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'Turkey and the EU need each other': Bildt

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'Turkey and the EU need each other': Bildt
10:55 CET+01:00
Granting membership to Turkey would strengthen the European Union (EU), Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt argued in his annual foreign policy statement to the Riksdag on Wednesday.

Bildt also wants to see Iceland become a full EU member and to have Sweden join the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The government hopes for a decision regarding Iceland's EU membership within the next few years, but also wants to see Turkey move closer to joining the EU as well.

"Turkish EU membership, once all the conditions are met, would strengthen both Turkey and the European Union," said Bildt.

Meanwhile, Bildt explained that Sweden's foreign development aid policies would centre on fighting poverty through fostering a sustainable and fair development of human rights, democracy, and a strong civil society.

Swedish foreign aid will reach 35 billion kronor ($5.43 billion) in 2011, the equivalent of 1 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), making Sweden one of the few countries which fulfills the UN's foreign aid targets.

Special measures targeting women and children and youth will also be undertaken to reach the UN's Millennium Development Goals for reducing child and maternal mortality.

A cornerstone of Swedish foreign policy is upholding international law and respect for human rights, Bildt underlined, declaring that Sweden is putting itself forward as a candidate to sit on the UN's Human Rights Council from 2012-2015.

"Membership would offer us an important arena in which to pursue pressing human rights issues globally and contribute constructively to necessary reforms to the work of the Council," said Bildt.

The foreign minister also hopes that a dialogue between Egypt and the EU will be launched soon to discuss what sort of help and support the Europe can provide.

"Sweden is taking a proactive role in efforts to strengthen the European Union's capacity to contribute to civilian and military crisis management," said Bildt.

"One concrete example of our commitment is that we are currently leading the Nordic Battle Group, which is on standby for the EU. By better coordinating the Member States' resources – our hardware – we can strengthen the EU's overall global capacity, and together with Germany we have taken an initiative to increase the Member States' overall crisis management capacity."

Bildt also criticised recent developments in Belarus, which he cited as an example to support the argument that democratic developments are heading in the wrong direction in a number of countries.

"One obvious example of this is Belarus, where the brutal attacks during the presidential election were a serious setback to efforts towards freedom, democracy and human rights in Europe," he said, adding that the countries east of the European Union and in the southern Caucasus must be brought closer to the EU within the framework of the Eastern Partnership.

And Russia must also take responsibility for developments in its neighbourhood, argued Bildt.

"Russia must contribute to solutions to the remaining conflicts in our common region. The country's institutions must be modernised for Russia to operate under the rule of law with full respect for human rights and democracy," he said.

Bildt also touched on Sweden's engagement in Afghanistan.

"Sweden's commitment in Afghanistan is strong and long-term. The broad political consensus on our presence in Afghanistan lays a solid foundation for our initiatives to contribute to peace, security and development, and to help the Afghan people build up their country," he said.

He also criticised China for "continued persecution of dissidents, executions and restrictions on freedom of expression on the internet".

In conjunction with Bildt's presentation, the Social Democrats criticised the government's foreign policy as too silent and passive, arguing its reaction to the protests in Egypt has been regrettable.

Writing in an opinion piece published in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper, Social Democratic foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin said his party would take Swedish foreign policy in a new direction it its shadow foreign policy statement.

Among other things, the Social Democrats want to recognise Palestine and increase pressure on Burma, as well as support democratic developments in North Africa.

"Now is the time to build democracy and ensure that Tunisia and Egypt become states governed by the rule of law. The people of North Africa have listened to the rhetoric long enough," said Ahlin.

He criticised Bildt's foreign policy statement for simply discussing what is happening in the world, but saying little about what the government wants to do.

Ahlin claimed also that the government and foreign minister didn't do enough to support the Egyptian people who rose up in protest against president Hosni Mubarak.

He compared events in Egypt to the democratic revolutions that broke out in the Baltic states twenty years ago and wondered why the EU and thus Sweden and Bildt, anxiously followed behind US reactions to what happened in Egypt.

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