Statement by Lena Hjelm Wallén
"Common Experiences - Common Perspectives"
10 Years of Austrian Membership in the EU
Vienna, 25 and 26 February 2005
Lena Hjelm Wallén
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, 1994-1998
Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Committee for Labour Immigration
Roger de Weck:
Mich würde sehr interessieren, Frau Hjelm Wallén, was ist die Diskussion in Schweden seit Ihrem Beitritt, was sind die Vorteile, was sind die Nachteile, und wie hat sich die Öffentlichkeit entwickelt?
Well, thank you very much. Yes, of course, I will represent Sweden in some way. Well, I have a background of twenty years as Minister in the Swedish Cabinet, so I think I know the feelings, but now I am outside the Cabinet, so I can speak more freely.
May I say that I am impressed by what the European Union or what we, so to say, have achieved during the ten years since Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the Union. I mean really that we can be proud of our Union. But that doesn't mean that we can lean back and stop working on the European project. It must develop all the time. And there are also reasons that are worrying and I am worried about certain things.
The EU is questioned by the public opinion in many European countries. And even in countries where you have a very positive public opinion a lot of people have a lack of interest or they are not engaged. What worries me is the huge gulf between the reserve of ordinary citizens towards the European Union and the engagement, not to say the enthusiasm of the political establishment. I will come back to that, but first allow me to point out certain areas where I really think the Union has been successful.
First, of course, the peaceful cooperation in Europe. To strive for close cooperation and resolve disputes peacefully is in a way so obvious that well, we forget about that very important principle and building block for creating the genuine European cooperation. But let's remember that ten years ago the war in ex-Yugoslavia continued to create of course a lot of death and suffering, and since then we in Europe have succeeded in resolving the unavoidable conflicts between us in a peaceful and civilized manner: That goes for the EU countries but also for the countries we cooperate with. You can say that the only remarkable exception is Russia and the violent conflict in Chechnya.
My second remark is that I think the EU has been very instrumental in the process to unite Europe and of course that is the welcoming attitude to new Members, the so-called enlargement process. Above that Europe has contributed to the process towards democracy in the former communist countries. Membership criteria such as democracy, rule of law and social market economy have promoted this process and it has been instrumental in strengthening the democratic forces in the former communist countries. The whole process has been more speedy. The earlier so divided Europe is today a continent of 25 and will be more countries that cooperate peacefully as democratic member states, and that is in itself a fantastic achievement.
Thirdly, in my view the European foreign security policy has developed rather positive. Of course, there are a lot of complications, vested interests, hidden agendas, when the earlier 15 and now the 25 member states try to find compromises in order to implement a common foreign security policy. But when these 25 countries unite, they constitute a great force in international affairs. Even if there still are differences among the European countries - a fact that sometimes weakens the common policy, just think about Iraq. The cooperation is improving day by day, and I think that we have to take into account that the European Security and Foreign Policy is a matter of intergovernmental cooperation. No country can be forced to support or participate in any activity against its will. And to get the willingness of 25 states to do the same is rather tricky in itself, but it is done very, very often and I think that against this background I am impressed by the results.
Four: Europe I think has played a very important role also worldwide when it comes to international solidarity. The political responsibility in this field is vast and covers development cooperation – both humanitarian issues and long standing agreements -support to free trade worldwide, focus on conflict prevention, crisis management, rule of law, human rights, democracy and so forth. We have also very strong feelings and support towards the United Nations and its agencies. Of course, more could have been done in this field, but I think that the EU and its member states have shown their responsibility that the world is entitled to expect from this rather wealthy club of democratic states.
I want also to mention environment. This is an area where very few oppose international cooperation and of course we have to work closely together. Europe has taken sustainable development seriously, and we have better laws and standards now than ten years ago and we have also been very active internationally - just remember the discussion about the Kyoto Protocol.
The fight for economic growth and the fight against unemployment have shown progress and this is a rather new area for the Union, for the Member States to cooperate within the Union. I think it is very, very important to get the understanding from the public opinion to also be involved in this area. But there have been a lot of promises that have not been fulfilled. I won't say we should in the first place blame the EU for this, because mainly it is each Member State that has the responsibility for the economic and social policy. Anyhow, the governments must use the EU as an instrument for their cooperation in this area, and the EU could continue to take decisions about targets, and then it is through national efforts that these targets can be achieved.
The Lisbon Process, as it is called, is, well an unusual EU decision making process, where we use the peer pressure, benchmarking, sharing best practices and so forth. The decisions still lie with the Member States. So this is a sector that is more complicated than the other ones in this mixture, but I think it needs a lot of political commitment, more than we have shown in this area before, to achieve the targets for economic, social and environmental sustainable development, and see that these three areas reinforce each other.
Here it is also important to say that the completion of the internal market is something very important. Then we have the free movement and the fantastic opportunities that it has given all of us when it comes to travelling, studying, working abroad. But also in this area we must be aware that this freedom can be used in an undesirable way by elements for trans boundary crimes. So a decisive action must be taken. Europe must equip itself with stronger muscles to fight such crimes.
And last, I shouldn't continue to say a lot of areas but let me also mention the common currency, the Euro. Of course, that is a fantastic result of the integration process and it makes our life easier. I am convinced that the common currency in the long run will result in a European sentiment. I do hope that even reluctant Swedes will realize the benefit of the Euro. I don't know when, but some time.
Finally, I want to say something that worries me also. What worries me is that Europe is difficult to understand for ordinary citizens. It’s a special structure, it's far away, sometimes language problems. So, what has been said about "Communicate Europe" is very, very important. And sometimes we have too many promises that can't be fulfilled. That is always very difficult in political life. And it is also so that the Union now and then makes regulations that are too detailed, that can't be adapted to what is the normal culture in our countries.
I think that the Union must deliver what it promises, that is number one. I think that we must stop using a lot of special European or EU language that alienates people from the whole project. We must still be more open within the European Union and I think we have to involve the national politicians much more. So, this is something that we have to do. And let me also say that in the way we develop the European Union, we shouldn't love the European Union so much that we put too much into it, and that through our love we harm the Union.