Prime Minister of Sweden

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Thank you, Mr President, for that very kind introduction. Mr Secretary General, distinguished members of the Assembly, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to Strasbourg, and giving me the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It is indeed a great honour and pleasure to meet members of parliaments from almost all over Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly has played an important role in Swedish politics. Many prominent Swedish politicians have gained their international experience here in Strasbourg at the Parliamentary Assembly.

This indeed is a time of challenges. International co-operation is challenged by the situation in the financial markets and by armed conflict. The financial markets are suffering great losses now, not only at a distance, across the Atlantic, but here in Europe. Many European countries are experiencing how the economic growth they had become used to is now coming to a halt. We see how financial institutions in various European countries are struggling with payments and loans. We see how ordinary people are becoming more and more careful, slowing their consumption and worrying about their savings. The fact that no country is unaffected by this is of course yet another illustration of how interdependent we have become. We are all highly integrated with one another.

That is true in Europe and the rest of the world. I still believe that we should keep our economies open and eliminate barriers restricting the free flow of trade and investments. This is not a task for the Council of Europe – it must focus on its core issues – however, the Council of Europe and all international organisations might suffer if the response to the financial crises were to include a general abandonment of international co-operation in favour of national solutions.

As Chancellor Merkel has pointed out, we must stand up for our commitments even in difficult times, and not let national trade policy considerations take precedence over respect for human rights and, I would add, democracy and international law.

International co-operation is also challenged by an armed conflict. The Council of Europe was created against a dark backdrop. It was built on the ruins after the Second Word War. It was built after years of unprecedented tyranny, oppression, racial persecution and genocide. All the values that had developed over the course of at least two centuries, since the age of enlightenment, had been violated.

The Council of Europe was created to make sure that we would never have to experience that again. And yet, in August two member states were in armed conflict with each other. We are facing a completely new situation – a situation that we would have considered inconceivable just a few months ago, a serious challenge to the very aim of the Council of Europe and the values it stands for.

Fundamental principles of international law have been violated, including the obligation to solve conflicts by peaceful means, the sovereignty of member states, and the right to territorial integrity. There have also been violations of specific commitments that member states of the Council of Europe entered into when they joined. The right of each state to decide freely how to shape its own future, including its own path in security policy matters, has been questioned.

We have seen, with deep concern, the escalation of violence on both sides in South Ossetia. However, no matter what has happened, the Russian decision to launch a large-scale military operation in Georgia cannot be justified under any circumstances. The military aggression and the Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are violations of all international law. If it wants to remain credible, the Council of Europe has to act. It is our responsibility to act when international law has been violated. This is the reason the Parliamentary Assembly has put Georgia at the top of the agenda.

The report of the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers from the informal extraordinary ministerial meeting in New York identifies important possible steps in addressing the situation: first, the establishment of enhanced monitoring by the Committee of Ministers of Georgia’s and the Russian Federation’s obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe; secondly, enhanced co-operation between the Council of Europe and Georgia and the Russian Federation respectively, in order to strengthen the implementation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law; and thirdly, support for the Human Rights Commissioner’s six principles for the urgent protection of human rights and humanitarian security. These measures will be of benefit both to the people affected and to the peace process. They will show that the Council of Europe is as relevant today as it was when it was founded. They should therefore have our support.

The Council of Europe has a unique role as a values-based organisation. Its core values – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – were clearly manifested from the outset, in the Statute of 1949. These values were also reaffirmed in the decisions of the Warsaw Summit in 2005.

Democracy and human rights are interdependent and necessary preconditions for each other. Full respect for human rights is possible only in democracies. Full respect for human rights is not possible without the rule of law. But democracy, human rights and the rule of law are also powerful factors in the economic and social development of every state.

This should not lead us to believe that Europe has always been a model to the world in these respects. Today, to be sure, almost all European states may be said to be democracies and to respect human rights, but let us not forget that in, say, 1980, this was true of only about half the states of Europe. A few decades earlier, in 1960, it was true of fewer than half. And again, in 1940, it was true of a mere handful.

The Council of Europe has formulated a model for European states by setting standards for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This is a great achievement.

Can we lean back and enjoy this success? My answer is no. The core values of the Council of Europe must constantly be reconquered, defended and developed. We must all consistently keep on working to promote the core values of the Council of Europe in societies that are not free and open. But by the same token, we must never forget to safeguard them in our own societies, so that they are not abused and forgotten.

