Speech by Jessika Roswall

Speech by Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall

Published

Speech by Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA). November 21, 2023, Dublin.

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Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall
Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall at IIEA. Photo: Linn Laurin/Government Offices of Sweden

Alex, thank you for the introduction. And thank you for inviting me to speak today on a topic that is often on my mind: enlargement and the future of the EU.

Let me start with a quote: “Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy.”

These sentences are from one of the most famous speeches in history: Pericles’ funeral oration. This speech was held more than 2,400 years ago, but parts of it could have been written today.

Because the struggle for democracy – for a system of government that favors the many instead of the few – is not ancient history. It is an ongoing battle.

And I do think that battle is the right choice of words. Because battles are literally what the people of Ukraine are going through to preserve their democracy.

The Ukrainians are fighting despite cruel war crimes, despite ecological destruction, and despite nuclear threats. Despite all that, Ukraine is still ruled from Kyiv, not Moscow.

Ukraine needs to win this war, but they also need to win the peace. And that is where EU enlargement comes in. 

Because enlargement is about making sure that Europeans can live in peace and prosperity.

It is about spreading European values – democracy, rule of law, freedom, equality, human dignity, and human rights – across our continent.

It is about making sure that a free, democratic Europe stretches all the way from Dublin to Dubrovnik – and to Kyiv.

With a war raging on the EU’s doorstep, enlargement is not abstract anymore.

Now, it is a concrete and urgent issue. Now, it is not a question of if it will happen, but how.

Today, I would like to provide some Swedish perspectives on the questions that a future enlargement raises for the EU.

And perhaps I will ask a few questions myself along the way since I don’t have all the answers yet.

***

First, let me answer the question: why enlargement? Why do we need to make the EU ready for a future with more Member States?

I think there is an obvious answer to this question: it’s about making Europe safe for democracy.

Today, we live in a world of great power competition.

China is repressive at home and assertive abroad, and I don’t need to repeat myself about Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

For smaller countries like Ireland and Sweden, EU membership is extremely valuable in this era of great power competition.

With almost 450 million citizens, the EU has become a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.

With 27 Member States combined, it matters if you have trade agreements with us – or if we impose sanctions against you.

And having more countries join a democratic, integrated Europe can also make us all safer and richer.

Just take a country like Estonia, which is one of Sweden’s closest neighbours.

30 years ago, there were Russian troops based in Estonia. Now, there are world-leading tech companies based in Estonia instead. That is the difference that European integration makes.

And when we speak about enlargement, let’s remind ourselves of one of best examples of successful enlargement: Ireland. 

This year, Ireland celebrates 50 years as a Member State. In that time, Ireland has gone from the poorest member to the second richest in terms of GDP per capita. 

Many will seek advice from you on how to “succeed in Europe”. They should.

Thanks to previous rounds of enlargement, countries like Ireland and Sweden have benefited greatly.

Our economies have been able to grow thanks to the expansion of the Single Market, and we have more democratic, friendly countries in our neighborhood.

And with a bigger EU, we have also been able to expand our influence in the world.

If we do it right, I am convinced that a future enlargement can have similar effects.

But of course, ‘doing it right’ will be hard.

It will require reforms in the candidate countries, and it will also require reforms of how the EU works.

And these reforms have to be anchored and accepted by our citizens.

So, let’s be honest with our citizens about the work we need to do to turn a bigger EU into a better EU.

***

That brings me to my second question: how do we enlarge?

That was the question I wanted to raise during the Swedish EU Presidency this spring.

Therefore, I invited my colleagues to the informal General Affairs Council in Uppsala to discuss three main issues.

How will enlargement affect our policies? How will it affect our budget? And how will it affect our institutions?

These discussions are still ongoing, but I would like to share with you a few key observations so far.

***

First, we cannot have enlargement without proper protection of the rule of law.

This is not just because we want the EU to become a democratic role model on the world stage, but also because our cooperation rests on mutual trust.

Trust that our common rules are respected across the Union.

Trust that our citizens and companies will be treated fairly by courts in other Member States.

Trust that our common resources – our taxpayers’ money – will be well spent and not end up in the wrong pockets.

If we cannot trust those things, the foundation of our cooperation will fall apart.

That is why rule of law was one of Sweden’s priorities during our Presidency this spring.

Among other things, we held hearings with both Poland and Hungary under Article 7, and we also organized a Rule of Law symposium that provided recommendations for the EU institutions and future presidencies.

