Speaker’s Meeting 31 July 2009; Taking on the challenges – Sweden’s Presidency of the European Union

Image: Flickr, Dimitar Nikolov

Ambassador Peter Tejler, Address at SAIIA Speaker’s Meeting 31 July 2009

Taking on the challenges – Sweden’s Presidency of the European Union

Dear colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today at this Speaker’s Meeting and present Sweden’s visions of our Presidency of the European Union.  I would like to express my gratitude to SAIIA for hosting this event.

But it is also a challenge to speak after a number of interesting events with outstanding and well known speakers like Mohammed ElBaradei and Botswana’s Trade Minister Moroka. That says something about the importance of SAIIA. I will do my best.

Let me first remind you about the origins of what is today the European Union. It’s important to have this in mind when we speak about the challenges of the Union, before, during and after the Swedish Presidency.

The idea of uniting Europe is an old one. Not least the disastrous impact of World War II triggered a determination that no more should the peoples of Europe accept totalitarianism, disrespect for human rights and violations of international legal order. A new European order was necessary. An early building block was the European Coal and Steel Union, created in 1951. Its aim was to neutralise the conflict over disputed border areas between France and Germany and to institutionalise joint control of the production and sale of steel and coal; what you make weapons of. In modern language we would call it an inclusive initiative for peace and security.

In 1957 the European Community – the precursor to the European Union – was created by six states in Western Europe. The Community was based on shared interests and values, founded upon treaties guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, rule of law and equality between countries.

Another important element of the Community was the belief that fair competition and removal of trade barriers, both domestically and internationally, best promoted innovation, prosperity and a better life for all.

Thus, the European Community started with a limited number of states. Other European nations soon saw the obvious benefits of cooperation and integration for their own peace and security and stability. The Community grew incrementally, and in 1993 the European Union was born. Together with Austria and Finland, Sweden became a member in 1995. Today the EU consists of 27 member states. More countries want to join.

Obviously, in spite of all its unfinished business, the European Union is an appealing concept and must be considered a success story – but still a work in progress!

So what is the European Union today? It has a population of approximately 500 million people; it’s the largest integrated economy in the world and a leading trading partner with most of the worlds’ countries and regions: South Africa being one of them. Over the years the EU enhanced its capacity to be a responsible global actor in many different areas, like peace and security and sustainable development. It’s also a space with freedom of movement for its people, for capital and goods.

The EU – Commission and member states – is also the world’s biggest international cooperation partner offering financial and technical assistance to the developing world.

But there is no denying that the EU is – as are all other countries and regions – facing major challenges.

Against this backdrop Sweden has set a number of priorities for its six months Presidency, before we pass the baton to Spain.

First, let me point at the two major priorities:

a)  address the economic crisis and its implications for the socio-economic development in Europe and beyond;

b) deal with the impact of climate change and of global warming which will affect us all regardless of where we live.

I’ll speak more on these and other priorities later.

The world still also remains confronted with traditional and well known security crises like conflicts of different natures, and other tensions that might turn into wars, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and international crime, poverty, lack of democracy and  human rights, increased inequalities which make life miserable for many, not least women and children, just to mention a few.

Those and other issues are known. And then we have what a former US Secretary of Defense labelled: the unknown unknowns.

Also during our Presidency – like the previous Presidencies – new and unforeseen crises will occur and they will require our attention.

As if the external challenges were not enough, our six-month Presidency will take place under unusual circumstances within the EU’s institutional framework: after elections in June a new European Parliament has gathered, a new European Commission is about to be appointed and there is uncertainty about the future of the new governing legislation for the EU – the Lisbon Treaty.

This morning, I want to talk to you about how our Presidency would like to address the challenges recently mentioned and about our other priorities. And that is what the Swedish Presidency is all about – taking on the challenge.

Let me also make it clear from the outset that the problems we are facing are – of course – not a task for the Swedish Presidency alone. They are a joint task for the whole of the European Union. Working together and do more is the very essence of the European Union. That’s why the EU puts so much emphasis on collaboration with other partners and that’s why the summits with important partners, such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, the USA and South Africa provide unique opportunities to nourish this partnership. The Summit between South Africa and the EU will take place the 11 September in Western Cape.

Before I now more in detail move on to the Swedish priorities let me remind you that they are based on cooperation with the preceding Presidencies – France and the Czech Republic – and a 18 month programme that we agreed upon in June 2008.

Here are the priorities:

1. Climate – the EU must continue to take responsibility for the climate threat and ascertain a new climate agreement in place in Copenhagen.

