Opening speech by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the Single Market Forum Conference
Speech by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the opening of the Single Market Forum Conference (SIMFO) on 2 May in Stockholm.
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Commissioner, Parliamentarians, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to see you all this morning – and to welcome those of you coming from abroad to Stockholm. It´s an honour for the Swedish government to host the Single Market Forum in Sweden. And as you know, an even more competitive single market is one of the three key priorities for our EU Presidency. For a greener, safer and freer Europe as we often summarize it.
As the single market turns 30, it has become an integral part of everyday life – for citizens and businesses alike. And thereby easily taken for granted. We were all reminded of its fragility during the pandemic – with sudden closures of national borders. Orders and payments did not reach its destination. Thanks not least to the European Commission – the integrity of the internal market was re-established.
Today, we understand the importance of a market that works also during a crisis. Maintaining free movement is a cornerstone of European resilience.
The EU has more than once demonstrated its crisis management capabilities. But while crisis management skills are necessary, they are not sufficient to build long term success and prosperity in Europe.
Free competition, freedom for people and ideas, are indeed European inventions. And today’s meeting provides an opportunity – not merely to celebrate these successes, but to look ahead towards the next 30 years. How can we adapt and improve the Single Market to continue to deliver under new preconditions and new realities – in terms of technology as well as in terms of geopolitics?
In this respect, today’s conference highlights several important aspects, such as how to promote the twin transitions through developing Single Market structures in key areas such as digitalization, standardisation, and re-skilling.
With the objective of a Single European Market present already in the Treaty of Rome, the vision of “realising a real single market” was established in the mid-1980s with the Commission’s white paper on the Single Market based on mutual recognition. But the big breakthrough came with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.
Today the Single Market is a crucial element for EU cooperation. It has transformed Europe. Goods are flowing, and increasingly also services. Very many EU citizens move and work across the continent.
This economic integration creates jobs – and an estimated 9 percent GDP increase. The rules governing the Internal Market have many times become also international standards, reinforcing the EU’s role as a global norm setter.
Over three decades, the internal market has improved European competitiveness. Companies also from small countries or small domestic markets have become strong and ready to meet fierce competition on the global scene.
For Sweden, trade is since long the engine of our economy, supporting private and public consumption and our welfare state as such. Our companies have access to the world’s largest single market and our consumers benefit from safe and high-quality products and services.
But let´s return to COVID-19 and its effects on supply chains. We have since also faced an energy crisis, high inflation, and decreased purchasing power in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The lessons that we have learned include that the Single Market should go beyond its “traditional objectives” of creating growth, jobs and benefits for citizens and consumers. The Single Market must also become our main source of resilience.
It´s in this context we should tackle the reality that Europe’s competitiveness now faces important challenges. The EU’s real GDP has grown slightly more than one percent a year over the last ten years, while India’s and China’s GDP grew by 6 and 8 percent respectively. During the same timeframe the EU’s share of global GDP has fallen from 21 to 17 percent. The US has gone from 21 to 24 percent, and the Chinese from around 10 per cent to some 18.
Fact is that the EU is falling behind Asia and the United States in key economic areas. Not least with the global tech industry centred on the US west coast and the Chinese east coast.
Between 2014 and 2019, European firms grew on average 40 per cent more slowly than their US peers. Even more worrying is the fact that they invested 40 per cent less in R&D. I´m quite convinced there is a correlation.
This is the situation and that´s why my government made it a priority to put European competitiveness at the top of the agenda during the Swedish EU Presidency.
In March, the Commission responded to the European Councils request for a strategy for long-term competitiveness. The same month, we agreed in the Council on an important set of conclusions to address EU’s long-term competitiveness. A robust platform for taking on long-term challenges, by
- First, creating a predictable and innovation-friendly regulatory framework for growth and productivity,
- Second, increasing investments in Research & Development and,
- Third, deepening and strengthening the Single Market, including the digital single market – by creating the right environment for digital networks and services. And better access for consumers and businesses to online goods and services across Europe.
Artificial intelligence will be key to increasing efficiency, productivity and creativity. However, there are challenges and many unknowns, as in most new technologies. The development, possibilities and dangers, are exponential, while our laws, structures and policies rarely are as dynamic. Regulation is needed, but should be narrowly focused, not to mitigate innovation or progress. And here, I would promote transatlantic approaches – not an isolated European “strategic autonomy” – to reach global standards and universal norms.
This is a direction to follow to close the growth and innovation gap between Europe and our global competitors. And to boost our productivity and competitiveness.
These discussions will of course continue – including at this important event.
But at the same time, the Swedish Presidency is pressing ahead on the law making agenda and we have led the way to some key achievements on Single Market related dossiers.
Last month the Council and the Parliament reached a provisional deal on the Chips Act, an important piece of legislation that will support the green and digital transition while strengthening EU resilience in turbulent times.
We have also achieved an agreement in the Council on the Short-term rental proposal and made progress on Ecodesign of products and the Single Market Emergency Instrument.
We will continue to push negotiations forward before we hand over the Presidency to our Spanish friends in the end of June.
We are around 200 people here today, from all Member States and representing numerous organisations. It is an excellent basis for exploring the future of the Single Market, inside and out, viewing it from different angles and together finding inspiration, ideas, and solutions to common challenges.
I am confident that your discussions here today will contribute to the important work of making sure that the Single Market remains the economic crown jewel of the European project. We need it as a source of strength for consumers and companies as well as a safeguard for our resilience and global competitiveness in the coming decades.
Let us take this opportunity to work together to improve the Single Market and make it fit for at least the next 30 years, contributing to the big transitions and underpinning a strong European presence in the global economy.
Thanks for your attention!