Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström on the Nordic and Nordic-Baltic cooperation

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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström for the diplomatic corps at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, Monday 5 February.
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Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s great to see the whole diplomatic community in Stockholm gathered, and it’s an honour to make a few remarks about something the Swedish Government and I give high priority to: the cooperation with our Nordic and Nordic-Baltic neighbours.

The geopolitical situation has changed significantly in recent years and the international environment has become less predictable. The challenges facing the international community are by no means new to any of you in this room.

We are approaching the two-year mark of Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. That is two years of major war in Europe. Sweden remains firmly committed to standing up for Ukraine’s right to freedom and sovereignty, and this will continue to be the top priority for Sweden’s foreign policy in the coming years. The war of aggression has had a fundamental impact on the security situation in our region and led Sweden and Finland to apply for NATO membership.

With these developments, and its consequences for the strategic conditions in our region, the regional cooperation between the Nordic and Nordic-Baltic neighbours has become more important than ever. This is a view broadly shared among the countries in the region. As the chair of Nordic and Nordic-Baltic cooperation formats this year, we will seek to facilitate even deeper cooperation.

Our countries are linked not only geographically. We also share deep historical, social, economic and cultural ties. With some of our neighbours, our languages are intertwined.

We share a commitment to democracy and human rights – we are dependent on a rules-based order. Most of us are partners in the EU. And soon, all Nordic-Baltic countries will be NATO Allies.

So, the region is firmly anchored in the European Union and NATO, and global in its political and economic outlook.

Looking further back in history, relations between our countries have not always been close and peaceful. I myself am from the south of Sweden, close to the Danish border. Sweden and Denmark have historically fought more wars than perhaps any other two countries. Today, we are of course close friends, at least outside the football field.

In more recent times, the more than 30 years since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania regained their independence has been a remarkable success story. For the Baltic counties, but also for our region.

The Nordic and Baltic countries may all have different historical experiences. But there is so much that binds us together. We are united by common values, interests, and priorities.

And in many ways, our level of regional integration is unparalleled in the world.

Combined, the size of our economies would qualify not only for the G20 but also for the G10. The integration spans from our ambition to create a digital single market to the high level of mobility in our region. From high ambitions in research and innovation to close trade relations.

The formats of the Nordic and Nordic-Baltic cooperation are well-established. The Nordic Council of Ministers is the official body for Nordic cooperation, with a secretariat in Copenhagen and close cooperation with the Baltic countries.

My colleague who’s leading that work, Minister for EU Affairs Jessika Roswall, will soon tell you more about the Nordic Council of Ministers and our Presidency this year.

For cooperation on foreign and security policy issues, the Nordic and Nordic-Baltic countries have the N5 and NB8, respectively. These formats are informal in nature, led by the foreign ministers and structured around a number of meetings throughout the year between the foreign ministers. In 2024, Sweden is coordinating both these formats.

As chair of the N5 and NB8, we will organise numerous meetings, both at political and expert levels. In 2024, Sweden has set out three main priorities for both the N5 and NB8.

Firstly, we will focus on reinforcing the security policy cooperation in our region.

As touched upon, the security landscape in our neighbourhood has undergone a profound shift, with both conventional and new threats facing us. In addition, all Nordic-Baltic countries will soon be NATO Allies for the first time. The new situation both demands – and provides an opportunity for – a deepened regional cooperation on security policy issues.

We have an interest in sharing assessments, in shaping the security environment, in a strong EU and NATO, and in a transatlantic engagement in the Baltic Sea region.

As chair, we will also be inviting other countries to participate in meetings on an ad-hoc basis. Poland and Germany, as littoral states on the Baltic Sea, are of course also important as we seek to intensify the regional cooperation.

Together, the Nordic and Baltic countries have a unique insight and deep knowledge of Russia. A natural and necessary part of our dialogue is how to address the long-term threat posed by Russia. We will also increase our coordination on Belarus.

Secondly, we will reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

All Nordic-Baltic countries are committed to the preservation a free, independent, democratic and sovereign Ukraine. Continued support to Ukraine in regaining its territorial integrity and developing its defence capabilities is essential to deter future aggression.

Reconstruction, macroeconomic and humanitarian support, continued reform cooperation and holding Russia accountable for its violations of international law are all areas where we will contribute. Further integration with the EU, drawing on our experiences in completing and supporting EU accessions, is vital, as is private sector involvement.

The eight Nordic-Baltic countries are among the firmest supporters of Ukraine. Jointly, we have contributed over 17 billion Euros to Ukraine since 2022. As a share of GDP, the top five contributors in the world are all Nordic-Baltic countries.

Thirdly, we will prioritise reaching out globally in support for Ukraine and the international rules-based order.

Russia’s aggression is a threat to international peace and security. In blatant violation of international law, Russia is attempting to deny Ukraine its right to exist as a sovereign nation. If we allow this to happen, Russia will continue its colonial ambitions, seeking to dominate its neighbours.

As the full-scale invasion soon enters its third year, it remains crucial to sustain international focus on countering Russia’s aggression.

A just, comprehensive and lasting peace based on the principles of the UN Charter is in the interest of us all. We must all stand up for the international rules-based order. We must ensure that ‘might means right’ will not be accepted and become common practice. At the core of the European security order is the sovereign right of every state to make its own security policy choices.

Last year, the NB8 foreign ministers made joint trips to both Ukraine and Moldova. This year, we are also hoping to travel outside our immediate neighbourhood, sharing experiences from our regional integration and collaboration, and having a dialogue on how we all together can best support Ukraine’s right to freedom.

Moreover, building on our strong commitment to the multilateral system – and the Baltic experience of Soviet occupation followed by a rapid democratisation – we also want to discuss the challenges and opportunities that dominate our global partners’ agendas, and how we can develop a closer cooperation on these issues.

The Nordic-Baltic formats enable us to coordinate, be flexible and respond to current issues. They make us able to speak with a common, stronger voice. As a unit, and as a collaborative partner.

We are very excited to have taken over the coordination of both the N5 and NB8 at this important time. I hope that the Nordic-Baltic cooperation can be deepened even further in 2024 – but also that we, as a Nordic and Nordic-Baltic group, can develop our dialogue and cooperation with all of you in this room.

Thank you all.