The growing climate crisis is in the longer term the greatest of all our challenges. How we deal with it will affect generations to come.

The starting point for the EU is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that global emissions must be at least halved between 1990 and 2050 so as to limit the increase in mean temperature to two degrees Celsius.

To achieve this goal, the industrialised world must reduce its emissions by 25–40 per cent by 2020 and by 80–95 per cent by 2050 compared with the 1990 levels. According to the IPCC it is also important to create conditions for developing countries to reduce their emissions by 15–30 per cent by 2020 compared to what the situation would be if no measures were taken.

The Presidency believes that the industrialised countries have a particular responsibility to take the lead since our emissions of greenhouse gases are greater than in poor parts of the world and since we are in a better economic situation.

The EU has been and remains active in climate efforts ahead of the meeting in Copenhagen which is intended to adopt a new protocol for the Climate Convention for the period after 2012.

During the French Presidency, an ambitious legislative package on how the EU itself shall meet the climate change was adopted. The EU has agreed that it will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels if other industrialised countries make similar commitments.

At the same time it is clear that the EU, which accounts for 14 per cent of worldwide emissions, cannot counteract climate change on its own. In fact, even if all most developed countries reduced their CO2 emissions to zero, the rapidly increasing emissions of the developing countries would still bring us over the two-degree target as set by the IPCC.

Therefore, we must discuss how to finance investments in developing countries. We need to ensure a quick transfer of technology. And we need to make sure that the developing countries also take action to change the direction in which they are heading.

Over the last year voices have been raised that in the middle of economic austerity countries cannot afford to spend money on “green energy” and energy efficiency. I would argue the contrary. The costs that will be incurred due to natural disasters caused by global warming will easily exceed the cost of investment in renewable energy.

Studies by McKinsey – a management consulting firm – show that global greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by about 40 per cent by 2030 at a cost less than half a per cent of global GDP. That does not seem to be a too hefty a price tag for taking a determined step towards safeguarding the planet’s health for future generations.

Further on the climate issue, I very much welcome the growing awareness and debate in South Africa and the commitment shown by the Government in combating global warming. South Africa is a key player in the climate change negotiations – especially as a leading member of the Africa Group and G77.

Economy and employment – the EU must emerge stronger from the economic crisis

The economic crisis is global and requires a global response. The G20, the world’s 19 largest economies plus the EU, is an important forum in this respect.. During our Presidency, the G20 will address issues concerning resources to international financial institutions, regulation and supervision of the financial markets, work against harmful tax competition and increased resources to the world economy.

The global financial crisis has struck also Europe with full force and has had a prominent place on the EU agenda ever since its effects were first felt. The EU has helped to avoid a financial collapse thanks to joint action. The EU has agreed on a recovery plan to offset the recession, reduce its impact on employment and improve competitiveness.

The Presidency will continue the work begun under the leadership of France and the Czech Republic. The ambition is to restore confidence in the financial markets, combat the negative impact of the crisis on growth and employment and create long-term solutions for sustainable growth, employment and open markets.

– More jobs and more people in work

In the wake of the economic slowdown unemployment is rising and creates risks for social exclusion. You feel it in this country as well as we do. And the need to address it is equally important for all Governments.

The Presidency will give priority to action regarding measures on the labour market that mitigate the negative effects of the economic crisis. At the same time we must refrain from protectionism, or from trying to save companies that are not competitive in the long run.

We should take general measures to stimulate the business sector, such as better regulation and better conditions for smaller enterprises, as well as financial stability and better access to capital.

– Long-term growth and employment in the coming decade

Although much attention is focused on the negative effects from the current economic crisis, Sweden believes the long term challenges for economic growth and employment must not be forgotten.

Therefore reforms must aim at facilitating adjustment to the effects of globalisation and new technologies, and development of new companies and employment opportunities. Recovery of the economy is based on open, inclusive and efficient markets, within and outside the EU. A recovery that works can not be achieved in isolation, only through international cooperation.

The crisis also provides an opportunity to create an economy that combines growth with environmental sustainability.

Managing the financial crisis and unemployment; addressing climate change: these are the two main priorities of the Swedish Presidency. But we will also address other issues, some of them dealing with the internal life of the EU.

3. Justice and Home Affairs – a Stockholm Programme that safeguards security and the rights of individuals

A Europe without borders creates endless opportunities for our citizens to live, study and work in any other European country. But a drawback of integration is that it may affect individual security. The free flow of goods, capital and people create advantages also for organised crime. No doubt, that EU Member States are affected. We must therefore continue to enhance Member States’ cooperation in justice and home affairs. We need to strike a balance between legitimate security concerns and the quest to keep our borders open – also to the outside world.

