Opening speech by Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen at Conference on the Interaction between Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights at Finlandia Hall 11 September 2019

Government Communications Department 11.9.2019 14.05
Speech

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Distinguished guests,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the second day of our conference. I can only apologize for not being able to attend yesterday.

As I try to reach the right mindset for today’s theme, I think of a garden. Beautiful flowers and trees in perfect shape. As an American historian Robert Kagan writes, an organised society, based on Rule of Law, is like a garden. The natural order, according to him, is the jungle. And like a garden, Rule of Law needs constant care and protection, otherwise the jungle grows back.

I am very happy to see here such a broad representation of different actors: diplomats and politicians, representatives of EU institutions and agencies, national experts, and representatives of civil society and academia.

As yesterday’s sessions demonstrated, this conference is a unique arena in which to discuss the interaction between democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law, under the overarching theme of resilience.  In understand your exchanges have been constructive and future-oriented. They are a good basis for our discussions today.

To start the today’s discussions, I will first share with you some general reflections on the rule of law as our Presidency priority. Then, I will present an overview of our ongoing work in this regard.  Finally, we will take a look at the future.

But before I begin, let me congratulate the new commissioner designates, presented yesterday in Brussels by president-elect Ursula von der Leyen. The Commission has been a strong partner in upholding and developing the rule of law in our Member States. We are very much looking forward to seeing the same commitment from the incoming college.

So ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, strengthening common values, and the rule of law in particular, is among the top priorities of our Presidency. The common value base shared by all Member States is the strength of the Union. It is something that unites us – not something that divides us.

For many reasons, this is a good time to speak about European values.

We are facing an increasingly complex European and global operating environment. Citizens’ expectations for the Union have risen as well. Our unity is more important than ever. Also, the EU is in the midst of an institutional transition phase.

In June, the European leaders agreed on the new EU Strategic Agenda, giving guidance for our work over the next five years.  According to this agenda, the rule of law is a key guarantor that our common values must be fully respected by all Member States and the Union.  

The new European Parliament has been constituted and the process of forming a new Commission is under way.  I am convinced that these institutions will take forward the important work done by their predecessors. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finland started its six-month Presidency in July, with the slogan ‘Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future’. Sustainability goes hand in hand with peace, security, stability and prosperity – the very foundations of European integration and of our societies.  

Sustainability is very much dependent on what the First Vice-President of the Commission, Mr. Frans Timmermans, has referred to as a “tripod of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law”. Tipod stands on three legs and this also became clear in yesterday’s interventions – the tripod must stand together. If the legs of the tripod are not equal, the tripod will fall. And if the tripod is broken, sustainability is lost.

The rule of law has a strong symbolic value and great importance as an issue of principle.  As one of the core elements of the Union and of our societies, it reflects our firm commitment to principles such as legality, legal certainty, prohibition of arbitrariness of the executive powers, separation of powers, and effective judicial protection by independent courts.

At the same time, the rule of law has an essential function. Respect for the rule of law affects different layers of society in very practical terms: at the level of the Union, the State, national authorities, companies and, lastly, citizens.

Let me illustrate this by way of concrete examples.

I will start at the level of the Union. Respecting the rule of law is linked to the credibility of our external action. We can only require third states to respect the rule of law if the Union and the Member States are fully committed to this principle.

This is also an important element in the context of enlargement. How can the Union require the candidate countries to commit themselves to fully respecting the rule of law if there are doubts about the state of play in current Member States?

Secondly, as regards the State level, the rule of law is closely connected to resilience, which is the theme of our conference. Societies where the rule of law is not respected are more vulnerable internally and externally. As we heard yesterday, a country with rule of law deficiencies is, for example, an easier target for election interference and disinformation campaigns. We cannot downplay the strategic importance of this.

Thirdly, as regards national public administrations and cooperation between them, the area of freedom, security and justice based on mutual trust can function only if there is confidence between the Member States’ judicial and administrative systems and authorities. By way of illustration, how does the European Arrest Warrant System work if mutual trust between the Member States’ authorities is lost?

Fourthly, as far as companies are concerned, fostering sustainable growth requires that Member States’ business environments should be stable and predictable.  For example, will a company invest in another Member State if access to justice is not guaranteed and corruption is not prevented? This is a crucial point for the functioning of our internal market. Prosperity calls for good governance. 

And lastly, but most importantly, we come to the citizen. Only in societies based on the rule of law can the numerous rights enjoyed by Union citizens be guaranteed and the confidence of citizens be gained. For example, is a posted worker likely to sue the employer for an accident at work if he or she feels that the company can win the case by bribing officials?

