Statement by Prime Minister to Parliament on the work of the Convention

Government Communications Department 14.5.2003 9.00
Prime Minister's Announcement -

Mr. Speaker,

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The work of the Convention on the Future of the EU is drawing to a close. The Convention will submit its report at the Thessaloniki European Council to be held on June 20 to 21. The work of the Convention on the simplification and clarification of the Union treaties has proceeded fairly well. Nevertheless, significant and difficult issues regarding the Union's institutions, decision-making procedures, and new arrangements regarding foreign and security policy have not been resolved. In this report, I will take up the Government's strategy with particular regard to these important themes.

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The proposal made by the Praesidium of the Convention on the institutions of the Union, decision-making procedures, and foreign and security policy have been discussed extensively in public. This Praesidium's proposal does not coincide with the views of the Finnish Government on the need for reform in the European Union.

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However, the Convention still has time and opportunity to find solutions to the institutional issues based on genuine mutual understanding. This will require that the Praesidium of the Convention take into account the proposed amendments in its further work.

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On what principles then has the Government of Finland prepared its own proposals for reform of the Union's institutions and decision-making procedures?

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The solution must honour the key principles of the Union: equality of the Member States, respect for a balance among the institutions, and the key position of the Community method. Compromises cannot be made regarding these principles, as determination of the status in the Union of the Member States is at stake here.

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As the saying goes, 'if it works, don't fix it.' This also applies to the European Union. It is the opinion of the Government of Finland that the basic institutional structure of the EU is effective and also secures equality among the Member States. The division of labour between the institutions is the result of a lengthy process of development and should not be eroded by the establishment of new institutions.

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With a view to the upcoming enlargement, however, the Union's system of decision-making is in need of reform. Moreover, there is a need to enhance transparency in the Union, to increase the efficiency of decision-making, and to implement principles of good governance. To promote the acceptability of the Union's activity, decision-making must become more democratic and political accountability must be strengthened. The European Union should also do a stronger and more effective job of promoting the common interest of the Member States globally. It is Finland's objective to develop the Union respecting its' dual nature as a community of both Member States and citizens.

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Mr. Speaker,

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I shall now take up in more detail the views of the Government of Finland on efforts to increase the effectiveness of the EU's decision-making.

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First, to strengthen democracy in the Union it is important to increase the influence of national parliaments. Of course each Member State must determine its own approach to contacts between its parliament and government in EU issues. Second, a more practical approach must be taken to the development of cooperation between national parliaments and their relations with the European Parliament. New institutions are not needed for this. More consistent monitoring of the principle of subsidiarity is a means to link national parliaments more closely to the activities of the Union.

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With respect to democracy, the European Parliament obviously has an important role to play. The position of the European Parliament as co-legislator and co-exerciser of budgetary authority alongside the Council can be clarified. Suitable means include enlargement of the area of application of the co-decision procedure and strengthening the position of Parliament regarding approval of the Union's budget.

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The possibility of increasing the say of Parliament in the appointment of the President of the European Commission has also been considered. Here we take a positive view of proposals that do not entail essential change in the balance between institutions.

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The Council takes political decisions and serves as a legislator together with the European Parliament. The significant position of the Council is also an essential element of the balance of power between the institutions; preservation of this balance is crucial. The will of the Member States is manifested through the Council.

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Institutions are united by the Community method, which is based on the Commission's right of initiative, the legislative authority shared by the Council and the Parliament, and the judicial authority of the EU Court of Justice. In the opinion of the Finnish Government, further development must take place on the basis of the Community method.

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Mr. Speaker,

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The Presidency of the Council confronts many challenges, both from within the Union but also from the perspective of its external representation. Nevertheless, the Presidency system has been quite effective. Hence, solutions should in fact seek to fine-tune the Presidency system in order to meet its practical challenges as the Union enlarges.

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The Presidency of the Council should remain primarily the function of the Member States. We therefore oppose transfer of the functions of the Presidency for example to the Secretariat of the Council or to the Commission. It is the opinion of Finland that the present rotating Presidency should be retained at least in all the key structures essential for coordination of decisions. These are the European Council, the General Affairs Council, and Coreper, the Permanent Representatives Committee. Our own Presidency taught us how important it is that command at the various levels of decision-making is concentrated and that responsibilities are clearly assigned.