The Presidency’s ambition is to continue the work already begun and adopt a new strategic work programme in areas such as police, border and customs issues, legal matters and asylum, migration and visa policy.

The vision for this so called Stockholm Programme is a more secure and open Europe where rights of individuals are safeguarded no matter where in the Union they live.

4. The EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea, a cleaner marine environment and a more competitive region

The AU has its REC’s (Regional Economic Communities) like SADC and ECOWAS. In a similar vein, the Presidency has an ambition to develop the EU’s macro-regional cooperation. We have chosen the Baltic Sea region as it is struggling with major challenges that only can be addressed by joint efforts among the states concerned. A special focus should be on the polluted and depleted marine environment in the Baltic Sea. We would also like to tap the potential for economic growth and increased competitiveness in this region.

5. The EU, its neighbourhood and the world

From what I have said, one could conclude that the EU in a process of creating a Fortress Europe. The EU is not an altruistic venture for the benefit of outsiders. Its raison d’être is of course – as for any regional organisation – to promote the region’s interests. But there is no contradiction between that ambition and EU’s global engagement.

EU’s interests are often the same as those in other parts of the world. They can be reconciled with the interests of others – if the political will is there. In a globalised world – where transactions and communications know no border – the countries and peoples of the world are more interdependent than ever before. Financial woes, pandemics like swine flue and environmental disasters in one region will affect other regions. A more positive example is that an economically vibrant Africa means more trade and investment opportunities for all.

The Union is increasingly shouldering its responsibility to promote peace, stability and development in the world. As already noted, we are the biggest donor for international development. The Union’s peacekeepers have been deployed a number of times, in Europe and in Africa, in difficult and volatile situations.

The Presidency is a strong proponent of this global responsibility and role for the EU. We want to take it further. We want to develop the EU’s capacity to act during international crises. We want to ensure coherence between common foreign and security policy initiatives on one hand and trade and development policy initiatives on the other.

A specific event I would like to make a sales pitch for is the European Development Days (EDD) in Stockholm 22-24 October. The theme will be “Citizenship and Development”. We wish to focus on the role of citizens, with a view to supporting their active involvement in development processes. This event will be the biggest in Sweden during our Presidency. We expect about 5.000 participants ranging from high-level politicians, academics, experts from civil society, senior corporate officials and artists. The aim is to have a broad and cross-cutting debate on development issues. We would like to see the EDD evolve into something similar to the Economic Forum in Davos – an annual platform for all interested international stakeholders – but with a development cooperation agenda.

Working for universal adherence to fundamental human rights remains a keystone in Swedish foreign policy. That people can enjoy human rights and democracy is not only an end in itself. Fundamental freedoms are also mutually reinforcing with regard to security, development and for fostering economic growth.

The Presidency’s ambitions are to create a uniform framework to make EU’s support for democracy-building throughout the world more effective.

Working with human rights, democracy, independent institutions, and combating corruption etc. is something all states must prioritise, regardless if you are a developed or a developing.

6. New Parliament, Commission and Treaty of Lisbon

As I already mentioned in my introduction, during our term two important partners and/or counter-parts to the Presidency in Brussels, namely the European Parliament and the European Commission are changing guard. New decision makers are moving in. It is important for us as being the President to do everything we can to ensure that the change of administration does not cause any lull in EU’s legislative and executive capacity at this critical time for the Union.

As you might know the Treaty of Lisbon has been negotiated and agreed upon by the EU’s Governments, but still not ratified in all countries. All EU-states have to give its consent. A very important referendum is due to take place in Ireland in early October.

The new treaty – if adopted – will make the EU both more democratic and efficient. Decision making will be easier with more frequent use of majority-voting. The European Parliament – which is the supreme representative of the People of Europe – will get more say. Our ability to do more on the global arena will be enhanced with a strengthened common foreign policy.

The Presidency’s work will be devoted to launch the Treaty in a positive spirit. Good conditions must be created so that practical application of the Treaty of Lisbon is smooth and effective from the very beginning.

African issues

Those were the six general and thematic priorities for our EU-Presidency. Some are EU specific, such as the one I just mentioned and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea. But the other priorities have a direct impact on EU’s relations with other regions and thus Africa and the developing world in general, and South Africa in particular.

Africa is a continent with a huge potential – both in terms of natural and human resources. But parts of Africa have not developed according to their potential and are lagging behind. There are historic explanations for this fact. But everything can’t be blamed on our forefathers. If we look at today’s challenges it is quite obvious that conflicts and deficits in democratic governance undercut both economic growth and fair distribution of wealth to the citizens.

