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Speech by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo at the European Parliament on 13 March 2024

Government Communications Department
Publication date 13.3.2024 11.42

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo spoke at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 13 March 2024. Check against delivery.

Madam Speaker, Dear Roberta, 
Honourable Members of the European Parliament, 
Fellow Europeans,

I am happy to be here at the European Parliament – a building I have visited numerous times previously as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Finance.

Today, I stand before you not just as the Prime Minister of Finland but also as a committed European, eager to share Finland’s vision for a resilient, competitive and secure Europe. 

We now find ourselves at a key moment in history, one that calls for our courage, unity and determination. 

We have returned to the very fundaments of European integration: promoting peace, and defending our values. The ongoing war in Ukraine is not just a conflict on our continent’s borders; it is a stark reminder of the fragility of our peace. It threatens the very principles on which our Union was built. 

As Europeans, it is high time for us to wake up and smell the coffee. This is the defining challenge of our generation and our continent.

Finland, which shares a long border – more than 1,300 kilometres – with Russia, understands the significance of this moment. Finland has never dropped the ball when it comes to security and defence. After the Cold War, we remained committed to maintaining a credible and independent defence capasity. Our decision to join NATO is not one we took lightly; it was a clear signal of our commitment to European security. Now we are happy to finally welcome our close neighbour Sweden to the Alliance.

The war in Ukraine has been a wake-up call for all of us. We must never again be so reliant on others for our energy and security. We must take care of our own defence. Ramping up our defence industry, improving our preparedness and strengthening our borders are critical pillars of our shared security architecture. We are living at a time where practically all policy fields are linked to our security, and without security, we cannot ensure a prosperous future for Europe.

For us in Finland, the EU is the most important political and economic frame of reference and community of values. My Government is committed to a strong European Union – an EU that acts, not only reacts. We want to build a Union that takes care of our common security and works for our economy. Upholding the rule of law in Europe must remain our core principle.

Today I have three main points for the future of Europe and the next mandate.

First, we have to strengthen Europe’s strategic competitiveness.

The reason our economic competitiveness is so crucial is simple. Europe is falling behind in productivity. Our standard of living is diminishing compared to others. The United States and China are experiencing faster growth and attracting investments. Should this trend persist, we will no longer be able to stand on our own feet.

We must build our competitiveness by developing our strengths and through market-based solutions, with a fully functioning internal market at the core. This foundation will enable us to thrive in an increasingly competitive global landscape. 

We need to cut the bureaucratic red tape, implement sustainable fiscal policies, reform labour market regulation and conclude new trade deals.

We must foster innovation and skills, strengthen our internal market and ensure significant funding for innovation and research. 

These initiatives are the bedrock of long-term competitiveness. There is an immense need to finance our defence and the green transition, as well as broader competitiveness-enhancing policy areas like research and innovation. 

We must also utilise existing instruments more actively. This means reforming the next MFF and seeking more financial resources from the markets, for example through the EIB and by developing the Capital Markets Union. We need a true European Investment Union. It is essential that we make investing in Europe attractive again.

The urgency of reverting the state aid rules to their normal framework has become increasingly apparent. The escalation of state aid competition threatens the very core of our single market. Such competition can lead to a race to the bottom, where countries with deeper pockets can unfairly support their domestic industries. 

The principle of a single market is founded on equal opportunities for all, not a fragmented landscape where walls are built and financial muscle overshadows market dynamics. It is crucial that we restore the normal state aid rules. A healthy single market benefits all European citizens and business – today and in the long term.

Jacques Delors, father of the European single market, would indeed be deeply concerned by the current practices regarding the relaxation of state aid rules. The dilution of these rules risks undermining the level playing field Delors worked so tirelessly to establish.

When it comes to our trade policy, we must refocus on the core principles of trade policy itself. 

Our setbacks have often stemmed from pursuing broad-ranging agreements with noble intentions, and expecting our negotiating partners to commit to them.

If we want to be globally relevant, we need a better ability to conclude, ratify and implement trade deals, not a better ability to bring them down. 

The European Union’s trade policy is not only a vital instrument for boosting competitiveness; it has become crucial in building partnerships in today's global landscape. 

Friends, secondly, we have to improve European comprehensive security. 

This includes defence and border security, but also preparedness more broadly.

Firstly, ramping up our defence industry is priority number one. The European Union has the regulation and the resources, and we need to use those tools. Even as a member of NATO, we think that Europe can do a lot. NATO and the EU do not exclude each other – they complement each other.

Next, a few words on border security.

Russia has weaponised migration to put pressure on Finland and the entire EU. Russia is pushing third country nationals towards our eastern land border. This is not acceptable. The numbers are still relatively low, but the phenomenon is worrisome. If we can’t stop this phenomenon now, it will also become a question of numbers and a greater threat to national and European security.

Security at the EU’s external borders is at the core of the EU’s existence. Safeguarding our external frontlines against any form of hybrid attacks is crucial. 

This is why our response has been decisive. We have closed our eastern land border and are in the process of preparing new legislation. We are doing this to protect the entire European Union. A hybrid attack on our border is a hybrid attack against the whole of Europe. Therefore, we need to evaluate our existing European legislation, to see whether it is strong enough to tackle these challenges in its current state. If not, then we must consider updating it to better suit the time we are living in. We must send a clear message: Europe is resolute in its defence, agile in its response, and firm in its commitment to the safety of its borders.

