Speech by Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen, Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission, 19 August 2019
(CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY) Excellencies, Invited Guests, Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union is challenging for many reasons. The European Parliament elected in May is organising and will hold its first sessions, the new Commission will be appointed in the autumn and progress should be made in preparing the multiannual financial framework. This would be quite enough to do. However, a unique situation in the Union’s history will occur in the autumn with the resignation of a Member State. The fact that the split is uncertain until it has taken place doesn’t make the work any easier.
And in addition to the above: It’s good to plan for presidencies carefully, but also to remember the principle of “Events, my dear, events” — in other words, even good plans can’t withstand encounters with reality lasting for months. We don’t know whether there will be any surprises in the economy or political upheaval in the European neighbourhood.
Despite everything, above all there is always reason to be optimistic about the Presidency. Our strengths are at least as before. From commissioners to ministers and foreign journalists, everyone praises Finland as a sensible, level-headed country that does what needs doing and keeps its promise. The praises are well-deserved.
Our preparedness is high also at the political level. The political preparations for the Presidency began with the joint work of all parliamentary parties during the previous parliamentary term. There is agreement on the main lines and even some essential details among the government parties and across the divide between the government parties and the opposition. As to the background of the government formation negotiations, I can say that policy on Europe was a topic that maintained both a good atmosphere and tempo.
A particular political asset is the popularity enjoyed by the Union among citizens. Levels of support and satisfaction higher than previously have been measured in EU countries. In Finland, a study by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA found that 56% of citizens have a positive attitude to EU membership and only 13% a negative attitude. People in young age classes have a particularly positive attitude to the Union. Opinion polls are supported by the rise in voter turnout in the European parliamentary elections and in the relatively good election results of pro-European parties.
The high levels of support enjoyed by the EU can be seen as an indication of the successful activities of the EU and EU politicians. However, given the challenges associated with the legitimacy and visibility of the EU, in my opinion the high levels of support should be interpreted as a challenge posed to the EU and national governments by citizens. People are favourable to the EU because much is expected of it. Young people want the opportunity to work and study abroad and to travel freely. We all expect free movement to increase the economy and common institutions to keep crises under control. This constitutes motivation and a challenge for all of us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In implementing the programme for Finland’s Presidency, within a couple of weeks we will begin a round of bilateral negotiations with all Member States in order to agree on the multiannual financial framework of the EU. Our aim is that, following the exchange of views between Heads of State in October, we will be able to present a proposal for the entire financial framework.
Also to be evaluated in connection with the financial framework is how we can support the EU’s new objectives while at the same time filling the gap in financing caused by Brexit. Increased investment is needed to achieve the competency and climate goals while at the same time ensuring that major budget sectors, such as agriculture and regional development funds, continue to support balanced development of the EU
A topic colouring the EU autumn is climate policy, which has become more and more important in the eyes of citizens. In Finland, the Government has wanted to set an example and has set the objective of a carbon-neutral Finland by the year 2035. The Government’s goal is to show that a successful country with a small footprint can have a large handprint, that is, an impact on the actions of other countries.
The European Commission has presented a road map of measures that could lead to a carbon‑neutral EU by 2050. Now a political decision by the Member States is needed. The European Council meeting in June came close to a decision, but work remains to be done to convince the last countries during Finland’s Presidency.
Our Presidency will not become entangled over the issue of Brexit. The EU and the United Kingdom have agreed on the matter, and the unanimous view of the 27 EU Member States will not be changed. There are a couple of comforting points in the sad Brexit story. It has shown that there are no disagreements or divisions that would prevent the 27 EU Member States from reaching unanimity when necessary. The second point is that we now have a good example of the realities of the separation process.
Although one country wants to leave the Union, there are several countries that want to join. The enlargement of the European Union to the Western Balkans is once again a topical issue as Finland’s Presidency discusses the launching of membership negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia.
The enlargement of the EU in the Western Balkans can easily be understood as a regional or economic issue. The area of volatile political conditions and economic problems desperately needs access to a functioning internal market and the free movement of capital and labour. The difference between countries inside the EU, such as Croatia, and those outside, such as Serbia, is enormous.
Enlargement should be understood as a broader strategic issue. The Western Balkans region is neither the sphere of influence or the backyard of the EU — it is part of the heart of Europe and its place is in the common European union of values. This is the will of the region’s people. The growth of nationalism and the influence of other superpowers is not a stable combination in a region that is still fragile. The 2004 EU enlargement in the east was about a very similar situation. Although enlargement was not painless at that time either and consolidation still remains, in many ways it has, however, been a success.