When Sweden chaired the Committee of Ministers in the 1990s, we were living in a different world. The old Soviet empire was crumbling. Many new member states were knocking at the door of the Council of Europe. Yugoslavia was falling apart and the wars were to come. At that time, the Council of Europe consisted of only about 20 member states, as opposed to 47 today. The outcome of the collapse of the Soviet Union was uncertain. The new democracies were often fragile. They needed help and guidance to create the structures necessary for a peaceful transition. At that point, the Council of Europe, and not least the Parliamentary Assembly, made an important strategic choice between inclusion and exclusion. It did not demand that those states lived up to all the standards of the Council of Europe before becoming members. It welcomed them into the family and supported them in building functioning democratic states based on the principles of human rights and the rule of law.

Has that strategic choice been a success? Yes and no. In many countries, it has been a tremendous success. A wave of democratisation swept across Europe in the 1990s. Many countries have developed positively and are now well-functioning democracies. The credit for that goes mainly to the countries themselves. However, the Council of Europe has played a significant part in the process by highlighting the values upon which European states are based.

In some other countries, developments have been less positive. Elections can still hardly be said to be free and fair. The judiciary is sometimes less than independent of the administration. That is a challenge to the very core of the Council of Europe and to its credibility. Both parliamentarians and governments will have to address that issue, regardless of geopolitical considerations.

In that context, we must continue our efforts to contribute to democratic development in Belarus, but the key to that development lies in the hands of the Belarusian leadership. The Council of Europe is willing to help and has the tools. What we need is a clear signal that the country is moving in the right direction, so it is unfortunate that the elections this Sunday showed that the Belarusian leadership is not ready to send that signal.

Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the EU played a significant role in how the new democracies developed in the 1990s. Both those organisations have the same roots in the endeavour to rebuild Europe on the rubble of the Second World War. They work together for the same goal.

Let me assure you again of Sweden’s continued support for further EU enlargement. That process has been a powerful driving force for political, legal and economic reforms in Council of Europe member states. It will continue to be so.

Let me turn to an issue currently facing the Council of Europe. The European Convention and the European Court of Human Rights are the greatest achievements of the Council of Europe. The Court’s task is not only to enable individuals to seek justice at an individual level. It also has a central role in bringing about reforms in member states.

I grew up in a society which had been living in peace for a couple of centuries. The principles and values of the Council of Europe were almost taken for granted, or so we thought. When the creation of the Council of Europe was discussed in the Swedish Parliament, one member asked “Haven’t we got enough international ladies’ sewing circles already?” The foreign minister in that debate concluded that the convention would have hardly any immediate practical effects in Sweden. However, the Court has taught us on several occasions that we too have homework to do. It has helped Sweden to develop our protection of human rights and the rule of law.

The work of the Court is of the utmost importance to the role of the Council of Europe in the field of human rights. We all know too well that the Court is burdened by an excessive and increasing work load. Increasing the financial resources available to the Court will not solve the problem. It is also important to carry out reforms in the work of the Court. That issue concerns the credibility of the entire Council of Europe. The coming into effect of Protocol No. 14 is only the first step towards necessary reform of the Court. Thus I urge the Russian Duma to approve Protocol No. 14, as all the other 46 member states have done. If we do not get assurances that the protocol will enter into force in the near future, member states will have to consider other ways to solve the problem.

Through its norms, its institutions and its wide membership, the Council of Europe is a unique and powerful forum for co-operation. As members of the Council of Europe, we must see to it that we make full use of its capacity and opportunities.


Thank you very much, Mr Reinfeldt, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you.

I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.

I will allow supplementary questions only at the end and only if time permits.

The first question is from Mr Sasi, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr SASI (Finland)

The ecological state of the Baltic Sea is not very good at the moment and there are new risks such as traffic and oil transport. What are the Swedish priorities in order to clean up and protect the Baltic Sea?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

Thank you for that question. As we all know, the Baltic Sea is facing serious environmental problems, including nitrification, over-fishing, the risk of oil spills and alien invasive species arriving in ballast water and causing habitat destruction. The Swedish Government has a clear ambition. Its national policy on the Baltic Sea is to preserve and, if necessary, restore the eco-systems of the sea.

