Prime Minister of Sweden

Speech made to the Assembly

Thursday, 1 October 1992

The Council of Europe occupies a special role for many Swedes – not least, many Swedish politicians. As you pointed out, Mr President, many of the more prominent representatives of different Swedish political parties spent an interesting and fruitful part of their political careers in this Chamber, which has for a long time provided a key link between Swedish and European political life.

The Council of Europe represents the highest principles of western and European political tradition and ideals. Over the years it has symbolised and, in both spirit and fact, proven itself the guarantor of the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Speaking here in the citadel of those high principles, it is only natural that I focus on how they relate to the broader issue of European construction.

For forty years, membership in the Council of Europe was restricted to a privileged set of nations. During Europe’s decades of artificial division, the Council of Europe was viewed with scorn and suspicion by the socialist dictatorships behind the iron curtain. The peoples of those countries thought otherwise. Once they were given a choice, they rallied to Strasbourg, and to the ideals that you all represent.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe now plays an important role in monitoring the development in countries that aspire to membership of the Council.

Sweden certainly welcomes the large number of countries that wish to join the Organisation, and hopes that they will meet the requirements for membership as soon as possible. We are particularly pleased that two of our immediate neighbours across the Baltic Sea – Estonia and Lithuania – are likely to be admitted early next year. I hope that our third Baltic neighbour, Latvia, will not be far behind. We are anxious also that the dialogue and co-operation that has been initiated between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation should allow that huge and always important European country to become a member as soon as the conditions are right.

Estonia and Latvia are unique among European states in a tragic sense which we should all be aware of, now that we are to welcome their Representatives as full members in this Chamber.

Among all European members of the old League of Nations in 1939, the three Baltic states were the only ones which did not regain their sovereignty after the war. The loss of independence meant that they also lost the power to control their futures and their destinies, including power over immigration which, in past decades, has been considered vital by each and every one of the states represented in this Assembly. As Soviet republics and parts of that empire, Estonia and Latvia were subjected to a massive influx of Russian immigrants, in particular in the 1950s and 1960s.

As we all know, there are numerous examples in the tragic history of Europe of one people or state expanding into the traditional territory of its neighbours. But in this century at least there is no case except Estonia and Latvia in which states with internationally recognised sovereignty have been occupied and colonised by immigration to such an extent that the Estonian and Latvian peoples cannot be sure that they will remain a secure majority, or even a majority at all, in their own states.

Now that Estonians and Latvians have finally re-established independence, it is to some extent understandable that they do not want to grant citizenship immediately and automatically to all immigrants having arrived during occupation, especially when those people do not want to abstain from citizenship of their country of origin which is now the Russian Federation. This could be seen in the light of the fact that their coming to these countries was part of a deliberate policy of occupation which had profound implications for the future of those nations.

Still, when we look at the facts, the Estonians have decided on a fairly generous course. The requirements for citizenship laid down so far in Estonia seem quite liberal in a European perspective. To the most important extent, it is easier for a citizen of Russia to become a citizen of Estonia than for a citizen of Russia to become a citizen of Sweden. Latvian law in that respect is still under active consideration and remains to be decided.

As for the situation of those Russian immigrants in Estonia and Latvia who will remain non-citizens – to a certain extent due to their own choice – for some time ahead, there is room for improvement in these countries and in particular with regard to their chances of participating fully and wholly in economic life. On the whole, however, it appears that Russian immigrants are now enjoying better rights than many other immigrant communities in other European states. For instance, they have publicly financed schools in their own language according to the same rules as the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian populations. Further, the Estonian Constitution grants the right to vote in local elections to non-citizens. That issue has been the subject of much controversy in some of the key countries of western Europe.

