Support from Sweden

12 Sep 2016 - 13:05

Sweden has been a strong promotor of the agreement with Ukraine. Former Prime Minister Carl Bildt explains why.

Why has Sweden been one of the strongest promotors of the agreement between the EU and Ukraine?

Essentially for two reasons.

First, because Sweden, along with also the Netherlands, has always been a strong believer in free trade, within and beyond the borders of Europe, and this agreement is another important building bloc in the effort to promote this vision.

Second, because we have seen the transformative effects on societies by the European process of integration and cooperation, and see this as one of the key drivers of peace and prosperity for us all.

Peace and prosperity

It is important to see the so called DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area) and Association Agreement with Ukraine in the wider context.

When the Soviet empire dissolved, and nations in Central and Eastern Europe started to build their democracies and open economies, we were driving in the EU in promoting the so called Europe Agreement that took them towards free trade with the EU.

Eventually, these countries were able to transform their societies and become members of the European Union, and could benefit from all of the benefits of being part of our common single market. History moves forward gradually, and these countries are certainly not free of challenges, but there is no doubt that this enlargement has strengthened the prospect for peace and prosperity for all of Europe.

Free trade from Vladivostok to Lisbon

But Europe stretches further to the East, and already in 1995 we had concluded a far-reaching Partnership and Association agreement with Russia. Together, we wanted to move towards free trade from Vladivostok to Lisbon.

As the Eastern enlargement of the EU was near completion, the so called Neighbourhood Policy was launched in 2003, aiming also at the countries in the East of Europe. We wanted to avoid new barriers between the new EU countries and their neighbours to the East.

Russia, for its own reasons, did not want to be part of this. But Ukraine was certainly among the countries actively seeking a closer relationship with the EU, including the possibility of free trade in order to develop its economy.

Eastern Partnership

In 2009 the EU took a new step in its policies as it launched the Eastern Partnership for six countries with Ukraine as the most important. This was also the time we were discussed a so called Partnership for Modernisation with Russia.

An agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade become the core part of the the association agreements that Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova sought with the EU. In order to facilitate free trade, it also called for these nations to adopt EU standards and regulations in these areas.

And the negotiations with Ukraine for the DCFTA were concluded in early 2012. Up until that time they had never in any way been questioned by Russia. In many ways, the concrete content of the agreement was largely what Russia itself had been aiming at in its relations with the US during its period of reform.

The return of Putin

Following the return of Vladimir Putin as President of Russia for a third term starting in 2012, the policies of Russia underway a dramatic change. Part of that was an effort to build up an economic bastion around Russia, and have Ukraine as part of it. To force Ukraine to abandon its links with the EU then become a key part of Russia policy.

But the agreement with the EU had very broad support in Ukraine. I remember being told in Kiev in late 2014 - this was still under President Yanukovich - how it had the support of all four presidents and 14 Prime Ministers of the country since gaining independence.

They certainly had no wish to break off the relationship with Russia, and in no way did the EU at any time try to limit these links in any way. On the contrary, the DCFTA was perfectly compatible with the existing free trade arrangement between Ukraine and Russia, and could well be seen as an important building bloc in a wider European agreement.

Impressive steps despite difficulties

After the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, which included the tragedy of MH17, the newly democratically elected authorities of Ukraine have  even more strongly committed themselves to the agreement with the EU. For them, this represents something of a blueprint for a gradual reform and renewal of their economy.

And in spite of all the difficulties Ukraine has started to take impressive steps on this road of reform and renewal, and this in spite of all the hardship imposed by losing Crimea and the ongoing low/level war by Russia in its easternmost provinces.

This will take time. I remember the turmoils the three Baltic states went through until they found a more stable path to political stability and economic success. And for all the praise given to the success of Poland until recently, we should not forget that it had to travel a difficult road with numerous changes of governments in the process.

Sliding back into stagnation

But the agreement with the EU gives direction and inspiration to these necessary reforms. It does not guarantee success, but its absence would guarantee failure, and cause the country to start sliding back into semi-Soviet stagnation and decline.

This would be not only a tragedy for a great European country, but also a danger to our European country. We would like see not only a continuation but rather an escalation of the destabilising efforts of Russia, causing the conflict with all the dangers it represents to get worse. We could well get millions of refugees from a fragmenting and destabilised Ukraine.

Strong support from Sweden

Thus, Sweden has been and remains a firm supporter of the democratic and reform path of Ukraine, and successive governments have expressed strong support for the agreement between the EU and Ukraine as a key instrument for supporting this path.

It is very clearly in our national interest, as well as in the interest of all of Europe.


Carl Bildt was Sweden's Prime Minister (Moderate Party) from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden's EU accession. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2006-14.

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