During its Presidency, Finland will take forward work so that accession negotiations could be started. Enlargement policy is one of the Union’s most effective tools for positively influencing development in our neighbouring regions. However, resolve does not mean that matters slowing down and complicating membership are ignored. The foundations of the political system must be in order and the fight against corruption must be clearly on the side of victory.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
American historian Robert Kagan has described the rules-based international system built up after the Second World War as a garden that requires constant work to maintain. The normal state of international relations is a jungle dominated by constant struggle and the law of the strongest. Preservation of a rules-based system thus is not a natural law. Disorder is natural.
Similarly, the principle of the rule of law on which the European Union is founded requires continuous work and upholding. Societies are inherently authoritarian in organisation, systems where leaders distribute advantages and influence to oligarchs. There is no obvious reason why those in power would agree to rules that jeopardise the grabbing of economic interests and the continuation of the exercise of power.
Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, on the rule of law, does not remain in force by itself. Supervision and sanctions for its violation are required. During its Presidency, Finland will assume its responsibilities in this regard. We will ensure that the rule of law is realised. This will be done in a matter-of-fact and diplomatic way. To underline that the rules are the same for all, we certainly won’t blame and single out countries and governments without good reason.
All in all, it is misleading to pick on the newest EU Member States. Not even a long tradition of democracy and the rule of law is adequate in itself to defend against disorder. Britain has relied on parliamentarism and the sovereignty of Parliament’s power for over 330 years. Following one referendum, the country is in a turbulent state that has been described as a constitutional crisis. There is serious talk in the country that Parliament would be prevented from voting against a no-deal Brexit. Take back control then wouldn’t mean that the representatives elected by the people can make decisions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the EU, Finland promotes the global rules-based system in both the economy and security policy. In steering the international economy, the EU has sufficient and recognised resources. The European Central Bank, together with the Federal Reserve System of the United States, is the most important monetary policymaker; its decisions affect the balance of the entire world economy. The EU also has the role in the International Monetary Fund promised to it, and both the Union and its large Member States influence G20 cooperation.
It is in the EU’s interest to support free trade and the institutions that safeguard it. This has been promoted successfully through regional economic and trade agreements with Canada, Japan and some Latin American countries. When and if Britain leaves the Union, it will be necessary to reach good terms with it — provided that it can be determined what the Brits want. Progress through regional agreements, however, must not displace the maintenance of global rules. Free trade should not be segregated into blocks; instead, the world economy should be open to all.
The freedom of the international economy is most emphatically in Finland’s best interests. Finland lives on imports, and the internal market — let alone the domestic market — is not an adequate base for prosperity. In the goal of promoting free trade, Finland’s EU policy will find close partner countries even after Brexit. Germany, the Netherlands, the Nordic Members States of the EU share this view of the matter. However, in its policy on Europe, Finland does not commit itself solely to Hanseatic Leagues or other blocs. We carry out cooperation with everyone.
The programme of Prime Minister Rinne’s Government has a definition of policy on the basis of which we will strengthen the European Semester; in other words, we will intensify cooperation and coordination of fiscal policy. This cooperation will be needed if the threat of a recession becomes a reality. The European Central Bank’s resources for stimulating monetary policy are limited. As Finland is an economy open to imports, our own fiscal policy is not fully effective. Therefore we need a coordinated and jointly implemented fiscal policy, not a zero-sum game philosophy.
The role and position of the EU in security policy is known to be smaller than its economic impact. It isn’t realistic to expect that the Union would acquire all the capabilities and preparedness needed to maintain global security in the coming years. However, we must go forward in this too, as the world order based on peace and rules is known to be endangered. Its maintenance lacks a determined actor. In this situation, hardly anyone expects that new solutions would be proposed to the problems of the Middle East, or that India and Pakistan would be encouraged to act peacefully, or that the nuclear disarmament of North Korea would proceed. If even relations between South Korea and Japan could be improved!
The EU’s global security role is growing out of need, not ambition.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Finland is a land of music and many of you surely take advantage of the reputation enjoyed by such greats as Jean Sibelius or Kaija Saariaho when you represent Finland abroad. Finland is particularly well known for its good conductors. My father, a violinist retired from Oulu Symphony Orchestra, always used to say that a good conductor makes the orchestra play well together.
If a metaphor for Finland’s Presidency were needed, perhaps it is precisely the conductor’s role. We may not have composed the music we play, but it is our job to make the orchestra play together as well as possible.
However, there is the risk that the music will become a cacophony, as can easily happen if, from one issue to another, we entrench ourselves to be led by the same blocks. The EU won’t function if the net contributors play in a different rhythm to the cohesion countries. If we get this orchestra to play the first few bars in the right order, the whole five-year period can be a sweet melody.