Seen from the perspective of the Russian immigrants in these countries, they understandably have a different perspective. They never really felt that they were moving abroad when they settled in Estonia or Latvia. They do not consider themselves immigrants at all and in some respects they are right. Most of them have no personal responsibility for the policies of the past Soviet regime, policies which to a certain extent forced them from Russia into the countries which they now regard as their countries – Estonia or Latvia. In many ways, they are victims of the barbarism of the Soviet system. Now, when they have lost the equal status with Estonians and Latvians which they used to enjoy by virtue of their common Soviet citizenship, they are disappointed and they feel insecure. Much statesmanship will be required in future to solve those problems. All that is part of the tragic legacy which expansionist empires usually leave behind when they finally crumble in the way that they always do.

I am confident that our Baltic neighbours will continue to deal with these problems in a way which fully respects the precepts of international law in general and the European Convention on Human Rights in particular. The Council of Europe has played an important role in easing recent tensions in the Baltic republics. The reports by the Political Affairs Committee are examples of a dispassionate analysis which serves to dispel misunderstandings that might otherwise be there. It is useful to remind governments as well as the public in the Baltic states that their human rights policies are closely watched by the international and European communities. It is also useful to reassure Russians of different political persuasions that their complaints are, and will continue to be, listened to by the international and European communities.

I am convinced that the long-overdue withdrawal of former Soviet troops from the Baltics will move our Baltic neighbours to pay increased attention to the needs of the Russians living in their societies. Such a policy would most certainly be politically wise and fair to the Russians as individuals.

My remarks have not dealt with the situation in Lithuania where Russian immigrants make up some 10% at most of the population. That may seem quite a large proportion in the wider European perspective, but it is less than one-third of the relative size of the Russian immigrant communities in Estonia and Latvia.

The rapid crumbling of the totalitarian regimes in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, have laid bare the urgent need for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It has also demonstrated again and anew the magnetism of these ideals.

Extending and consolidating those rights and ideals in Europe is one of the great political challenges of our times. It is a task where the Council of Europe has an essential contribution to make through the building and supporting of democratic institutions. In so doing, it can play its part in laying down the foundation for the effective order of peace, security and stability that we will all need in the times ahead.

In that regard, I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly in responding to the challenges and opportunities represented by the bridging of the east-west divide, I know that your President, Mr Martinez, together with his predecessor and my colleague in the Swedish Government, Mr Anders Björck, played an active part in the creation of the special guest status. That new concept was a timely initiative which provides parliamentarians of non-member states with valuable contacts and down- to-earth experience of how parliamentary democracy European-style really works.

The fall of communism in Europe and the new community of values heralds an enhanced and more important role for the Council of Europe. Its traditional tasks have been supplemented and elevated to active promotion and support for the building of democratic institutions and consolidating human rights in the reforming countries of Europe. Thanks to its unique competence in these and related areas, the Council of Europe is in this regard, in fact, Europe’s leading “software house” of democracy and the guardian of the rights of the individual.

Without well-functioning democratic institutions and true respect for human rights there will be no peace and stability in Europe. There was a time when it was possible to speak about peace and stability in Europe without mentioning freedom, democracy and human rights. There was even a time when in some countries it was seen as an affront to the cause of peace to speak about freedom. Those days are gone and those days must remain gone. We must always understand that we can never separate the cause of freedom and the course of democracy from the course of peace and the course of stability. There is no peace and there is no stability where there is no democracy and no respect for human rights. Today, that is the European consensus on which we are going to build the everlasting new European peace.

The Council of Europe has, as I have mentioned, a key function in this regard. It was mentioned especially in this respect in the Paris Charter and it was mentioned especially at the CSCE Helsinki Summit, in particular when it concerned the human dimension. That represents an important step forward in developing an organic relationship between the CSCE and the Council of Europe. That is indeed an objective that my country, Sweden, has consistently pursued.

Recently in the Yugoslav crisis there has been the need to dispatch a number of CSCE missions. The expertise of the Council of Europe should and could be included in some of those missions. In addition of course, there are the specific proposals about an international criminal court to deal with the obvious crimes against humanity that we are now seeing there. That proposal, now being considered by the international conference on the former Yugoslavia, might be another area where the Council of Europe, together with the CSCE, could make an important contribution.

