“It is only through well-functioning multilateralism that many of the greatest problems of our times can be solved,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
In his annual foreign policy statement to the Riksdag, Bildt first stressed the importance of the EU to Sweden’s foreign policy, saying Sweden planned to take a “proactive role” to ensure the EU becomes a strong global actor.
“We want to work to ensure that the European Union is well-equipped through a broad and effective foreign policy to meet the global challenges facing Europe and the world,” he said.
Bildt’s comments were followed by a presentation from the opposition by Social Democrat MP Urban Ahlin, vice chair of the Riksdag’s foreign affairs committee.
He called on Sweden to take a more active role in working against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“The goal for us is a world free of nuclear weapons,” said Ahlin.
“We now have a historic opportunity for receptivity to nuclear disarmament—if only we take the chance. Unfortunately, the conservative government has so far not taken advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
Ahlin also criticized the Foreign Minister for playing down the Olso Process to ban cluster bombs, and called on the government to carry out a Riksdag decision from the spring of 2007 to work toward the ban.
In his wide ranging speech, Bildt stressed traditional Swedish foreign policy themes such as development assistance, global climate policy, and the importance of free trade, which he called a “fundamental component” of Sweden’s foreign policy.
“The development of trade is an important driving force for good globalization,” said Bildt, emphasizing that Sweden will continue working to increase free trade.
Bildt expressed his desire to see both Ukraine and Russia join the WTO, asserting that increased economic ties will contribute to a closer relationship between Sweden and both countries.
However, he voiced concern about Russia’s authoritarian drift in recent years.
Turning to the EU, Bildt stated that Sweden will continue be a strong advocate for continued enlargement.
He expressed Swedish support for eventual Turkish membership, and hopes that the EU will “keep the door open” for Serbian candidacy.
Bildt acknowledged, however, that the current situation regarding the status of Kosovo was “untenable” and that the Swedish government planned to issue a position on its future relations with Kosovo sometime soon.
Looking ahead to Sweden’s presidency of the EU, Bildt hoped to conclude EU membership negotiations with Croatia in the second half of 2009.
In addition, Bildt stressed the importance of advances in global climate policy to the success of Sweden’s EU presidency.
Specifically, he expects Sweden to play a lead roll in formulating a post-Kyoto agreement by the end of 2009.
Global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remain “threats to world stability,” said Bildt, once again stressing the importance of international cooperation through the EU and the United Nations.
The foreign minister cited Sweden’s participation in a joint UN-EU peace keeping operation in Chad, calling the mission “an expression of our conviction that Sweden and Europe cannot stand by passively watching crises” where communities are split apart, rights are violated, and people are killed.
In order to bolster Sweden’s capacity for overseas operations, the government plans to increase the budget for international peace operations from 1.5 billion kronor to 3.0 billion kronor.
On the Middle East, Bildt mentioned Sweden’s concern about Iran, but pledged continued support for improvements in Iraq.
Sweden also supports the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution and is “prepared to contribute to such a peace process in various ways.”
The Foreign Minister voiced unease about developments in Afghanistan, but hoped Sweden could strengthen its role following the planned opening of an embassy in Kabul later this year.
Sweden will also upgrade its representation in Belarus to a full-fledged embassy in the hopes of strengthening respect for democracy and human rights in the former Soviet republic.
Bildt also stressed the importance of Sweden’s relationships with the United States and NATO, but went on to say that “Sweden is not part of any military alliance.”