Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's address to Parliament on 21 June 2006 on Finland's EU Presidency
(Subject to changes, unofficial translation II)
Mr Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament,
Finland’s EU Presidency will begin in just over a week. Having laid the groundwork carefully, we are now ready to take up the challenge. While managing the Presidency is a demanding task, it is a great honour and privilege, which Finland welcomes with pleasure.
The European Union today is quite different from the Union we joined over ten years ago, and whose work we led during our first Presidency seven years ago. The enlargement from a community of 15 members to one of 25 members has, naturally, altered the Union’s dynamics. More fundamental, though, is the change of mood from the Community approach and solidarity towards intergovernmentalism. The EU does not have a single core any more. Instead, coalitions change depending on the issue at hand. The Union’s decision-making capacity could have been better and the citizens are getting more critical towards it. Some people say that the union is in a crisis, even in the worst crisis ever.
My own view is much more positive – I believe that the problems the Union faces today can be overcome. This view is supported by examples such as the compromise on the Financial Framework, achieved in December. We are also close to reaching an agreement on the Services Directive, despite many pessimistic views in the past. The Union is capable of making important decisions, but we should be able to make them more quickly and more resolutely; we need more political will. I promise that Finland will tackle these questions during our Presidency.
During the Presidency, Finland will have a genuine chance to concentrate on improving the way the Union functions. We are not under pressure to push through delayed decisions but can afford to focus on finding answers to vital questions that will affect the Union long into the future. It is high time we considered what kind of a Union we want to have in ten or twenty years – and how we can achieve this.
The world around the EU is moving forward at a fast pace; it will not wait or make allowances for us just because we in the Union are afraid of change. Nor will the world wait for us while we try to fix our internal decision-making procedures. On the contrary, the pace is becoming even faster, and if we don’t watch out, we will be left lagging even further behind. That would be detrimental, not least to our children and the future of future generations. It is for their sake that Europe must stop turning inwards. Europe must join the rest of the world and manage the changes it will bring.
Finland’s objective is to get the Union to look into the future, participate in global change and ideally to lead it – and become number one. A confident and determined Union can assume global leadership in the future. Finland’s objective is a New Europe, which is not divided into new and old Member States but which shows its strength in new ways – in economy, in external relations and in security.
The European Union is a community of values and it is there for its people. The Union’s actions must therefore be based on the mandate given by its citizens; it must be legitimate. At the core of the Union’s problems lies the worrying fact that, in the eyes of its citizens, its legitimacy has weakened. People cannot see what use the Union is to them.
The second problem of the Union is its somewhat weak performance, particularly in decision-making. In sum, the Union faces two key problems: weak legitimacy and ineffective decision-making, which lead to lack of visible, tangible results. Finland will address these two problems during its Presidency.
In my view, they must be addressed simultaneously, since, over time, they have developed into a vicious circle which must be broken.
In short, the vicious circle works like this: citizens do not consider the Union useful because they cannot see it influencing their own lives for the better. This translates into low popularity, faltering legitimacy and a situation in which citizens demand that their national governments defend their countries’ interests in Brussels more strongly. Faced with this state of affairs, the leaders of Member States have not been willing to formulate sufficiently bold solutions for the future, since these would mean compromising their national position. The consequence of this is a Union that cannot deliver and citizens who cannot see the impact of the Union on their own lives.
This is not a complete account, but a rough, simplified picture. I am well aware that, above all, citizens fear global competition, and that this is the root cause of a number of problems the Union faces today. My description was designed to illustrate the need to tackle simultaneously a number of interconnected problems.
In my view, making the Union function more effectively is the best way to break the circle. Provided we have the political will, we are quite capable of achieving this with the existing Treaties; we do not need to wait for a new one. By delivering results, the Union will gain new legitimacy and the prospects for reviving the Treaty revision will improve.
The fundamental justification for the Union’s existence is securing peace, stability and wellbeing in Europe. This may sound like a cliché, but let me reiterate it here. After all, it continues to be as vital and topical as ever, as I was reminded during my recent visit to Croatia. With memories of war still only too fresh in their minds, Croatians say that they want to join the Union to ensure that they and their children never have to experience war again. In the Western Balkans, there is nothing clichéd or embarrassing in the desire for peace and stability. Stability in the Western Balkans needs Europe.
It is paradoxical that when peace and stability are taken for granted, the guarantor is not considered important either. That is why the Union must be able to prove its necessity for people in other ways as well.
This can best be achieved by engaging in effective legislative work and carrying out the Union’s other day-to-day duties in an efficient manner. We can and must do this right now, on the basis of the existing Treaties. Europe cannot afford to linger while the fate of the Constitutional Treaty is decided; it must start improving its efficiency immediately. The Union must prove that it can work for the future of its citizens, rather than just squabble over institutional matters.