Sweden has proposed that the Council of Europe should be asked to implement the CSCE support programme for new CSCE members where appropriate. I note with satisfaction that the Helsinki Summit decisions foresee common ventures with the CSCE in this direction.

The European Convention on Human Rights has rightly been called the jewel in the crown of the Council of Europe. As we look at this unique instrument we can take pride in being parties to the world’s most precise and advanced protection mechanism in the human rights field. The Commission and the Court are composed of Europe’s most prominent experts in this field. We should spare no effort to safeguard and develop this invaluable guardian of human rights.

I am saying this against the very special background that Sweden is seen by everyone as a true democracy and a country truly respecting human rights and freedoms. Even we have been closely guarded by these mechanisms, and even practices, laws and decisions in Sweden have been criticised by these institutions – I welcome that. Even those countries respecting human rights and freedoms need to be guarded when it comes to the details and when it comes to the fact that there should never be a possibility for any state, however democratic, to affront the rights of individuals. The institutions that are set up here in Strasbourg are an essential component of the European Convention on Human Rights that is so essential to the functioning of our society.

Human rights span a broad spectrum of fundamental issues. The collapse of communism has revealed an entirely new set of problems. One of them is the protection of minorities, which has lately surfaced as a pressing issue on the agenda of European politics. During the cold war we saw that security in Europe was dominated by military, strategic and geopolitical issues. Dormant tensions were subdued but certainly did not disappear. In the new Europe we see a resurgence of assertive and sometimes aggressive nationalism at its most horrific extremes. The situation in the former Yugoslavia illustrates the depth and the scope of such conflicts. Europe’s democracies must face up to their responsibilities in helping to create structures that can stem the tide of aggressive nationalism. With its special and unique role in human rights, the Council of Europe should renew its efforts in exploring ways and means of protecting minorities throughout Europe.

I think that it would be possible and necessary to go a step further. Immigrant communities established in the post-war years in many European countries certainly need our attention. In the Paris Charter for a New Europe there is a paragraph on migrant workers and our common concerns to protect and to promote their rights. Do not we all have a duty to keep this commitment in mind? Perhaps the Council of Europe, parallel to its efforts to explore ways of protecting minorities with historical settlement rights in different countries, might also devote some thought to the problems of the more recent immigrants in all our European countries. I have in mind not only migrant workers but individuals of different sorts who have moved to different countries in the past few decades and all of those in the years ahead who, for one reason or another, are likely to seek their future in a country other than the country of their birth. Many of them face problems to which we should be more attentive because they are an essential part of the European political agenda ahead.

In his important address before the Assembly in May of this year, President Mitterrand of France suggested convening heads of state and governments of the Council of Europe. I believe that a high-level meeting of that sort is both a challenge and an opportunity which naturally gives rise to expectations of concrete results. Hopes must not be dashed, and I suggest that some sort of preparatory committee be established at the earliest possible opportunity so that we can pave the way for a successful meeting with specific and concrete results. Such a meeting could also provide an opportunity for the Council of Europe to define its role in Europe’s evolving new architecture of different institutions. In a rapidly changing Europe there are many challenging perspectives and we all have to do some thinking on the future of the different European institutions in the new political landscape that we are confronting.

The centrepiece, the driving force, the engine and the core in the construction of a European peace and security order will obviously be the European Community that is now gradually evolving into an economic and monetary union and which is gradually developing a common foreign and security policy. As that develops it will acquire an ever greater potential for solving, alleviating and handling a lot of the problems and tensions that we shall face in the talks ahead. But however important that body will be, it will not be enough. In the broader economic sense, the EEA Agreement – the Agreement on the European Economic Area – defines an area of far-reaching economic integration between the countries of the European Community, the countries of EFTA and the other countries that will eventually be functioning with market economies in the same way as the present countries of EFTA. To bring the new stable market economies into the EEA would make them part of the European Economic Area.

An essential part of the new Europe is always, obviously, the CSCE, which defines what we might refer to as the European security area. It has a wide mandate to build security and co-operation in a very large number of countries, stretching into areas not traditionally defined as part of Europe.