In addressing the security of our borders, we must also focus on the people who live in these critical areas. Tourism and all cross-border trade has stopped indefinitely. 

The vitality of the EU’s external border regions is crucial, not just for national security but for the cohesion of our society. The war has caused the economic base in these border areas to decline. This trend, if unchanged, will lead to depopulation and pose a grave risk to the security and stability of our Union.

It is necessary that we implement EU-level policies aimed at revitalising these areas and making them more secure against external threats. 

Next, I would like to turn to the topic of preparedness.

Preparedness for crises is one of the cornerstones of security. The EU and its Member States must be better prepared for a growing number of increasingly complex crises, as we have learned from the COVID-19 crisis, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis. It is in everyone’s interest to improve the level of preparedness of all Member States and the EU as a whole.

In this context of preparedness, Finland stands ready to share our experiences of resilience and readiness. Our nation has long been recognised as a superpower in preparedness. It is a status born out of necessity and reinforced by our history and geographical position.

We have developed comprehensive strategies that cover all sectors of society, from public to private. Our approach to preparedness includes not only physical defences but also societal resilience, which is critical in facing both conventional and hybrid threats. 

I believe Finland's model of preparedness could offer valuable lessons for the European Union. By adopting similar comprehensive and forward-thinking strategies, we can enhance the resilience of the entire Union.

This is why we ask the Commission to develop and publish the first EU Strategy for a Preparedness Union. The strategy should be based on a whole-of-society approach, where the needs and contributions of all policy sectors are taken into account. 

We are not suggesting another policy document; we are calling for an innovative blueprint that ensures the European Union’s resilience in the face of complex challenges. 

Our third priority has to do with the environment and climate. With the right kind of climate policy, we can strengthen our security of supply, boost our economies, and improve the supply of European raw materials. The Government of Finland is committed to reaching the climate goals. We think that while tackling climate change, we can also create jobs and phase out fossil fuels. We have the technology and know-how for this here in Europe. 

We must emphasise a clean transition that leverages the bioeconomy and circular economy. With clean energy – in the form of nuclear power, wind power, solar power and biomass – we will attract industry that can produce and export these clean solutions. 

We should combat climate change and support biodiversity in a way that recognises the diverse circumstances across the Member States. A technology-neutral, cost-effective clean transition will pave the way for sustainable growth. The bioeconomy and renewable natural resources are our allies in reducing emissions and diminishing harmful dependencies on third countries.

As we look towards the next legislative term, it is important to admit that our environmental and climate goals cannot be achieved through more regulation alone. Regulation has been necessary and will continue to be, but our approach thus far has focused too much on the details, losing sight of the broader picture. We must have proper impact assessments. In the upcoming term, we must recalibrate our climate policy and shift away from overly detailed regulation to fostering innovation. We need carrots and incentives, not sticks and bureaucracy. 

As I approach the end of my speech, I will turn back to the situation in Ukraine. I say it is our job as leaders to fight against any pessimism and to show an example and leadership. Everyone has to wake up. 

Russia continues to commit war crimes in Ukraine. It has shifted to a war economy. Russia is evidently preparing for a long conflict with the West, and it represents a permanent and existential military threat to Europe. If we, as a united Europe, fail to respond sufficiently to this challenge, the coming years will be filled with danger and the looming threat of attack.

We must bolster our support for Ukraine now for it to win this war and at the same time enhance our own defence capabilities and the ability to defend ourselves!

It is also essential that we offer a credible European path forward for Ukraine. Enlargement of the EU is a geopolitical necessity and a question of security. 

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to defend itself, and the Ukrainian people’s resolve remains high. Their resilience and determination pose a significant challenge to Russian interests. Supporting Ukraine is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity. The cost of Russian military success would far exceed the investment required to support Ukraine. Imagine what will happen next if Russia succeeds. 

I say that every euro spent on Ukraine today is a low price compared to the alternative costs if Russia wins.  

We have already taken significant steps, but more must be done. Ukraine is fighting, and we have the resources to support it. Ukraine deserves a just and lasting peace on its own terms. Securing the agreement on the EU’s Ukraine Facility among all 27 Member States was crucial. 

Next, we need to deliver on ammunition production and agree on additional funding for the European Peace Facility and Ukraine Assistance Fund as quickly as possible. Finland is doing its share: we have increased our ammunition production, and I urge all Member States to do the same. 

It is crucial to recognise that Russia’s military capabilities are limited, despite its attempts to hide this fact. Russia is not invincible. We can overcome this challenge if we pool our resources together. We have the financial means, now we need to demonstrate our political commitment.

Self-satisfaction is no longer an option; our collective future hinges on our ability to recognise and counteract the threats posed by an aggressive and militarised Russia. Strengthening our defence is not just a matter of national security – it is a precondition for preserving the peace and stability that have long been the hallmarks of European integration and prosperity.

In this light, we have to amplify the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) engagement in security and defence financing. Recognising the EIB’s pivotal role in investment financing and as the EU’s lending arm, there is an urgent call to extend its capabilities beyond dual-use projects, especially in response to the growing demands within the European security and defence sectors. 

More Europe does not and should not mean less America. The United States is and will be our most important ally, and we must strengthen our transatlantic links in both defence and trade.

Dear friends,

Let us leave this hemicycle today with a clear resolve: to strengthen our Union, to secure our borders and to support our friends in need with more than just words. Our actions today will define the legacy of our generation and shape the course of history. The time for action is now.

Thank you.