The EU should focus on the fundamentals and do so effectively. This means acting in a way that delivers more added value than could be achieved by each individual Member State acting alone.
The Union must not intervene in matters which, according to the principle of subsidiarity, belong to the competence of the Member States or regions. Equally, Member States must show solidarity in defending joint decisions rather than using the EU as a scapegoat.
During the preparatory period, the Government has informed Parliament of its plans and policy definitions on several occasions. The framework for our Presidency is outlined in the Annual Work Programme for 2006, prepared together with Austria and presented last December. The Finnish Government’s general political priorities were outlined in the document “Towards Finland’s Presidency of the European Union”, presented to Parliament last September (2 September, 2005). Specific plans for each sector are presented in the Preliminary Agenda, which has now been updated several times. The latest Preliminary Agenda was submitted to Parliament in May (24 May, 2006).
The most recent Agenda of May covers all sectors in detail and remains valid today. On this occasion, I will not endeavour to cover all issues in every EU policy area but rather set out some of the most important priorities. If I do not mention a policy area or issue, this is not an indication that it is no longer important or that it will not be addressed with due care and attention. On the contrary, the Government intends to address every item on the Agenda well, efficiently and with enthusiasm.
We have worked on these matters in close cooperation with Austria and we will continue doing so with Germany. Cooperation is essential for progress – we will focus on the quality of results rather than just trying to score points by bringing items to a conclusion during our Presidency. Just as Austria has done the preparatory work on matters that will be ripe for agreement during our term, so we will lay the groundwork for future Presidencies.
This close cooperation with the Presidencies before and after ours is designed to ensure consistency. This is by no means at odds with the fact that Finland as the Presidency, will have own priorities to promote. We will discuss our priorities openly, and these two aspects will complement one another.
I will not attempt to rank Finland’s priorities in order of importance here; I will simply list them in a logical order.
The first priority is a general one, the future of the European Union. This priority covers the Constitutional Treaty as well as the enlargement discussion in general. Last Friday, the European Council decided, in line with Finland’s objectives, that with regard to the Constitutional Treaty it is time to move on from mere reflection to delivering concrete results and implementing projects. This twin-track approach is right: We will improve the way the Union functions on the basis of the existing Treaties at the same time as we bring the mere passive reflection period to a close and start discussing how to proceed with it. Finland will start work on these tasks during its Presidency.
The Union will need new rules before long so that we can work effectively and with legitimacy in the future. I hope that the Finnish Parliament will come to a decision on the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty during our Presidency.
Enlargement will be one of the central themes during our Presidency. Our starting point is that EU enlargement has been a success story. Politically and morally, it has been clear throughout the process that the new Member States, which joined in May 2004, are European countries that should naturally be accepted as members. In addition, the report published by the Commission this spring shows that the historic enlargement has been an economic success as well. Both old and new members have gained.
I am pleased that at its meeting last week, the European Council did not change the membership criteria, agreed in Copenhagen in 1993. I am strongly of the opinion that the commitments must be honoured. While no new criteria should be set for current or future candidates, the existing criteria must be met. We need the same rules for all, with each candidate country treated by its own merits.
Membership negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, and the situation in the Western Balkans, will require a lot of our attention during our Presidency. The accession timetable for Romania and Bulgaria will also be decided this autumn.
The European Council decided to address all aspects of future enlargement at the end of the Finnish Presidency in December 2006. Finland’s objective will be to achieve a new consensus on enlargement. Our starting point is that also in the future the Union should be developed as united as possible. Enhanced cooperation is of course possible and may even sometimes turn out to be necessary. However, it is crucial that we do not deliberately create two or more classes of membership. All Member States should be equal, now as in the future.
The second crucial area during Finland’s Presidency is the competitiveness of the Union and its Member States as well as their performance in global competition. For Finland, this is a national as well as a Presidency mission. In both cases, it comes right at the top of the agenda. Although the situation is different for each Member State, I believe that, on the basis of our own experiences, Finland has something to offer the Union.
Finland will focus on competitiveness widely in various Council formations. The key challenge is to identify the basis for economic growth in Europe. Finland’s answer includes innovation, energy solutions, quality of work and productivity, openness of global trade, immigration and well-functioning social protection system.
However, the Union can deal with only some of these problems. The individual projects addressing these include the Seventh Framework Programme for research and the EU Regulation on chemicals, REACH. The Member States have the main responsibility here; they should assume ownership. They are also responsible for improving our competitiveness.
European competitiveness, and the innovation policy in particular, will be the main point on the agenda at the informal meeting of Heads of State and Government in Lahti in October. We will also discuss external energy relations. The President of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin, has been invited to join the dinner after the meeting. This will give us an opportunity to have an informal discussions together.