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With respect to the composition of the Council, other alternatives could also be considered. One good alternative would be team Presidencies, in which three to six Member States at a time would take responsibility for chairing the Council and the various committees and working groups subordinate to it. The team Presidency could last from 18 months to three years.

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The Union's external activity needs to be enhanced and its visibility improved. Here we support development of the function of the Union’s High Representative into that of EU Foreign Minister. The holder of this position should be a member of the Commission's collegium and also serve as the Commission vice president with responsibility for external relations. Finland is willing to accept a 'double-hatting' of this kind as part of a balanced overall solution to the institutional issues. The Foreign Minister should be given the independent right of initiative in foreign and security policy. This cannot, however, reduce the Commission’s right of initiative in external relations.

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Nevertheless, the Foreign Minister of the Union should not be made the President of the External Relations Council. Delegation of the Presidency, right of initiative, and executive function to one and the same person could in itself produce an excessive concentration of power.

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Mr. Speaker,

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In the future, too, the European Council must concentrate on determining the guidelines and objectives of the Union's long-term strategy. Summit meetings should not assume the legislative functions of the sector councils. The main responsibility for coordination of the Council's work belongs to the General Affairs Council. It is also responsible for preparation of meetings of the European Council and for monitoring the execution of the strategies approved at them.

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Reform of the Council's work has already improved the functioning of the European Council. Discharge of the responsibilities of the European Council does not require election of a permanent president. A permanent president would also jeopardize equality between the Member States.

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It is the function of the Commission to promote the common interests of the Union. Collegiality and equality among members should remain the foundation of its activity. Hierarchies should not be built within the Commission, nor should the commissioners be divided into those with authority and those who merely advise.

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The solutions concerning the composition of the Commission and its appointment agreed in Nice are still justified. In the situation defined by the Treaty of Nice, in which there is not a citizen of each member state on the Commission, it is essential to base membership on equal rotation.

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The Commission's sole right of initiative in the present first pillar, or community affairs, legislation will also have to be secured in the future. The Commission's right of initiative should be developed, particularly with regard to the present third pillar, or justice and home affairs. Since the intention is no longer to divide matters to be decided in the EU between 'pillars', the Commission's own activity should become as uniform as possible. The Commission needs support in the development of its own administration.

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Mr. Speaker,

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Finland supports more effective conduct of the Union's external relations and places great importance on increasing the coherence between its various sectors ? foreign and security policy, development cooperation, and trade policy.

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The Union's common foreign and security policy must be strengthened by improving decision-making and reforming structures. Decision-making by qualified majority should also become the rule in this area. Decisions concerning security and defence policy would be an exception to this rule; for them unanimity must be preserved. Such decision-making should include the possibility to put on the 'emergency brake' and to exercise constructive restraint.

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Finland also supports further development of the Union's security and defence policy. In particular, this will require more resources for crisis management and the extension of the range of means available. To ensure political credibility in this work, all Member States should be able to contribute. From Finland's perspective it is not a matter of whether we say 'yes' or 'no' to the EU's security and defence policy, but of how we would like to see it developed.

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It has been proposed at the Convention that the solidarity obligation linked to the present Treaty establishing the European Union be strengthened so that concrete assistance can be provided to a Member State that has sustained a terrorist attack. We consider the possibility to provide such assistance justified.

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Likewise, it is apparent that the Treaty's present list of crisis management functions is not up-to-date. It is deficient especially with regard to non-military functions. We support efforts to supplement the range of means available for crisis management and propose that a chapter on the goals and activity of civilian crisis management be included in the text of the Treaty.

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The Union Treaty includes provisions facilitating implementation of Union activities in which not all Member States wish to participate. Participation in the Union's crisis management operations is flexible on the basis of existing provisions; each Member State decides on its own participation. This will remain so in the future as well. We do not see any obstacles to the creation of a clear rules regarding how the Council should assign implementation of a crisis management operation to a group of Member States.

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Efforts to create new restricted groups of Member States have gained momentum recently. These groups would make more binding commitments to conduct more demanding military crisis management functions in the name of 'structured cooperation'. This does not mean 'common defence', but rather implementation of military crisis management operations by a group of Member States. This might actually weaken rather than strengthen the Union’s common foreign and security policy.

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In conjunction with amendments to the Treaty, it would be appropriate to considers ways in which the Member States could, if they so desired, commit themselves to more demanding development of resources for crisis management. Here it would be most essential for all Member States to retain the right to participate in decision-making and development of resources concerning the Union's crisis management operations.

