Speech by Minister of Justice Henriksson to the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI), 3 September 2019
Madam Chair, Lucy Nethsingha,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
It’s a great honour for me to be here today to present to you the priorities of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The spring European elections were a clear vote of confidence in European cooperation. The rise in voter turnout showed that people do believe in Europe and expect the EU to have a strong role in the face of European and global challenges.
With increased expectations and a growing confidence in Europe comes greater responsibility. I believe that the EU can match those expectations, because the EU is above all a community of values. It is our common value base that makes us strong.
The ambitious slogan of Finland’s Presidency is Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future. Together, we must work to strengthen our common values and the rule of law, make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, reinforce the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action and ensure the comprehensive security of EU citizens.
On the first priority: Safeguarding and strengthening our common values and the rule of law is a cornerstone of all EU action; it affects every aspect of it, from fundamental rights to the smooth operation of the single market. Violations of the rule of law undermine citizens’ and businesses’ trust that their rights will be protected, and weaken their trust in the European system. The rule of law is rightly one of the priorities of the EU’s new Strategic Agenda and of the President-elect of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
What we want to do is reinforce the EU’s existing rule of law toolbox. Finland welcomes the Commission’s recent communication on strengthening the rule of law and on establishing a new annual reporting mechanism. We are committed to advance the objectives set out in the communication on the Council’s side.
Independent and impartial courts are at the very heart of the rule of law. The Court of Justice of the European Union has held that, when applying EU law, national courts also act as European courts. It’s important that each Member State makes sure that the conditions are in place for the rule of law to be observed in its own country.
In July, I convened an informal meeting of the ministers of justice to discuss the principle of the rule of law. Our goal is to strengthen the toolbox available in the field of justice as well. Tools such as the joint training of legal professionals, support for civil society in promoting a common rule of law culture, and reinforcing the European Justice Scoreboard, for instance. Another important tool in promoting the rule of law is EU funding.
Members of the Committee,
This October will mark 20 years since the European Council met in the Finnish city of Tampere to launch enhanced EU cooperation in justice and home affairs. The goal set in Tampere was that people would be able to approach courts and authorities in any Member State as easily as in their own. Over the years since then, we have jointly agreed on numerous rules that safeguard citizens’ rights and improve their legal protection when living, working, moving around and building a family in the EU.
A lot has been achieved. The EU has comprehensive provisions on the determination of courts that have jurisdiction and on the mutual recognition and enforcement of decisions. We’ve come a long way towards harmonising the conflict-of-laws rules, and we’ve been able to significantly improve access to justice. And, we’ve developed robust tools for cross-border cooperation between national judicial authorities in matters of civil law.
In the future, digitalisation and technological advances will also play a key role in the field of justice. They can contribute to speeding up and improving access to justice. During Finland’s Presidency, we will continue to work on the reform of taking of evidence and service of documents regulations and seek to have the Council adopt a general approach during our Presidency.
Legal certainty is essential both for citizens and for international trade, not only in the EU single market but also where the EU’s borders are crossed.
The international rules-based order has come under criticism in recent years, but I believe that the EU should remain an advocate of multilateralism. The Hague Judgments Convention, which was successfully concluded this summer, is a good example of the latest international cooperation in the justice sector.
The second priority of Finland’s Presidency is a competitive and socially inclusive EU. The EU single market is among the largest economies in the world. The most important means to promote growth and wellbeing is to increase the effectiveness of the single market.
A strong economic base can be achieved by deepening and strengthening the single market and its four freedoms. We must respond to the challenges of the digital revolution. Digitalisation, artificial intelligence and the data and platform economy are all key drivers of European productivity, growth, prosperity and employment. The JURI committee has played an important role in the work on legal issues related to new technologies.
This Committee also plays a key role in deepening the single market and in making it more effective. Company law and legislation on intellectual property rights have a significant impact on the functioning of the single market. In this context, I would like to thank the JURI committee for its valuable cooperation in helping to complete the negotiations on many major legislative files in these fields.
Together, we must continue to reinforce the fair and predictable operating environment for companies. Close cooperation within the EU should make it possible to take effective action to combat aggressive tax planning and tax evasion and reduce harmful tax competition. As regards the proposal for country-by-country reporting, we will try to find ways to take the proposal forward.
We need a fair single market for both consumers and businesses. We will continue work towards finalising the New Deal for Consumers. Our objective is for the Council to reach a general approach on the directive on representative actions. It’s important to put in place a balanced system that works in practice.
I’d like to return to the beginning of my speech and say a few more words about the citizens’ expectations of the European Union.
The European Parliament and the JURI committee have been at the forefront of efforts to advocate transparency, good administration and better regulation in European decision-making.
Active and clear communication and more transparent decision-making can bring the EU closer to its citizens, strengthen democracy and support the fight against disinformation. Good administration and transparency also play a crucial role in the fight against corruption. Though transparency in the EU has come a long way over the years, the work needs to continue. High-quality and up-to-date regulation is also a significant factor affecting competitiveness. Well-functioning EU-legislation has a major impact on the daily lives of citizens and businesses.
Thank you once again for your work to date and for the opportunity to present the priorities and programme of Finland’s Presidency. I look forward to close cooperation with you during Finland’s Presidency and beyond.
I will be happy to answer any of your questions.