Africa’s development is a common global concern. It is also one of the Swedish Government’s foremost foreign policy priorities.

Sweden and EU take a broad approach to development in Africa, in which security policy, aid policy and trade policy, and initiatives in areas such as climate and the environment, economic growth and free trade, social development and health are viewed, and treated, as an integrated whole.

Our approach places particular emphasis on the importance of stronger democracy, better respect for human rights and freedoms, and greater equality between men and women. A basic premise of our Africa policy is the continent’s responsibility for its own development.

I think it follows from my elaboration, that if we can achieve the EU Presidency’s goals

– on the climate front, and on addressing the fall-out of the economic turmoil

and

– on the EU’s foreign policy agenda which entails reinforced efforts for global peace, security, democracy and human rights,

African states and people will benefit – indirectly and directly.

If we should be more specific on “African issues” during our six months Presidency I would like to mention the following areas: the Summit between SA and the EU, crisis management and implementation of the EU-Africa Joint Strategy.

SA-EU Summit

One obvious and specific “African priority” for the Presidency is the EU Summit with South Africa on September 11. It’s the second Summit – the first was held during the French Presidency at Bordeaux in July last year. This meeting, which will be the first formal meeting on the highest level between the EU and South Africa after elections here in April, offers as an excellent opportunity to address global warming, the economic crisis and all other key issues of mutual interest that South Africa and the EU share under our strategic partnership.

Peace and Security – focus on Crisis Management

As long as conflicts and wars continue in Africa, EU’s top priority must be to cooperate with the continent in order to achieve peace and security. The Presidency’s view is that EU improved capacity for crisis management is key in this regard. Conflict prevention – including mediation – and crisis resolution will be our focus, along with coordinating EU responses to old and new crises. This is not a European challenge, but one that we share together.

For the EU to respond properly and timely, we must be closely monitoring wars and crises in areas like the Great Lakes Region, Sudan/Darfur, Zimbabwe and the Horn of Africa, not least Somalia. Also West Africa should be rigorously followed as the region boasts a number of post-conflict countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Central African Republic) where peace is fragile. Military coups and unrest during and after elections are other areas that merit attention (i.e. Kenya, Nigeria). We also notice with concern recent un-constitutional take-overs of power in Mauretania, Guinea, Madagascar, and Niger. The Sahel region will also be given due attention and the initiatives already introduced will be pursued.

Close cooperation with the UN, the AU and other relevant organisations will be important. A concrete example of such cooperation is the African Peace Facility (APF) – an EU-fund contributing to the AU’s Peace and Security Agenda. The first APF consisted of 650 MEUR and for the period 2008-2010 the EU has allocated at least 300 MEUR. Funds may be released upon request from the AU, REC’s or national organisations for conflict prevention, including mediation, peace support operations, post-conflict stabilization and operationalisation of APSA (African Peace and Security Architecture).

The conflicts in Africa often have a regional impact and make regional integration more difficult. I say this against the backdrop that the EU-process is in its essence a regional integration. It’s thus only logic that in its cooperation with African partners, the EU wants to encourage a more regional approach not only with regard to the conflicts and its consequences but also to its root causes (scarcity of resources, health problems, lack of democratic institutions and human rights, corruption etc).

EU-Africa Joint Strategy

At the second EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon in December 2007 a Strategic Partnership was established and a Joint Strategy adopted. That’s the agreed basis for our cooperation. We also concluded an Action Plan for the period 2008-2010 in order to reach as early results as possible on the key deliverables. Our ambition is to build on the positive momentum from the Lisbon summit. By working closely with our partners in Africa, we hope to see implementation of the Action Plan taking up speed and diversify even further. The focus needs to be on mutual ownership between Africa and the EU.

Let me just remind you that the Joint Strategy covers eight different priority areas, which we have agreed upon: 1) peace and security, 2) democratic governance and human rights, 3) trade, regional integration and infrastructure, 4) achieving the Millennium Development Goals, 5) energy, 6) climate change, 7) migration, mobility and employment and 8) science, information society and space. And I dare to say that these priority areas to a large extent coincide with Sweden’s priorities, as I have discussed before.

Finally, let me quote the first paragraph of the Joint Strategy because I think it coins a very important message to all of us. “Africa and Europe are bound together by history, culture, geography, a common future, as well as by a community of values: the respect for human rights, freedom, equality, solidarity, justice, the rule of law and democracy.”

We may have some differences but the foundation of our relationship is strong. That’s why we can take on the challenges together.

I thank you for your attention.

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