Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s speech at the Europe Forum Turku
(Check against delivery) Ladies and Gentlemen, This weekend gives us a great opportunity to have active and forward-looking discussions about the European Union. This is what we need, both in Finland and in the whole of Europe.
During this year, I have toured several universities and tried to encourage open and active dialogue on the future of the EU. It is not just us politicians who should speak, quite the opposite. After this speech I want to hear what you have to say.
What do you think about the European Union? What directions should it take? What should the Union focus on? Only through seamless cooperation and dialogue between citizens and policymakers can we create a Europe that is more secure and closer to its citizens.
There is a lot of turmoil right at the moment. The Union is facing unprecedented challenges, both global and at home: regional conflicts, terrorism, growing migratory pressures, protectionism, and social and economic inequalities. For the EU to be strong on the outside, right now we must be particularly strongly united on the inside.
Two years ago the greatest threat came from within the EU. Many feared that Brexit would mark the start of disintegration for the Union. Brexit did shake the EU. The crisis forced us to look into the mirror and give serious thought to what the Union has to offer to the Member States, citizens and companies.
Brexit made us bold enough to take an honest look into the mirror and share our thoughts about what went wrong. The Union may appear too distant for the citizens.
The Union will not achieve credibility through high-level discussions, even if these are needed as well. Besides visions, we need concrete actions that are seen in people’s daily lives. This is what the talks between the EU leaders on the future of Europe aimed for. The outcome, the Rome Declaration, is in line with the main issues Finland has also stressed.
In the ten years to come we want a Union that is safe and secure, prosperous, competitive, sustainable and socially responsible. A Union that has the will and capacity to be a key player and trailblazer in combatting climate change and poverty as well as in innovation and free trade.
We want a Union where citizens have new opportunities for cultural and social development and to prosper in their own life. We want a Union which remains open to those European countries that respect our values and are committed to promoting them.
Next year can in many ways be called a “super year” for the EU. We are facing the elections to the European Parliament, setting up a new Commission, adoption of the Strategic Agenda for the Council for the next five years and, last but not least, Finland’s Presidency in the EU. To succeed in all this requires a lot of hard work, but also a clear target to guide us. What are the premises and issues on which a more solid Europe can be built? Personally, I wish to reflect on the future of Europe under four main headings and targets: responsibility, climate policy leadership, care for a united Europe, and competent growth.
The world needs responsibility. This means assuming responsibility for ourselves and for the people and surroundings close to us, as well as Finland’s responsibility for Europe and more broadly in international contexts. Responsibility also means that we defend the European basic values.
The Union is built on strong values, peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. To us, human rights are indivisible. The EU must fight tooth and nail to defend the rules-based system, common human rights, rule of law, free trade, and ambitious climate policy. The European Union must be a global trailblazer and leader in these issues. This is not just our obligation to the Europeans, it is our obligation to humanity.
The EU is a credible player only if we can also make sure that our own citizens are safe and secure. This is also what responsibility is about. The defence dimension of the European Union is advancing fast. We are taking determined steps in the right direction. Finland has been active in every stage of the process.
Finland and France have also cooperated bilaterally to promote this. For the past two years we have worked very hard on the basis of the joint declaration with France that was published in 2016. Who would have thought that two years later we have achieved this much, and with very concrete steps!
Yesterday we published, together with President Macron, a joint Finnish-French declaration on the next steps of European defence. We are calling for ambitious progress and concrete action. So what is new in the declaration we gave yesterday?
We want to expand defence cooperation from crisis management to security issues that are important in the citizens’ daily lives. We would like to bring Article 42.7 to public discussion. It says: “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.”
The EU has responsibilities concerning the world around us as well. We must be even better capable of targeting aid to those in need, reduce poverty, and strive to find solutions to the true root causes of global challenges. At the heart of this work are the Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals. In this respect we must take an even closer look at Africa.
Finnish political leaders visit the continent far too seldom, and I hope to see a change in this. However, in Africa there are many kinds of players with varying objectives and motives. A more coordinated and comprehensive approach to Africa from different perspectives is needed, instead of just focusing on migration.
Finland will draw attention to this during its Presidency, as well as in the negotiations over spending limits. Early next year I will make my second visit to Africa, and I want development cooperation issues to receive greater weight in future as well. These are issues where cooperation with both civil society organisations and companies is most important.
I wish to highlight the need to improve the position of girls and women even more strongly in the development cooperation and foreign and security policy, both in the EU and Finland. Improving human rights and, in particular, improving the position and rights of girls and women must be at the heart of all activities. This also entails better sexual and reproductive health. The European Union must adopt a stronger role in this, but I also call upon the Finnish actors. Besides the human rights dimension, improving the position of girls and women has a clear impact on how prosperous and equal the societies are going to be. Whether or not girls have access to education and work outside their homes, have access or time to participate in social activities?
