Over the past year, we have been shocked by a number of racist terrorist attacks, for example on Utøya in Norway and the murders of people of foreign origin by a far-right terrorist group in Germany. In Sweden too, fear spread when people of foreign origin were shot at random on the streets of Malmö just over a year ago.
In the long run, open and democratic societies can only counter these acts of hatred by standing up for openness, diversity and tolerance. Naturally, the police and security services need to focus on fighting extremism but, ultimately, security will only increase if more people embrace the fundamental principle of the equal value of all people.
Several European countries now have openly xenophobic parties in their parliaments. In some cases, these parties have been allowed to shift the entire political map. For fear of losing voters, established political parties have adapted to the message of the intolerant. The result is that the social climate has changed and the populist parties have often received increasing support as their opinions have gained greater prominence in the public debate.
These parties and their supporters have also found the Internet to be a new and effective forum for spreading their racist and xenophobic myths and prejudices. At the same time, those of us who stand up for openness and tolerance have been far too silent in the Internet debate. Part of a serious commitment to countering xenophobia involves refuting the myths that are spread in social media space. The Swedish Government has therefore launched a new website that gathers some of the most common Internet myths about immigrants and minorities and dispels the prejudices with facts. If the forces of good remain silent, these prejudices risk taking stronger root. This must not be allowed to happen.
Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty states that the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. In our societies, pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men will prevail. The EU and European countries have a crucial task over the next few years in standing up for these values and ensuring that they permeate our European cooperation.
When people flee from persecution, European countries have a moral and human obligation to offer them a place of refuge. But migration, handled correctly, can also enrich both emigration and immigration countries.
But while standing up for openness and cross-border mobility, we cannot ignore the fact that many EU Member States have integration problems. Many who have fled or immigrated to Europe have done well, but far too many are suffering exclusion. However, the challenges posed by integration can never be solved by closing Europe’s borders.
My vision is a Europe that stands up for an open and tolerant society. Those who flee from persecution must be able to find refuge in Europe and we must be open to labour immigration. I am convinced that an open society is richer and more exciting than a society that closes itself off. The historically unique prosperity that we have created in the western world is rooted in the movement of ideas, people and capital across borders. It is at the interface of different ways of thinking that new things emerge.