With others, Sweden is working on a socio-economic report that is a bit like the Stern report on climate change, but linked to the Baltic Sea. We are taking measures regarding the sectors that emit the most phosphorus and nitrogen, the main causes of nitrification in the Baltic Sea. We are also investigating the possibility of introducing trading schemes for phosphorus and nitrogen linked to the Baltic Sea.

Last year, members of the Helsinki Commission – HELCOM – adopted the HELCOM Baltic Sea action plan and next year the Swedish Government will present its bid to reach the Swedish targets that have been given to us. I believe that the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region that is under preparation by the European Commission will be an important tool for bringing about closer and more focused co-operation in areas of key concern to our region, not least on the environment. The adoption of this new strategy for the Baltic Sea region will definitely be a priority of the Swedish presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2009.


Thank you. I call Mrs Däubler-Gmelin, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mrs DÄUBLER-GMELIN (Germany) (interpretation)

thanked Mr Reinfeldt for his speech and in particular for discussing the difficulties surrounding the Court of Human Rights and the failure of Russia to approve Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention of Human Rights on the Convention’s control system. Could Mr Reinfeldt update the Assembly on the progress of negotiations with Russia and set out any alternative approach the Committee of Ministers had discussed?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

Thank you for that question. The European Court of Human Rights is of the utmost importance to the Council of Europe’s future for its work on human rights, the rule of law and democracy, as I pointed out in my speech. The entry into force of Protocol No. 14 is of vital importance, as it would lead to significant efficiency gains for the Court. It also provides for European Union accession to the European Convention on Human Rights – something that has been very important in the debate in Sweden. Since the adoption of the protocol in 2004, the Committee of Ministers has consistently underlined the need for its entry into force, either through communiqués adopted at its ministerial sessions or through statements by its successive chairs. That is the current status. The Swedish chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers is indeed taking this issue very seriously. Foreign Minister Bildt has in different ways, but also directly in a letter to the President of the Russian Federation, made it clear that the need for ratification is urgent.

Regarding a plan B, Protocol No. 14 is the best solution available to us and we must concentrate on it. However, in the interests of the Court, the Organisation clearly cannot afford to wait indefinitely. Protocol No. 14 was intended to equip the court to deal more effectively with this task, and for as long as it fails to enter into force, the potential advantages are of course lost, to the potential detriment of the system of human rights protection. If the protocol is not ratified by all member states, the countries that want to see an efficient Court will have to move on and find another way forward, as I also mentioned in my speech.


Thank you. I call Mr Østergaard, who speaks on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.


The arrival of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers by boat on Europe’s southern shores has become a regular phenomenon. In 2007 alone, more than 51 000 persons arrived on the coasts of Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta. There are grounds for international action and reaction as regards the situation concerning these European boat people. First, I am concerned that search and rescue missions are inadequate, resulting in the loss of life. Secondly, the conditions in detention for many boat people once they arrive in Europe have many shortcomings. Thirdly, there is the question of refugee resettlement. Sweden has a long-standing record as a country that takes interest and pride in showing solidarity with the many thousand refugees and migrants in the world and their rights. Do you agree that the situation on Europe’s southern shores demands a common European answer and will you be willing to promote such actions during the Swedish presidency of the Committee of Ministers?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

Thank you very much for that question. The situation on Europe’s southern shore demands a common European answer. It is essential that external border control does not infringe the principle of non-refoulement by preventing persons fearing persecution or who are otherwise in need of international protection from applying for asylum in member states. All intercepted and rescued persons must be treated at all times in a humane manner respectful of their human rights and must not be subject to discriminatory treatment on the basis of any grounds, such as sex, race, ethnic or social background or religion. All operational activities at sea must be conducted in full compliance with relevant legislation as well as with the existing provisions of international law in areas such as the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights. We are of course addressing these issues in the European Union, and it will be one of the main topics of the upcoming European Council in October.


Thank you. I call Mr Kox, who speaks on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

I have two questions about three persons. First, on Carl Bildt, what made the Swedish Government decide not to send him to this part-session after he already failed to go to Moscow in due time? Is there anything behind that? Secondly, I want to ask about two persons who most of us do not know – Mr Agiza and Mr Alzery – who are victims of Swedish rendition and CIA torture in Egypt. Will the Swedish Government, as a fierce promoter of human rights, support an independent investigation into what happened to these two poor people?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

Thank you for that question. On the two citizens of Egypt, they have received damages payments through a court ruling equivalent to 3 million Swedish crowns each. That decision was taken only a couple of weeks ago. However, the Swedish Government has not decided on that issue.

