On 25 March, the Speaker Andreas Norlén met the ambassadors from the EU member states and candidate countries for a discussion on the Riksdag’s work with EU matters and how the Riksdag is working in the current pandemic, together with other current issues.
The Speaker's speech, which introduced the meeting, follows in English.
Address by the Speaker
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Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet you. We may not be in the same room but we can nevertheless talk and exchange views. This is as important as ever - or even more so - due to the very special circumstances we are experiencing.
We are still in the midst of the corona pandemic in Sweden, Europe and all over the world. We have suffered loss of lives, health, economies and everyday life that just one year ago we took for granted.
The work of the Swedish Parliament has, like everything else in society, been affected and it has been necessary to rethink and make all the adjustments required.
As a general rule, both members of the Riksdag and officials in the Riksdag Administration are requested to work from home as much as possible and stricter rules apply to both members and officials wishing to receive external guests at the Riksdag.
The task of the Riksdag remains the same, but parliamentary procedures have been adjusted – some as a result of agreements between the party groups, others as a result of decisions made in the Chamber.
The meetings of the committees are in practice held remotely on line, but for formal reasons the person chairing the meetings has to be present in the Parliament Building. However, physical meetings are still possible under certain conditions. Extra deputy members have been elected in order to ensure that the committees are fully manned.
The party group leaders have agreed that only 55 members are to be present for votes in the Chamber, even though all 349 members are still in service, but working mostly remotely. Before each vote, the parties decide which members are to be present to vote. In other words, it is not the same 55 members who participate in every vote. Another example of such an agreement between the group leaders is that only the members and ministers who are participating in a debate are to be present in the Chamber.
These are some of the adjustments that have been made during the pandemic. We have all, with the help of creativity and flexibility, adapted and worked hard to handle the crisis as well as possible.
In December, the Riksdag Board decided to convene a cross-party committee to conduct a follow-up of the work of the Riksdag and the Riksdag Administration during the pandemic. Lessons learnt about our adjustments in both parliamentary and administrative processes will provide us with important input for development and modernisation of procedures in future.
My ambition has all along been that the Riksdag should function despite the difficult circumstances. And I dare say that the Riksdag has fulfilled its tasks very well throughout the crisis so far. The Chamber was in session over 500 hours during 2020 and the committees broke a record in the number of meetings that took place.
In addition to the several thousand decisions taken in the Chamber every year, the pandemic has not only brought changes to the procedures of politics but also to policy itself: since March 2020, the Riksdag has handled 16 amending budgets, 24 government bills and 12 committee initiatives relating to the pandemic. This is indeed a parliament at work.
Please check our website – either the Swedish or the English version – to find an updated list of the decisions adopted by the Riksdag related to the pandemic.
In my opinion, this shows that Sweden has a stable democracy with robust institutions. We have shown that our democracy is strong. My hope is that the citizens of the country feel that they can trust in the fact that the Riksdag and its members are always ready to perform their duty.
The Riksdag is also working with pandemic-related policy at EU level, as well as working with regular EU-related matters.
EU matters form an integrated part of the Riksdag´s work and all 349 members of parliament are actively involved. This means that the parliamentary committees already play a key role in the early stages of the EU's decision-making process. The Government consults the Riksdag's Committee on European Union Affairs prior to its meetings in the Council of Ministers and the European Council, but the 15 committees are involved in EU matters in their respective areas of policymaking. The Chamber is also important, particularly when it comes to creating transparency and public debate on EU matters.
While the 15 parliamentary committees held deliberations with the Government on EU-related matters to approximately the same extent as in 2020, the Committee on EU Affairs met close to 50 per cent more than in 2019 due to an increased number of meetings – often related to the pandemic – at EU level.
Talking about the Riksdag and the EU, I would like to mention the preparations for 2023 when Sweden will hold the presidency of the EU. During these six months, the Riksdag will take on the responsibility for developing political debate about urgent matters from a common European and parliamentary perspective. We will create arenas where parliamentarians from member states, candidate countries and the European Parliament will be able to discuss current EU matters.
We have begun planning the Riksdag's participation in the presidency, aiming at hosting seven conferences in Sweden, and together with the European Parliament hosting one in Brussels.
A cornerstone of the Swedish view of EU affairs is respecting fundamental rights and the rule of law as core principles of a functioning democracy and of central importance to EU cooperation. Current developments in the area of the rule of law in our Union are worrying and, consequently, we support efforts to further strengthen, promote and defend the non-negotiable principle of rule of law in the EU.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, difficult decisions have been made in order to stop and prevent the virus from spreading. These decisions have limited the freedoms and rights of EU citizens and it is important that these measures are followed up and evaluated. It is also important to highlight and problematise the spread of disinformation, while respecting the freedom of speech and information.
Parliament is at the heart of a democracy. Nurturing and developing democracy is an important task for us, even more so during hard times like this pandemic. By doing this, I believe both democracy and society will stand strong again after the pandemic.
Between 2018 and 2022, the Riksdag is celebrating 100 years of Swedish democracy within the framework of the democracy jubilee, and 2021is in several respects the most important of these years. In September 2021, one century will have passed since women were allowed for the first time to vote and to be candidates for parliamentary election, and this will be celebrated during the week of the opening of parliament.
Meanwhile, we are as parliamentarians and as citizens will be doing our utmost to contribute in the efforts being made every day.
The floor is now open to questions or comments.