And when I talk about citizens, I want to make special mention of a group close to my heart, namely the youth. Young people have the right to grow up in a society based firmly on strong and indivisible values. They should be better informed and involved when discussing matters concerning them, including the rule of law. We should not downplay their concerns, such as questions relating to the rule of law in the context of climate change. With this in mind, United Nations Agenda 2030 for sustainable development deserves our attention. Small deeds also make a difference. As you are aware, the Finnish Presidency has opted for sustainable meeting arrangements.

In other words, what can be more important than preserving and strengthening our common value base?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now give a few words on how we concretely intend to promote the rule of law during our Presidency.  I want to be clear on this: Finland is committed to doing its utmost during these six months.  Our approach is positive and constructive.

This conference, of course, is an example of such an approach.  The results of our discussions will feed into our action under different Council formations. One of our key goals is the reform of the Council’s Rule of Law Dialogue – the Council’s own rule of law instrument.

Since 2014, the Member States have been conducting a dialogue to promote and safeguard the rule of law. Establishing this dialogue was an important step. We have discussed the rule of law in the context of subjects such as digitalisation, the integration of migrants, and media pluralism. These thematic discussions have been very fruitful.

However, the time is now ripe to develop and strengthen the dialogue on the basis of experience gained so far.

Concretely, we aim to develop the dialogue into a yearly, general and genuine ‘stock-taking’ on where we stand with the rule of law in the Union, including the prevailing and emerging trends.  

Most importantly, a process of this kind would enhance knowledge and the exchange of best practices between Member States and, as a result, would help to identify and prevent potential deficiencies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The efforts of the Finnish Presidency are only a small part of a larger whole. Preserving our values is something that requires the common effort of all relevant actors at all levels.

EU institutions, bodies and agencies have lately taken measures to uphold and strengthen the rule of law.

In this context, the communication of the Commission in July this year merits our special attention. It contains a number of measures that the Commission will carry out in order to strengthen the rule of law. My feeling is that the Rule of Law Review Cycle, together with the Annual Rule of Law Report, could bring considerable added value.

The communication also offers interesting avenues for tightening cooperation between the EU institutions and Member States regarding the rule of law. We will start exploring these avenues next week in the General Affairs Council.

And, talking of common effort, we should not forget the essential work being done by international organisations such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN – to name but a few – as well as by different civil society actors, including professional networks.  We all play a crucial role in upholding and promoting the rule of law. What we need is determination.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to conclude by taking a look at the future. To quote the famous Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”.  So I will start by recalling the history of my own country.

The foundations of our constitutional democracy were established in 1919, in the early years of our independence. For the last 100 years the principles of democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law have guided us towards a modern welfare state. These core principles have been further consolidated by the emergence of international and EU cooperation. In the space of 100 years, Finland has evolved from a developing country into one of the world’s most egalitarian, secure and prosperous states. The celebrations of the 100th anniversary of our constitutional democracy will culminate this week. Among other official events, a seminar for more than 250 schoolchildren will be organised.

Democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law belong to everybody and benefit us all. We must get closer to the citizens, meet their expectations, act more transparently and regain their confidence. Because for whom do our societies and the Union exist, if not for the citizens?

Our government seeks to be at the heart of people and culture. That is why, a couple of months ago, we published our Government Programme in the Helsinki Central Library Oodi (‘the Ode’).  I hope that your visit there yesterday evening was a pleasant one.

The EU is more familiar with another kind of Ode – namely the Ode to Joy. It is undoubtedly a great masterpiece – but only if every musician in the orchestra plays his or her part in harmony with the other actors. My father was a violinist in the symphonic orchestra of Oulu, my home city. He used to always say, that for the orchstera to play well together, you need more than skilled musicians. It’s the role of the conductor to make the orchestra play in harmony. The same applies to the rotating Presidency, of which we have the honour to hold during these six months.

And dear friends,

This is also how the rule of law can be best protected and promoted – in harmony. By playing our part in this joint effort of protecting the rule of law, we are protecting the foundations of our societies and of European integration – peace, security, stability, democracy and prosperity.  At the same time, we are contributing to a more resilient and sustainable Union. As our Presidency motto puts it: ‘Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future’.  This is the kind of ‘ode to joy’ that we want to leave for future generations.

I hope you enjoy the second day of the conference, and I now give the floor to Mr Alvaro de Elera, Member of Cabinet of the First Vice-President of the Commission. He will elucidate the important rule of law efforts of the Commission.