I have emphasised on several occasions that the Government does not want to achieve competitiveness at any cost, regardless of the consequences. We must also bear in mind the rights of the most vulnerable members of society as well as our common environment. We do not have a single social model in Europe, and there is no reason to try to create one. Nevertheless, in global terms the EU countries share a similar approach to the aforementioned ‘soft’ sectors, social protection and sustainable development. No one is master of their own fortune, without help from others at different stages of their lives. The welfare-state-oriented European approach has aroused interest outside Europe as it differs for instance from the American or Asian approach. This combination – a competitive Europe that is strong in social terms - will be our strength also in the future, and we will hold on to it. This is European model.
Enhanced competitiveness and changes in society must be considered reasonable from the citizens‘ point of view. This is why we must take care of their security needs. In the labour market this means looking for functional models to combine flexibility and competitiveness with a sufficient degree of security. If we fail to do this, people might turn against the Union. In this respect the Nordic countries can make a contribution to the Union.
Prior to the meeting of the Heads of State and Government in Lahti, we will host a Tripartite Social Summit, where we will have the opportunity to present our Finnish model.
In terms of environmental policy, our priorities are climate change and the Baltic Sea.
The third priority during Finland’s Presidency will be external relations. There is a link to the economy here, since the Union’s economic strength forms the basis for its external action. From being an attractive and interesting trading partner follows influence.
The EU has become global actor which does not have time for reflection pause in its external action. Politically and economically, the EU participates in strengthening peace and stability on our own continent and elsewhere. The Union is involved in crisis and conflict management both with civilian and military resources. Its citizens expect the Union to be active, while expectations from outside the EU are that the Union will act decisively and assume leadership in solving international questions.
During Finland’s Presidency, we aim at strengthening the EU’s international role and reinforce the consistency of its actions. Compared to many other global players, the Union has a comprehensive set of instruments at its disposal. These should be used with consistency. The Union’s voice will be heard only if we speak with one voice.
We will further develop the Union’s crisis management. Full operational capability of the rapid reaction force from the beginning of 2007 must be confirmed during our Presidency. We will continue to align civil and military crisis management. The EU is leading the development of a comprehensive crisis management system, which will take on board security needs. Even here, the EU is leading the way.
The EU’s relations with our most important neighbour, Russia, and the Northern Dimension are included in the list of priorities during our term. We believe that we can contribute towards improving relations between the EU and Russia. These cannot be limited to trade and energy but must extend to a broad-ranging partnership, in which we can share our European values and global interests. Our aim is to strengthen Russia’s commitment to European co-operation. In order to succeed, we need more interaction between the EU countries and Russia, student exchange programmes and cultural cooperation.
We should put the EU’s relations with Russia on a new footing; a more long- term framework is needed. These issues will be discussed with the objective of reaching agreement on opening negotiations by the end of this year. As regards the Northern Dimension, we have already come a long way: the new political framework agreement will be signed during the coming autumn. It will enable the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland to work together as equal partners on issues relating to this northern part of the world.
In external relations, we will also pay special attention to Transatlantic relations and Asia. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), in September, will be the largest international meeting ever organised in Finland.
The fourth priority covers promoting citizens’ access to justice and strengthening the international justice system. Assessing the Hague programme will allow us to carry out a thorough political analysis of Justice and Home Affairs.
Citizens expect the European Union to fight effectively against international crime, human trafficking and terrorism. Finland will identify possibilities to streamline the decision-making procedures on police and judicial cooperation. The possibilities in the current Nice treaty to use qualified majority voting would be a significant step towards improving the efficiency of decision-making.
The fifth and last priority which I would particularly like to mention here is transparent and efficient procedures. Transparency will be increased in accordance with the European Council’s decision last week. In principle all Council deliberations under the co-decision procedure will be public. This decision is welcomed by Finland, which has consistently highlighted the need for transparency. I believe that transparency will also help us win citizens’ confidence and enhance EU’s legitimacy. Here we will apply common sense: transparency in the legislative process does not prevent ministers from holding confidential discussions when necessary.
Finland will emphasize better regulation, i.e. the quality of legislation, and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. We will cooperate closely with the Commission and the goal is legislation that takes into account the implications of the legislation as well the necessity of European Union level legislation in the first place.
I hope that co-operation with the Finnish Parliament will continue to function in the same excellent manner as it has up to now during the Government’s term of office – and as it did during our last Presidency in 1999. The success of our Presidency is important to Finland, and its effects will continue to be felt well beyond the end of this year. In that sense, we are all in the same boat, the Government and the opposition alike.
It is with confidence that the Government is set to take on the task of leading the European Union for the next six months. We have a set of well-thought out priorities, which will contribute towards the Union’s objectives.
During its term of Presidency, Finland will lead the Union towards an economically and politically stronger as well as more secure New Europe.