The criteria for participation are not over-rigorous, but all countries in the CSCE are united in their search for security within the broadly defined European scene. We need a set of efficient and interlocking institutions which support each other in the tasks of the different nations and identities during the process of European reconstruction. The nations would then share and live up to the new challenges of European integration and to true and fundamental European values. But some countries are not yet ready for that, or in a position to join the CSCE.

The Council of Europe has a pan-European vocation in that regard. It is part of the European security order and it should continue to cultivate those areas where it has particular expertise and experience. It defines what might be called the European democratic area. It defines and refines the democratic area of Europe which is essential to the security of our continent.

Let us look at the possibilities ahead for the Council of Europe. Membership is increasing and many candidates are waiting in the wings. It is imperative that the Council goes forward but without lowering its standards and norms because they are the very essence of the Council of Europe’s function in the new Europe which is emerging.

We are experiencing a watershed in the history of our Europe. The old Europe – the Europe of the cold war, of the walls and of the barbed wire – has gone, never to reappear. The new Europe has not yet emerged. We are living through the transition from something which we knew and did not like to something which we have not yet built. There are tensions, question marks and problems, many of which are related to the uncertainties involving the task of building a new European order. That has been obvious in western Europe in the last few weeks, with the turmoils on the European and international financial markets. That has put a question mark on many of the plans and perspectives which have been outlined by political leaders. That issue has preoccupied the minds of politicians in western Europe and it shows the nature of the situation in Europe today. In the past it was possible to hide the social and economic weaknesses behind a barrier of regulation and restriction. That has gone. We all recognise the force of that type of European order. We have opened up our economies and there is a free flow of people, goods, services and capital across borders but we have not yet managed to establish the economic and monetary union that would give us stability in the enormous freedom that we have all decided to have.

A lot of the problems are caused by the transition from one stage to another. The longer the transition takes the more profound will be the problems. Some of the tensions are unavoidable in small local communities where customs have been undisturbed for decades or centuries. The sudden influx of people from different countries and different cultures is bound to cause tensions.

Out of the meeting of cultures, experiences and ideas will emerge something new which is richer and better. However, as we know from headlines across Europe, the risks of that progress developing into destruction and tension are obvious and the danger is in pulling something down that we should build up. New demands face us all as European politicians in defending our values, openness, humanity and respect for each and every individual, whatever country they come from or whatever religion they practise.

We are moving into a Europe in which it will be even more natural to move freely across the boundaries and borders of the past. In central, eastern and south-eastern Europe there is a danger of the forces of a red/brown political nature emerging. Aggressive nationalism is often the last bastion of communist forces who are trying to preserve what remains of their hold on the future. The risks are there if European integration does not move ahead. Only in that way will we be able to fight the forces of western nationalism and prevent Europe from sliding back into the problems, tensions and perhaps even the conflicts of the past.

I have always been a committed European and have become more so in the last few years. I am committed to the idea that many of the problems that we face can be solved only by increased co-operation between all of us. That has been demonstrated even more clearly in the past few years. We must work together. If we do not there is a risk of the problems of the past coming back to haunt us.

In the process of building new structures for the new Europe, the Council of Europe is of essential importance. The Council of Europe is and should be focusing on the practical issues, but it must also always remember that it is the very nucleus of European integration. This institution was set up after the war, inspired by statesmen such as Winston Churchill. It is the predecessor to everything that has happened since in western Europe. The Council is defining and refining the ideal of European democracy and it now has a chance to extend its democracy and rights to the whole of Europe. That is the task ahead for the Council of Europe. It is a task which is essential to the building of a future Europe.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your most interesting statement. I thank you particularly for your opinion about the rights of minorities, the situation in the Baltic states and the future of Europe. We support human rights in all the states of Europe.

Many members of the Assembly have expressed the wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions, and supplementary questions if they are asked, must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions and not making speeches.

I call Mr Güner.

