active one, and will offer constructive leadership to deepen the EU’s strengths and find compromises in the European Council. We will safeguard common European interests, and be humble in the face of the Member States’ diversity. Just like here at home, the new Government’s goal is to bring people together, not to drive them apart – to unite, not to divide. This will sometimes require restraint – mediation and moderation rather than preaching.

It will also require a degree of rallying here at home. I both hope and expect that, just as in 2001 and 2009, the entire Riksdag will feel a responsibility for the Swedish Presidency. In return, the Government will be very active in its efforts to seek broad consensus. Not everyone will be able to agree on everything, but the Government will want to have discussions with everyone. I hope that everyone will also be prepared to have discussions with each other.

We will need both steadfastness and pragmatism: steadfastness of values, and pragmatism in finding concrete solutions. Respect for democracy, individual rights and freedoms and the rule of law are among the established European values. Worrying reports show that democracy is sliding in some EU Member States. 

But when I see the blue and yellow EU flag standing as a symbol of freedom next to the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, I am convinced that a blue and yellow Swedish Presidency is taking on an important task of maintaining these values in Europe.

During its Presidency, Sweden will therefore take the Council’s work on the Article 7 procedures forward in a constructive spirit, and stand up for the EU’s right to make the payment of EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law.

Mr Speaker,

In January, Sweden will begin its third Presidency of the Council of the EU. Swedish ministers and officials will chair a couple of thousand meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg. Many more thousands of European colleagues – politicians, experts, journalists – will visit Sweden for the more than 150 meetings being held here. Some 55 of these meetings will take place in locations throughout the country, from Malmö to Kiruna.

So let all of us who encounter our European visitors show our curiosity, our sincerity and our willingness to find the good compromises that can almost always be found. This is exactly what the EU also needs. We begin in the severe but beautiful darkness at the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi – and end as the early summer greenery moves into nights of midnight sun. And for the first time in many years, an EU summit will not be held on Midsummer Eve.

Both France and the Czech Republic have done exemplary work to tackle the multiple crises in Europe – first the pandemic and lockdowns, then the war, the energy crisis and inflation. Now Sweden will take over, with respect and humility in the face of all these difficulties. But also with determination. We take responsibility with things are tough.

My entire Government will work hard, with great confidence in the collective capabilities found in the EU Member States and institutions. We will be a constructive negotiating partner to both the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Our countries are different, and sometimes we have different perspectives. But diversity is a strength. Together we can overcome the crises and build a better Europe. But only if we do it together – and only if we in Sweden do our part.