We did this because going forward, we need to do two things at the same time.

We need to hold candidate countries to a high standard, while also getting our own house in order.

That is why Sweden supports using conditionality and clear demands on Member States that they respect the rule of law to access EU funds.

I am sure that rule of law will continue to play a key role in the enlargement debate. In fact, I think this is essential to gain public acceptance for a bigger, reformed EU.

***

Second, in the discussion on EU reforms to make us ready for enlargement, we have to focus on what is politically possible.

That is why Sweden believes that we should focus our efforts on policy reforms, not treaty changes.

We all know that we have to make big changes of how the EU works.

For example, Ukraine’s farmlands cover an area greater than Italy.

Therefore, we will have to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

This will be difficult enough in a lot of countries.

Thus, we don’t need to add a treaty change process on top of that.

That would sow the seeds for a political backlash like the one we saw in Ireland before the Lisbon Treaty was ratified, when a majority voted no in the first referendum.

The second reason why we don’t need a treaty change is that the Lisbon Treaty is ‘enlargement proof’.

For example, it is already possible to make more decisions by qualified majority voting (QMV).

Sweden is open to doing so in a limited number of areas within our Common Foreign and Security Policy: sanctions, human rights, and civilian missions.

Moving to QMV in these areas would allow the EU to speak clearly with one voice. This is especially important in a time of democratic backsliding worldwide.

In other areas however, such as taxes, Sweden believes that unanimity remains important to protect national interests, especially for smaller member states.

And frankly, unanimity hasn’t stopped the EU from taking quick and decisive action in the last few years.

Despite Brexit, despite the pandemic, and despite the war in Ukraine, the EU has still managed to unite.

When we talk about how we should make decisions in the future, I think we should keep those experiences in mind.

***

Third, what should the end goal of enlargement and the EU’s internal reforms be?

On this question, the view from Stockholm is that we should strive toward a united Europe with respect for the rule of law at its heart.

Sweden is open to ideas of gradual integration for candidate countries, to make sure that they receive some benefits from European integration on the road toward full EU membership.

But the end goal should still be full membership.

Countries that live up to the EU’s high democracy and rule of law standards should not remain in some ‘concentric circle’ or waiting room.

If they are ready to join us, the EU has to be ready to let them in.

In this geopolitical situation, we cannot afford to let countries that are able and willing to remain on the outside.

If we don’t offer them partnership, China or Russia would be happy to.

If candidate countries seize this enlargement momentum, so must we. 

***

Finally, if a bigger EU has to be firm when it comes to our fundamental values, perhaps we need more freedom and flexibility when it comes to some of our regulations.

Harmonizing our rules and standards is often a good thing. 

For instance, having the same product standards for goods is a good thing if you want to have a Single Market.

However, other things are more difficult to draft detailed laws about in a diverse Union.

To take one example, the local environment looks very different in northern Sweden and in say Cyprus.

Therefore, we should focus more on results and allow for greater freedom and flexibility in how these results are achieved.

Moreover, we need better regulation because the EU is facing a competitiveness crisis.

For many years, the EU has been losing ground to other major economies such as the U.S. and China.

And one of the most common complaints from companies in the EU these days is that the regulatory burden is too big.

When we enlarge, we have to keep this in mind too. The regulatory burden should not expand just because the EU does.

Instead, a bigger EU must build on the strengths that we already have.

To tackle future challenges such as enlargement, we need to boost our competitiveness in general and the Single Market in particular.

***

To conclude, I think that the war in Ukraine has shown us how strongly people want to live in a free, democratic Europe.

If it was not already clear at the Maidan protests in Kyiv ten years ago, it is definitely clear now.

As the discussion on enlargement and the future of the EU moves on, I think we should remember that and not lose sight of the bigger picture.

And the bigger picture is that as much as we will argue about internal reforms such as whether we should have more QMV, an EU membership is very attractive.

It offers access to the biggest Single Market in the world, to what will be the world’s first climate-neutral group of countries, and to a Union that has kept the peace between Member States for more than 70 years.

As long as we stick to our principles, strive to keep the EU’s unity and allow Member States some freedom and flexibility to achieve our common goals, I believe that we can make future enlargement a success.

That way, we can extend government that favors the many instead of the few to even more Europeans.

Thank you for listening, I look forward to answering your questions.