Mr GÜNER (Turkey)

As you, Mr Prime Minister, so elegantly said, we are deeply concerned about the rise in racism, aggressive nationalism, xenophobia and intolerance and the resumption of violence in Europe. Believing that those tendencies present a great danger to democracy, human rights and peaceful coexistence, what effective political and social measures should be taken to counteract those tendencies and to guarantee the security of immigrants, who are often the victims of racist violence?

Mr Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden

I touched on some of these questions in my address. We must all think more about the problem in the future because it will assume ever-greater importance. It should be recognised that when there is a meeting between different communities, cultures and traditions, tensions always arise to a certain extent. I welcome and value that because I see something creative coming out of the process. But on the margin there are likely to be eruptions of the sort that we have seen, with headlines in Germany, France and even Sweden, although, as always, those headlines were somewhat exaggerated. As politicians, our task is to talk openly about those problems. We should not deny their presence, but we should see them as something that is constructive and good for the future. Tension can create something that is good. I was brought up in a rural part of Sweden, where young boys and girls were taught that people who came from the town nearby were slightly silly, never mind people who came from the next province, which was not very far away. We were not really supposed to mingle with such people. I grew up and learned that the boys and girls from the town nearby were not that stupid; they were fairly similar. I even came to understand that one could mingle with people from the next province, sometimes with desirable results. For example, Mr Björck is from that province. We must learn to live with each other. One always feels a certain security in one’s own back yard, but one must be open to other cultures, peoples and religions. It is a process of accommodation and education. Politicians and leading figures in public life have an extremely important role to play in that respect. We should not treat the modem phenomenon as the dominant one. Some people are going to the extremes of racism, displaying the symbols of the past, but they should not be seen as representatives of the majority of public opinion, which they are not, but of extreme marginal minorities that are likely to remain on the extremes of political life. We must modernise them, educate our publics, stand by our values and see contact and interaction as the key to the European future.


I call Mr Güner. You have thirty seconds.

Mr GÜNER (Turkey)

I just want to thank the Prime Minister for his excellent reply.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Prime Minister, in the future negotiations between EFTA and the EC your country will assume a crucial role in pointing the way for others. What instructions will you be giving your negotiators as to the objectives to be achieved? I am thinking in this connection, for example, of the question of neutrality, but especially of the democratic, federal and liberal area which a political union of Europe must become.

Mr Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden

We are in the process of preparing ourselves for entry into the European Community. As a matter of fact, that was on my government’s agenda today, when we discussed the different issues such as agriculture subsidies and regional support schemes. Those issues are obvious, but we must confront the wider political issues that are likely to dominate the agenda of the future.

The problem of defining security policy was mentioned. I have said many times that there must be much rethinking of the definition of security policy. The Swedish policy of neutrality was a good, essential policy in a Europe that was defined as being divided into two blocs. We stayed outside the conflict. Only one conflict was conceivable: all-out war between the two blocs, eventually perhaps escalating into nuclear war. We tried to retain the option of being neutral, and accordingly abstained from co-operation in foreign affairs, security and military affairs. That policy was sound in those days, but things are different now. That war is no longer a possibility.

Many other conflicts, tensions and perhaps even wars are possible and, in certain cases, likely, but abstention from foreign and security policy co-operation is no longer a viable option. On the contrary, we must seek security by being part of an evolving common foreign policy and security structure. A number of the old labels of the past, including that of neutrality, no longer fit. We have no intention of being part of an evolving structure for the co-ordination of foreign and security policy.

I hope that the nature of the structures that are to be built in the Europe of the future will be high on the political agenda of the different political forces in Sweden. We need a far-reaching European debate. What should be our attitude? Some individuals, not least those who are fortunate enough to take part in the Parliamentary Assembly, are well acquainted with the European political debate and with those issues. Swedish politicians who have that experience have the responsibility of taking that debate into their political parties and the Swedish political community and of answering those questions. I could give my answers, but they are not really very interesting. The interesting answers will be given by all Swedish politicians in the coming years when we are members of that evolving European union.

Mr KÖNIG (Austria)

Your country, Mr Prime Minister, was the second EFTA country to apply for European Community membership. When do you expect membership negotiations, at least informal ones, to start between the European Community, Sweden, Austria and Finland?

