President Schulz, Prime Minister Löfven, Honourable Members,
President Juncker has asked me to replace him in this debate and bring his greetings.
Yes, it is the best of times and it is the worst of times. But above all, it is the time for us in Europe to stand up for our values and be candid. And I am very honoured to welcome you, Prime Minister, here in this Chamber where you did exactly that, right now. Thank you.
Sweden is a country that has shaped its own destiny with values and the conviction that we can live and work together and provide for a fair society. And you have influenced also those beyond your borders, the rest of us in Europe. I just recall that with your Scandinavian partners, it was you, the first to understand the value of free movement. Because it was the Nordic Council, back then in the 50s that launched for the first time free travel and a regional labour market. And your achievement has served you very well and it is serving Europe very well.
Today, on behalf of our President, I would like to pay tribute to Sweden's response to the refugee crisis. Your country has long received the highest number of people seeking protection way before the current crisis started. Your solidarity is a shining light.
When a country so far north in the Union is affected so directly by events to the south, we know we are in this together. No country can manage this crisis alone, and no country should be left alone. Be it Greece or Sweden, or Austria, or Germany, no country can carry the weight on its own. Together we have to protect our borders, together we have to help people who depend on us for their survival.
We recognise the effort Sweden has made and we have suspended the relocation of refugees to Sweden from Greece and Italy. It is pragmatic and it is fair.
Today, as you have spoken, across most of Europe we need to restore order. We need to restore the Schengen system.
Your country knows the cost of life without Schengen. I was impressed how costly it is to have border controls on the Øresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark - costs running in the hundreds of millions of euros per month.
Last Friday, the Commission published a roadmap, setting out the steps to restore Schengen to full health and lift all internal borders by December 2016 at the latest. It gives us an opportunity to make Schengen more resilient. We have to learn from the crisis that the system works only if we all participate, or it does not work at all. And for that obviously we all have to pull together.
At the Commission, we are not interested in pointing fingers. We are interested in solutions, in supporting Member States, all Member States, to carry a shared responsibility to restore and protect Schengen.
And let me, President, Prime Minister, turn to a second topic that you have touched upon. And that is also an issue of values in Europe – Europe's social model. It is one of our greatest achievements. Far more than a way to organise our economy, it is part of who we are, it is part of our Treaties, it is part of our identity. Sweden has written entire chapters in this story, and listening to you, you Prime Minister, your government, you are holding the pen and you continue to write. Thank you for that.
What we have demonstrated to the rest of the world is that our social market economy can have prosperity and social justice going hand in hand. My former employer, the World Bank, called the European Union a 'lifestyle superpower' for the standards we have established for our citizens. Standards in gender equality, in public health, in the environment, but above all in our welfare system.
And our challenge is to adapt this model to a world that is changing much faster than in the years you and I were born. With this in mind – the necessity to constantly adapt – we indeed in the Commission launched a proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights. It sets out principles and practices to ensure that work is decent and fair; that we meet our goals of equal opportunity, fair conditions and adequate social protection. And it is about delivering fairness for individuals, but it is also about building resilience in our labour market and in our economy. By revealing the gaps in the current legislation, the Pillar will identify the measures we still need to take.
Let me finish with the following: over many, many decades Sweden has embodied European values – values of equality, values of compassion for people in seek of protection. And today, you demonstrate that these values are very strong. We are going to respond to the greatest test of our generation. These values are the light that we ought to follow.
There is a European solution. More than that, this is the only solution. And I would like to thank you, Prime Minister, thank Sweden for being such a key part of it.