As well as myself today, many ministers from my Cabinet have been here on, I think, three occasions during our presidency. I can assure you that Foreign Minister Bildt takes the task of chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe very seriously. My government has prepared and carried out a programme of priorities in line with the decision taken at the Warsaw Summit and we strive to achieve concrete results. The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Foreign Minister Bildt, actively contributed to a successful ministerial session in June, with good participation at political level. In his capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, he has made declarations on issues of political relevance to the Council of Europe. He has carried out his responsibility as chairman to react to the conflict between the Russian Federation and Georgia and within Georgia. He made declarations sending clear messages on the need for a cease-fire and a peaceful settlement, as well as on other urgent aspects of the conflict, including the humanitarian situation. He also visited Georgia, and he intended to visit Moscow. Furthermore, he took the initiative of holding an unprecedented informal meeting of foreign ministers of Council of Europe member states in order to have a discussion about the conflict at political level and to get guidance on the action to be taken by the Committee of Ministers. The meeting, in New York, was very well attended.

The Chairman has made his report to the meeting today and his summing up of the discussions is available to you, as he wanted to be sure that you were fully informed about his considerations and actions and the outlook for the near future with regard to the Council of Europe. As Mr Bildt had to carry out a high-level obligation in his capacity as Foreign Minister of Sweden earlier this week, it was physically impossible for him to come here at a point that would suit your work. Mr Frank Belfrage, who is State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, gave a full oral report to you on Tuesday and answered your questions. The Minister of Integration and Gender Equality, Mrs Nyamko Sabuni, contributed to your debate yesterday and met members of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. As I have mentioned, several other ministers are taking part in events organised within the framework of the Swedish chairmanship, to which, of course, the Assembly has been invited.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

Mr Prime Minister, in your speech, you implicitly admitted that our life’s work is a permanent attempt to find proper answers to various challenges. One such concrete challenge is the German-Russian Nord Stream pipeline project. It is understandable for economic reasons, but very controversial from the ecological point of view. What is your position, and the position of Sweden, on the issue, given what you have said about the Baltic Sea problems?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

Sweden considers the issue to be strictly judicial. The application to construct the pipeline will be processed in accordance with the relevant international conventions and Swedish legislation. The impact on the vulnerable Baltic Sea, referred to in your question on the environment, is of overriding importance. The issue must therefore be examined carefully. The application from Nord Stream has so far been incomplete. Key information is missing, and we have therefore requested additional information. That is the situation today.

Mrs HURSKAINEN (Finland)

The Swedish presidency included, in its programme of priorities, the need to encourage democratic developments in Belarus and to examine further the possibility of dialogue between the Council of Europe and Belarus. Mr Prime Minister, how do you see the situation in Belarus after Sunday’s election, and what kind of measures should the Council of Europe take to support democratic development in that country?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

Thank you for that question. Promoting democratic development in Belarus is, of course, a concern in Europe. At the Warsaw Summit in 2005, Heads of State and the governments of Council of Europe member states indicated that they looked forward to a day when Belarus would be ready to join the Council of Europe, and that remains valid. That will require the Belarusian authorities to show concrete political signs of their will to abide by Council of Europe values relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. A positive step in that direction was the release in August of Mr Alyaksandr Kazulin, a former candidate in the presidential elections of 2006, and of Mr Andrey Kim and Mr Syarhey Parsyukevich. However, the elections held in Belarus on 28 September 2008 fell short of the relevant international standards, as was noted by observers from the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe.

