Talmannen höll den 12 februari ett tal vid den mottagning för diplomatiska kåren som hölls med anledning av den utrikespolitiska debatten.
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Honourable members of the Riksdag,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to bid you a warm welcome to this annual reception in the former Second Chamber. It served as the Chamber of the directly elected lower house of the Swedish Parliament until 1970. In 1971, the bicameral system was abandoned and a single chamber was introduced.
With that said about our history, let us move on to today's business. It is a great honour to see so many representatives of the diplomatic corps, who are here today to meet with members of Parliament and senior officials of the Riksdag Administration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I understand the crucial role you play in contacts between the Swedish Parliament and your governments. I greatly appreciate the fact that you were willing to take the time to be here this evening and to attend the foreign policy debate at the Swedish Parliament earlier today.
As you know, the foreign policy debate is held in February every year. It always starts with the Government's foreign policy priorities for the coming year, set out in the Statement of Foreign Policy. In the following debate you also had the opportunity to listen to all of the parties in the Swedish Parliament. I think this gave you a good overview of the foreign policy issues currently heading the agenda here in Sweden.
Travel priorities and objectives
As Speaker I consider it an important part of my role to keep up good relations with my colleagues both in Europe and in the rest of the world. During my visits I want to promote parliamentary cooperation and exchange of experience, political dialogue on a wide variety of topics, support democratic development with all its components – free and fair elections, human rights, including women's rights and LGBT rights, and the rule of law – and I also want to support the process of bringing not least the countries of the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkans closer to the European Union. As you know, we would have welcomed if the EU had opened membership negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
Last year, the Deputy Speakers and I visited 24 countries. Tomorrow, I am going to Estonia to give just one further example. I also look forward to welcoming at least the Speakers of Moldova, Switzerland, Poland, Austria, Portugal, Spain and Belgium during the year.
As I mentioned, gender equality is one of the issues we often discuss with our colleagues from other countries. A recent report from the Government to Parliament gives a snapshot of the situation of equality in the world for women and girls and gives examples of what Sweden's work has contributed to in various areas.
The Swedish Parliament notes, among other things, that Sweden is probably one of the strongest voices in the world for equality and women's and girls' rights. That is very important, not least in the light of the current resistance to gender equality work in some countries, and a shrinking democratic space in others.
The Swedish Parliament also emphasises that respect for human rights, democracy and the principles of the rule of law should continue to be one of the main priorities in all aspects of foreign policy and permeate all policy areas.
Challenges in Europe and the world
There is no doubt that both Europe and the rest of the world face great challenges.
These are about the tangible effects brought on by climate change. They are about the fact that the number of people fleeing from their homes is at the highest level since World War II. They are about the dangerous situation in the Middle East. They are about the threats to the European security order and the disrespect for borders and territorial integrity. They are about a growing distrust in the ability of politics to solve all these difficulties. They are about information warfare and xenophobia.
We need functioning platforms in order to be able to solve situations that arise between regions and states – not only when it comes to migration and refugees, terrorism, crises and conflicts – but also to handle, for example, health issues, such as the Corona virus. We feel deeply for the Chinese people and their struggle to cope with the consequences of the virus.
More than ever before, we need a strong multilateral system to empower governments to address these challenges effectively. In this world of instability and insecurity the United Nations is still the premier multilateral institution for global governance. This year we will celebrate the UN turning 75. There is great support in Sweden for multilateralism and the UN's role in promoting world peace. Many Swedes have contributed to the work of the UN, not least Dag Hammarskjöld who was Secretary-General in 1953-1961, and who – as you all know – died during a mission. The circumstances surrounding his death remain to be clarified.
Multilateralism is also important when we are talking about free trade. We need well-functioning organisations to promote and develop free trade. As we all know, free trade benefits both the exporter and the importer.
The European Union and Brexit
The European Union is very important tool for Swedish foreign policy. It is in our great interests to care for this tool in order to ensure that it remains sharp, and to promote unity and leading by example. This means that foreign policy needs to begin at home.
We have on the EU agenda a number of complex issues which have stirred intense internal debate. This is only natural, but we must remember that others will listen to us only where and when we find common ground. Unity requires compromises – with one exception. In order to be globally credible, we must stand firm on the fundamental values of democracy and rule of law, on which there can be no compromise. In this area, member states trust each other to reach for the highest possible standards. Only from that position can we urge others to follow our example.
The essence of foreign policy should be the art of nurturing good relations with countries in our neighbourhood and beyond. In this respect, we have a new challenge to embrace; to find a new framework for our good relations with the United Kingdom. From a Swedish perspective, it is regrettable that the arena for relations with the United Kingdom has shifted from the internal EU sphere to the external sphere of foreign policy. Regret will however not serve any purpose. Only hard work and good intentions will.
I think it is of great importance for both the EU Member States and for the UK that we maintain close contacts and continue to work together on many issues, for example free trade and security in Europe. A well organised Brexit will create opportunities for a close relationship also after the divorce.
As the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, it is natural for me to underline the importance of national parliaments also in the context of the European Union. In order to further strengthen the Swedish Parliament as an arena for EU discussion, a debate between party leaders on EU affairs was held for the first time on 13 November last year. The debate will re-occur annually and is one way for the Riksdag to contribute to increased openness and commitment to the EU dimension in Swedish politics.
Democratic development cooperation beginning in 2020
Ladies and gentlemen,
It has now been decided that the Swedish Parliament will initiate democratic development cooperation with one or two parliaments in the Eastern Partnership or the Western Balkans, beginning in 2020. Which country or countries has not yet been decided. The main objective of this cooperation is to strengthen democratic institutions and promote democratic values and it will include both MPs and parliamentary officials.
The focus will be mutual exchange concentrating on building relations between parliaments, decision-making, strengthened processes and administration, and exchange of experience between parliamentarians. Central issues will be strengthening democratic institutions, promotion of human rights, gender equality, the importance of opposition, openness, transparency, parliamentary control and the legislative role of parliaments.
The Swedish Parliament celebrates democracy 100 years
As you may know, the Swedish Parliament has decided to highlight and commemorate the fact that 100 years have passed since the advent of democracy in Sweden. This is being celebrated between 2018 and 2022 through the Democracy Centenary initiative. In 1918 the Swedish Parliament took the decision in principle to introduce universal and equal suffrage and in 1922 the first five women finally entered Parliament. That means that there are reasons to celebrate and commemorate throughout this Parliamentary term.
The purpose of the jubilee is to generate engagement and understanding of the importance and development of democracy in Sweden in a historical perspective, and for the future. This will also increase knowledge of the process of democratisation and the role of the Swedish Parliament, both historically and today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The floor is now yours for any questions you may have. Let me also add that I will stay for the reception afterwards and that I will remain there as long as there is any of you left who wants to talk to me. I will be the last man standing.
Thank you very much for your attention.