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En utskrift från Dagens Nyheter, 2023-02-07 15:53

Artikelns ursprungsadress: https://www.dn.se/debatt/we-are-determined-about-safeguarding-the-eu-s-openness-to-the-rest-of-the-world/

DN DEBATT

DN Debatt. ”We are determined about safeguarding the EU’s openness to the rest of the world”

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown the power of European cooperation, writes Minister for EU Affairs Hans Dahlgren (Swedish Social Democratic Party).
Foto: Roger Turesson

DN DEBATT 29/3.

Minister for EU Affairs Hans Dahlgren (Swedish Social Democratic Party): In the long run, discussions in the EU about strategic autonomy may have a huge impact on many people’s daily lives.

The Swedish Government will work actively to strengthen EU cooperation without jeopardising the single market’s fundamental principles of openness, innovation and free trade.

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When the EU leaders met on Thursday in the European Council, they discussed a number of initiatives to increase the EU’s autonomy with respect to the rest of the world. The Government’s position on the matter is clear – EU cooperation can and should be strengthened in a number of areas to meet the challenges of the future. But political initiatives to that end should only be used with careful consideration, and on a case-by-case basis.

The latest buzzword in EU circles is strategic autonomy. The term has been around for quite a while, but now – in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – it has been the subject of increasingly intensive discussion. It was raised in several discussions at the meeting of EU leaders in the European Council on Thursday, and it will also be a key subject in future negotiations between EU Member States.

We now see a need to recall these fundamental pillars of our union, particularly when talk turns to sweeping State aid and new trade barriers.

In simple terms, it is about attempting to reduce Europe’s dependence on the rest of the world in a number of areas through political initiatives. Some countries – with France in the vanguard – are pursuing this issue on a broad front. There is talk of creating an EU that can be a significant power in the global arena in its own right, on a par with the US and China. These ideas have a bearing on most policy areas, but perhaps primarily on industry and digitalisation, trade and security.

As these discussions now become more concrete, it is possible to more clearly discern a number of risks involved in initiatives that go too far, even if they are based on the essentially positive goal of strengthening the EU. In EU contexts, Sweden has always emphasised fundamental values such as innovation, competition and openness to the rest of the world. We now see a need to recall these fundamental pillars of our union, particularly when talk turns to sweeping State aid and new trade barriers.

But we must not ignore the added value that is created by strong and dynamic European cooperation. The twists and turns surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have shown how tightly interwoven the countries of Europe are. Even though it was one of the arguments used by those in favour of Brexit for leaving the EU, we do not believe that the UK will be able to ‘take back control’ now that they have left. They will continue to see their room for manoeuvre restricted, quite simply because trade and cooperation are predicated on agreements.

The very phrase strategic autonomy probably raises more questions than it answers in terms of its political implications.

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown how dependent we are on our European neighbours. And it has illustrated the power of European cooperation. It has highlighted the possibilities we have to jointly tackle the most serious of problems. There are many lessons to be learned for the future: the awareness of what we can achieve together, but also the need for openness towards each other and the rest of the world.

Political initiatives of the kind now being discussed may appear rather abstract. The very phrase strategic autonomy probably raises more questions than it answers in terms of its political implications. But this is an important issue that may have a huge impact on many people’s daily lives. From the Swedish Government’s point of view, there are five primary areas in which initiatives can be taken to build a stronger EU that remains open to the rest of the world.

1 The green transition. Sweden cannot stop the ongoing climate crisis on its own. Only together, through the EU, can we push for a global transition of our societies to climate neutrality. Through good framework conditions and selective support to sectors where the market cannot invest on its own, we can create the conditions for the next stage of green technology development. Battery manufacturer Northvolt’s establishment in Skellefteå and Västerås is a good example of this. The same goes for Hybrit, the Luleå-based carbon-free steel production project. Northvolt and Hybrit are prime examples of how State aid can be used in a smart and effective way to realise the green transition.

2 Digital development. Sweden and the EU have long been at the absolute forefront of development in the digital area. Now we risk falling behind. For the Spotifys, Klarnas or Minecrafts of the future to emerge, the right conditions have to be in place. We need to ensure that this happens in Sweden, but also on a broad front in the EU. This is why we are investing in broadband expansion and connected systems, as well as research and development in artificial intelligence. Nor can we close ourselves off to the rest of the world in the digital realm. It must be possible for data to flow across national borders, both within the EU and with partners around the world. But we also need to strengthen our capacity within the EU by creating a true digital single market that promotes innovation and progress.

3 Enhanced crisis preparedness. We will certainly encounter new crises in the future, and we need to be able to cope. Many will probably remember the state of near panic that descended last spring, as rumours spread of certain goods running low in the shops. The pandemic has exposed how vulnerable some of our supply chains are. Many vital goods are produced far beyond Sweden’s and the EU’s borders – and reach us on a ‘just-in-time’ basis. For this reason, we are now expanding the EU’s joint stores of important resources such as PPE and medicines. But it is impossible to know what the next crisis will be, and what resources will be needed. Supply chains must therefore be broadened, both inside and outside the EU’s borders.

4 Fair competition. If the single market is to function effectively for all EU citizens, companies must compete on a level playing field. We cannot allow companies from countries such as China to undercut Swedish and European jobs through hazardous working conditions and wage dumping. One effective way to counteract this is joint EU initiatives for knowledge, transition and increased competitiveness.

5 A stronger European voice. Our chances of influencing others are greater when we act together. For this reason, the EU’s foreign and security policy voice must be strengthened. When states commit abuses against their own people, or use weapons or economic pressure to threaten their neighbours, the EU must be able to act. By abolishing the need for unanimity in certain areas of foreign policy, the EU would be able to act more rapidly and more clearly. We also need to strengthen our capacity to manage our own security. But we must not forget that security cannot be built unilaterally. Deeper relations with others, including outside the EU, are necessary if we are to create a secure world – a common security.

By pressing for reforms in these five areas, I believe that we in Sweden can help build a stronger EU, while at the same time safeguarding the EU’s fundamental principles of openness, innovation and free trade. The Swedish Government will be proactive and constructive in the discussions of strategic autonomy that lie ahead. This is how we can best help ensure that the EU develops in a direction that meets the challenges of the future. But we will also remain adamant that the EU’s openness to the rest of the world must be safeguarded. This will give the EU every prospect of remaining a strong and positive power for the entire world in the future as well.