It is highly regrettable that the significant progress that was hoped for in the democratic development of Belarus did not materialise in those elections. The elections clearly demonstrate the need for continued support for democratic forces, a free media and civil society in that country, and it demonstrates that the international community should strive to enhance engagement, dialogue and contacts with Belarus.


asked about the Nord Stream pipeline. He had been surprised to hear the announcement by the United States Ambassador to Sweden, who had been critical of the ecological impact of the pipeline. What discussion had there been in government about the ecological impact? How significant was the arsenal of sunken weapons at the bottom of the Baltic Sea to the pipeline?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

We took note of that letter from the American Ambassador, and as I stated in my answer to the question regarding Nord Stream, when members ask what discussions we are having in government, we stick to pointing out that the issue is a judicial matter. In Swedish society as a whole, one can see a lot of political declarations linked to Nord Stream, stating different environmental risks, and pointing out security policy matters and other issues. We think that that is important. In my country, we base our actions on the rule of law. We want trade that is based on the rule of law, and we want to act in accordance with the law so that countries with whom we are engaged do likewise. That is why we say that the arrangement will be tested against international conventions and national legislation in Sweden. That is our position, but to be able to do that, we need a better suggestion from the consortium, and we do not have that today.

Mr BIBERAJ (Albania)

I want to ask you about EU enlargement, especially following the referendum in Ireland. How do you see the integration of western Balkan countries in the EU and in NATO?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

First of all, Sweden is not a member of NATO, and we should therefore not tell NATO what to do. We are a member of the European Union, however. I think that it is true to say that, within the European Union, Sweden is one of the strongest voices for enlargement of the European Union. That has been the case throughout history, and we are still very positive about the effects in Europe that would result from the ongoing enlargement process. That is of course very much linked to the situation in Turkey, and it is also very true of the situation in Croatia, where negotiations will come to an end in the very near future.

We think that it is very important for the rest of the Balkans – and other countries that border the European Union that would like to see such a process started – to have a European perspective. I say that because it will be important for those who are pro-enlargement to speak up in years to come, in a Europe where we now have very different views on whether the European Union should enlarge, or whether there are already enough EU countries. My answer is that what worked very well to create a democratic Europe based on a market economy is still the answer for those who are outside the European Union, but who want to come in. That is a very good way to build the Europe of tomorrow.

Mr BÉTEILLE (France) (interpretation)

said that in May 2008 the French presidency had presented its priorities for the next six months to the Committee of Ministers. One of these priorities was the promotion of democracy. Democracy meant more than just putting a vote in the ballot box and they had been keen to promote a deeper level of democracy.

The recent outbreak of nationalist violence was indicative of the need for deepening democracy. What steps were being taken by Sweden to fulfil its commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

As I pointed out, this great institution has done a lot of good throughout history, but it also faces a lot of new challenges. A link to the core values that it stands for is definitely needed in future.

Of course, as mentioned, Sweden’s overall priority was to enhance the realisation of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In order to achieve that, we began several initiatives to strengthen the implementation of human rights, specifically addressing the situation of the Court, the rights of the child and the rights of disabled persons. The next priority is democracy and support for free and fair elections and a strong civil society. The final priority is the rule of law, which is closely related to human rights and democracy. That has been the path that we have followed during our presidency.

Mr HOLOVATY (Ukraine)

I return to the rendition case. Sweden has been widely criticised in this Assembly and in other international forums. It concerns the two Egyptians who were handed over to CIA agents in Stockholm in December 2001. They were flown to Cairo where they were subjected to torture. Will the Swedish Government initiate a full and impartial investigation of the case, including co‑operation between the United States and Swedish authorities in the preparation of that action?

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

This question is linked to the government before the one of which I am a member. The case has been widely discussed in Sweden, and decisions have been made about the payment of damages to the two Egyptian citizens. An investigation is ongoing as to whether they should be granted residence permits in Sweden.


My colleagues asked questions about refugees, but I have a specific question. What do you think about European policies on refugees from Iraq? I know that your country takes a great interest in Iraqi refugees.

Mr Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden

The links between Iraq and Sweden are quite strong. Some 1% of the inhabitants in Sweden are of Iraqi origin, which is quite a high proportion. Therefore it is very natural that we hosted the International Compact with Iraq Conference in Stockholm, which brought in many of the Iraqis we have in Sweden who are of course interested in developments inside Iraq. We would like to keep the liberal and open tradition that we have had for many years in Sweden, and we also wish to put in place a common asylum system for the European Union. The target for that is 2010, and will be a good way to ensure that everybody plays their part in welcoming people from outside the European Union.


Thank you for your statement, for taking questions and for answering those questions. In the last part-session in the period of Sweden’s presidency, I also wish to thank you for your presidency.