Mr Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden

It is up to the member states of the Community to answer that. Austria and Sweden, along with Finland, are ready to enter into negotiations soon. Austria and Sweden have already had an opinion on their position presented by the Commission and it is due to be debated by the Council of Ministers in the next few days. Then, in line with the Lisbon Communiqué, we must await ratification of the Maastricht Treaty – the subject of some uncertainty at the moment.

The Community must also sort out the financial problems – the Delors II package, for instance. I am optimistic. Even given these obvious difficulties, I believe that we will begin formal negotiations in the early part of next year. Not all the problems on the European agenda connected with Maastricht may have been solved by then, but the need for Europe to move ahead will nevertheless be clear – despite the obvious problems to do with internal processes.

There are other reasons for my optimism. We are already in informal contact with the Community in our attempt to make the process of negotiations as swift and smooth as possible.

Mr DEMIRALP (Turkey)

Prime Minister, the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Nikolai, recently made a statement in Belgrade on Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to him, Serbian soldiers have killed more than 100 000 Muslims, destroyed 200 mosques and raped more than 2 000 women there. I should like to ask you, Prime Minister, whether you have heard that before; and what sort of measures you think should be taken to stop the Serbian attacks.

Mr Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden

No one in Europe can be unaware of what is happening in the former Yugoslavia or be unaffected by all the news of what is happening in Bosnia-Herzegovina – and in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. What we see there is the legacy of history; it is also an example of what I hinted at in my speech – the emergence of the red/brown forces of aggressive nationalism and old style communism. What we have seen in Serbia and to a certain extent in the person of Mr Miloševic is an example of what can happen if these forces are let loose in other parts of former Soviet Europe.

What can be done? We keep asking ourselves that without so far having found the correct answer. There are international sanctions; there are United Nations forces; there is the London Conference; and there is the Geneva mechanism. The situation on the ground has made it difficult to implement a succession of proposals.

In Sweden, we have a large number of people who have come from the former Yugoslavia, primarily from Kosovo, seeking refuge in our country. As a matter of fact, we have nearly 50 000 such refugees. No European country has taken as large a share, per capita, of refugees from the former Yugoslavia as Sweden has.

As individuals and states, and as a European community, we must seek every possible way of stopping what is happening in Bosnia and in other parts of the former Yugoslavia and of preventing the conflict from spreading into Kosovo. It must not be allowed to spread into Macedonia and become, if we are not careful, a much more widespread and brutal Balkan conflict. This is one of the most difficult and urgent tasks for European diplomacy.

Mr JESSEL (United Kingdom)

Further to Sweden’s application to join the European Community, can the Prime Minister say whether it is his policy that those things that can be decided at national level will be decided at national level? For example, will he comment on reports that the European Community might make it illegal for Swedish people to chew tobacco, as is traditional for so many?

Mr Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden

One of the many things that one has to do as Prime Minister is to go around Europe explaining to non-Swedes that the chewing of wet tobacco is an essential part of the Swedish national character. I am not one of those that indulges, but I am willing and eager to defend the right of every Swede to do whatever he wants, including chewing wet tobacco – a practice that I personally do not like.

I do not think that this should be the subject of regulation by the government in Stockholm, by the Commission in Brussels, by the United Nations or even by local councils. It is up to each person to decide for himself. It is not within the powers of the Commission to ban the practice, but what has been under discussion are restrictions on the marketing of wet snuff in other European countries. Owing to one of the oddities of European politics, it is the British Government – I have a great deal of sympathy for their position on the principle of subsidiarity – who happen to have originated the demand for restrictions on wet tobacco. I would strongly support the adoption of a British approach to this matter. It should be decided by each nation and each individual according to wish and taste.


We must now bring an end to the questions to the Prime Minister of Sweden. I should like to thank him most warmly for replying so clearly and fully to the questions put by our colleagues.

We thank you for coming, Mr Prime Minister. We also thank you for your speech, and we hope that you have a good flight to Madrid.