Migration is a challenge to the EU in future as well. We must bear the responsibility for this together. Finland’s objective is to reach a situation where, by European standards, migration is addressed with more attention paid to the resettlement of refugees and the quota refugee system, and in closer cooperation with the United Nations and the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR. We should help people closer to humanitarian crisis hotspots. The living conditions of refugee camps must be improved so that it will be possible for refugees to return directly to their homes.
This is the approach I have suggested to my European colleagues and it has won a great deal of support. This is where we are heading quite strongly, which is also what President Macron thinks, as he told me yesterday. This also means that we must be capable of increasing our shared refugee quotas and creating permanent mechanisms for crisis situations.
Second, I wish to talk about climate policy.
This means that nature and the environment are taken into account in all policy-making. The use of natural resources must be sustainable, with the principle of moderation in mind.
In future, Europe will have an even more important role in this. Europe must adopt clear global leadership in climate policy. This is the only way we can reach the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit climate warming to less than two degrees. By being active and serving as a model Finland has become a true leader in climate policy, both within the Union and internationally.
Together with other Member States that aim for a more ambitious climate policy, we encourage the European Commission to adopt the Long-Term Climate Strategy that will take the EU towards carbon-neutrality by the middle of this century. The EU must also review the sufficiency of its own emission reduction targets. Climate funding must be increased and soil carbon sinks improved.
The European Union must have ambitious targets for renewable energy as well. The Union must phase out fossil fuels and find sustainable ways to deploy renewable energy sources. We cannot wait until the coming years or decades - now is the time to act.
The emissions trading scheme must be developed so that emissions will cost a lot, which encourages energy production and other industry to invest in climate-friendly technologies. We have also proposed that individual heating of buildings would be included in emissions trading.
Besides acting rapidly, the EU must also be consistent in the actions taken. We cannot set even more ambitious climate objectives while at the same time introducing stricter rules for the use of renewable raw materials, including wood-based biomass. The use of these renewable raw materials must be allowed in future, within the defined limits for sustainability.
In agricultural policy Europe must maintain its self-sufficiency as a food producer. This is all about security. The recent weather events have shaken the sector and weakened its profitability. The common agricultural policy of the EU must also take account of environmental considerations. The needs of agricultural producers must be taken into account in a more targeted manner. The funding allocated to agriculture must stay about the same as it is now. When the financial base is strong, the EU can also set better and more appropriate requirements with regard to the environment. Unfortunately, in the Commission’s proposals presented last spring the trend was quite the opposite.
In Finland the Government key projects have produced excellent results in reducing the loading of waters from agricultural sources. Among other things, we have tested the spreading of gypsum and fibre sludge, a forest industry by-product, on arable lands. This work will continue as part of the enhanced water protection programme decided in this week’s Government spending limits discussion. Our aim for the next programming period of the common agricultural policy is to include these measures in the environment payment scheme.
Finland truly has the potential to become a player in climate issues that is far greater than its size. Superpower in combatting climate change. We have the technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air, from the pipes of industrial or heat plants. To break up water into oxygen and hydrogen and turn carbon dioxide and hydrogen into various kinds of products – hydrocarbons. Technological advancement is facilitated by the solar and wind energy which has become much less costly. Just think about the opportunities this means for Africa. The air is cleaner, while at the same time we can produce methanol or raw material for plastic, and obtain water as a by-product.
There are three ways to curb climate change: less consumption, increased carbon sinks, and bold use of technologies to capture carbon, including those I already mentioned. Increasing carbon sinks is something that needs to be part of the daily decisions by consumers. When you pay for filling up your car, you should have the opportunity to contribute to planting forest either voluntarily or through the price of fuel.
The third topic I wish to raise is caring for a united Europe.
Special attention should be drawn to a balanced development of the whole Union. Next year, when Finland holds the Presidency, marks the 15th anniversary of the great eastern enlargement. Enlargement has been a success story, but the work to integrate many countries and their citizens to the European community is far from being completed. Finland must be a country that takes particular care of a more balanced development of the different regions of Europe and combats confrontations and undesired divisions into blocks. The European Union is very much a value community for Finland. The aim for us is to consolidate the EU as a security community that builds on cooperation among its Member States.
To further strengthen the EU’s unity, strong regional and structural policy is still needed. And I am sure that this will also be to the benefit of us the older Member States and, as we are called, the net payers. For Finnish economy and business it is far from irrelevant how the new Member States are evolving.
Perhaps we should also ask what Europe would be like if eastern enlargement had not happened and we had closed our doors to many of our present members. I believe this would have been a huge historical mistake – both in terms of peace and stability and our own living standard.
The European Union needs a Europe with a strong social dimension; a Europe where all have access to growth and prosperity, where we have a fair single market, where we seek solutions to the massive problem of youth unemployment together, and where we work together for better equality in working life.
European policy also means that we take care of each other regardless of national boundaries. It does not mean a common social security system, but strong, responsible and just management of our finances so that there is room for work, high-quality education and entrepreneurship.
The fourth target is competent growth.
Europe needs competent growth. Inputs in knowledge, research and development will carry Europe into the future.
Digitalisation and its rapid advancement mean a lot of new for us. Artificial intelligence changes working life and sectors such as transport, and we will need completely new kinds of knowledge and ways to act. We are now undergoing this transition.
At the moment the European Union is lagging behind in adopting artificial intelligence, which is already a more prominent part of daily lives in countries such as the United States and China. We need a new way to think, closer cooperation and strong inputs in research and development to promote the application of artificial intelligence. Finland has been active in this and we are really being heard in the European forums. Yesterday Finland and France gave a joint plea on how the Union could be a leader in this sector as well.
Open and free trade and functioning internal market are the key conditions for enhancing growth and wellbeing. We cannot turn inwards - there is no room for protectionism in the European Union. We must bring the free trade negotiations to a successful conclusion and seek new trading partners. The EU must take the lead if the United States wants, as it now seems, to give up its role as the champion of free trade. As the Presidency next year, this must be one of our priorities.
Member States must take care of their economies and build them on a sustainable basis. We have worked very hard on this in Finland over the past three years. We have risen from the bottom, and now we are back among the tops in Europe. The road to this has not been an easy one, but the work had to be done.
The foundation for prosperity and stability is also very much created through the Economic and Monetary Union. For citizens the European Central Bank often appears as a very distant part of the system. In reality, however, it has a crucial role in solving the economic crisis in Europe. Thanks to the massive fiscal market operations of the European Central Bank, the interest rates have stayed low, and many even quite heavily indebted Member States have been able to stabilise their economies.
I am not saying that EMU is ready, but further reforms are needed. The stepping stones are clear, and we should act now when there is now immediate crisis in view. At the core of our thinking is market discipline. Now that our debt ratio is again under 60% we can require this from others. This provides healthy flexibilities in case of external fiscal shocks. But the banking union must be completed, and further steps must be taken even after that. Finland must be ready to take joint steps forward to deepen EMU. We need a determined and comprehensive decision on what we aim for and how this is to be reached.
When the targets I have mentioned have been reached, this is how I see the European Union in 2025.
- Populism has been stripped of its agenda through determined action. Faith in democratic decision-making and the European Union is strong.
- The Union is a world leader in climate policy and trailblazer in developing technologies associated with it. Climate policy choices and decisions are reflected in consumers’ daily lives. Measures to combat climate change in Africa have given young people hope for a good life.
- The Union has borne its global responsibility and helped to curb flows of migrants, tackled their causes and reduced poverty. A refugee in need of personal protection is granted asylum in Europe. Legal migration has eased the shortage of labour and reduced citizens’ fears relating to uncontrollable migration.
- The Economic and Monetary Union has been reformed in a way that creates prosperity and stability, while being even better prepared for future crises. The banking union is ready and the crisis resolution tools that were lacking in EMU have been built, following the common roadmap.
- The Union is a strong player in trade policy as well as in foreign and security policy and nobody can overrule it. Our strong position makes us a desired trading partner and gives us a prominent role in resolving crises.
- The European Union has an integrated and functioning single market and the world’s best research and innovation policy.
An finally, I wish to tell about our preparations for the Presidency next year. As I said before, the coming year is in many respects an important one for both the European Union and Finland. Our Presidency in the preparation of the new five-year strategic programme will be significant. We launched the preparations in good time last spring. Preparations for the Presidency are being made with care and following the parliamentary procedure. The national Presidency programme for the part of this Government will be approved early in the year.
The Government’s aim is for Finland to be a strong Presidency that is seen and whose voice is heard. We must have the sensitivity to hear everyone and to promote the achievement of common decisions. We see and relentlessly advance the common European interest, but with a suitably Finnish aroma. During the latter half of next year our blue and white handprint will show everywhere in the EU.
Before the parliamentary elections in Finland next April I will meet all my European colleagues either in Finland or in their home countries. We want to make sure that the goals of our Presidency are known to every Member State. Communication between me and my colleagues is already close and active, but further efforts will contribute to concrete achievements during our Presidency.
For Finland the approach to European cooperation is very clear. Together we are stronger and more effective than alone. Everyone who follows the discussion on Brexit in Great Britain is beginning to understand the true meaning of being apart. Being apart leads to a great deal of uncertainty both in Member States and the whole Europe. It is better to work together and achieve more than stay alone and achieve less — our place is in the front line of influencing what happens in the world.
Before we start the discussion, I wish to stress that the European Union is quite a unique community. I meet my colleagues about 10 times a year, the discussion is open and friendly. Friendships have been created over the past four years, and these will continue far into the future. We also communicate between the meetings to find solutions, but also to give peer support. We often joke about how important this kind of group therapy is for us.