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Moreover, cooperation with regard to armaments has long been conducted by various groupings of Member States. We consider it desirable that such cooperation be included in the sphere of the Union, in which case all Member States could take part in it. Hence, to support this activity, it would also be possible to apply the principles of community policy, which are the most effective means for development of the armaments sector.

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Mr. Speaker,

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In its present form, the Union's security and defence policy emerged to a considerable extent from the initiative of Finland and Sweden during the talks leading to the Treaty of Amsterdam. Finland's initiative in this area was based on a genuine desire to strengthen the Union's foreign and security policy. In the world situation at that time, the most urgent and realistic objective was to create a crisis management capability. We are also prepared to pursue this aim in the future.

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Closer cooperation in the area of common defence has been proposed at the Convention and by some Member States. In taking a stand on these proposals, Finland emphasizes its desire to keep the Union a strong, unified factor in security and defence policy, based on common rules.

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Development of mutual defence must have such broad support that it is in fact possible to strengthen the joint security and defence policy. Transatlantic relations should not be damaged by this initiative, but strengthened instead. As Finland has expressed reservations about such cooperation, we have in any case insisted on the observation of at least the approved rules of closer cooperation concerning, among other things, the number of Member States, transparency, and decision-making contained in the existing treaties.

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Mr. Speaker,

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The key issues of the Union's reform project also include the structure of the future Constitutional Treaty, its coming into effect, and the amendment procedures to be observed in conjunction with amendment of future treaties. By nature they are both legal and political, and the latter are related to questions of general integration. The solutions will be of significance for the entire basic nature of the Union.

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Simplification and clarification of the basic treaty system has also been a goal of the Finnish Government. Its point of departure has been that the new Treaty should in essence remain a treaty under international law, the amendment of which would require the consent of all Member States. This is also supported by the fact that the ultimate power to amend the treaty will continue to rest with the Member States.

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This would continue to secure the position of the Finnish Parliament and of the national parliaments of the other Member States. Moreover, the Constitutional Treaty should contain the principle according to which the Member States would retain all authority not surrendered by them to the Union.

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It must be noted, however, that approval of the Constitutional Treaty and future amendments to it by a Union of 25 or more Member States will be a difficult challenge. In spite of this, the Government is of the opinion that the Praesidium of the Convention has proceeded correctly in proposing that a political solution should always be found for any ratification problems of the Member States. This does exclude the possibility that some of the technical provisions of the second part of the Treaty for Europe could in the future be amended by a simplified procedure that would still secure unanimity.

Thus we do not approve the view presented at the Convention according to which a Member State that is unwilling or unable to ratify the Constitutional Treaty or future amendments to it would have to leave the Union. In contrast, the Government does not oppose the idea that a Member State could voluntarily leave the Union. In any case, it must be ensured that in cases of this kind the position of citizens and companies of the seceding Member State would be secured with special treaty arrangements.

The Convention has furthered public debate regarding development of the Union. It has also resolved issues which have been critical for previous intergovernmental conferences. Good examples are the granting of a single legal personality to the Union, dismantling of the related pillar structure, and strengthening of the position of fundamental rights. In the future, however, application of the convention procedure in the preparation of amendments to the existing Treaties must be subject to discretion and developed on the basis of experience obtained from the work of the present Convention.

Mr. Speaker,

The intention is to agree on the starting date and working methods of the intergovernmental conference (IGC) when the final report is submitted at Thessaloniki.

Sufficient time should be reserved between the Convention and the IGC to allow the Finnish Parliament an opportunity to make its views known. There must also be proper public debate on the proposals of the Convention. Moreover, it would not be advisable to commit ourselves in advance to the closing date of the Intergovernmental Conference.

I believe that the good cooperation achieved between the Government and Parliament in issues concerning the future of the EU will continue. The representatives of the Finnish Parliament at the Convention have done excellent work and made an important contribution to promotion of common goals.

The positions regarding security policy taken by the Government have continued Finland's established strategy vis-à-vis the EU, supported by broad national understanding. The Government is aware that the work of the Convention is proving to be more significant for the future of the Union than was expected beforehand. For this reason it is necessary that Parliament conduct a thorough debate on our country’s overall strategy at the Convention.

The Government will continue to provide Parliament with separate reports when needed, as new issues arise. Parliament will be provided in this conjunction with the positions approved in the Cabinet Committee on European Union Affairs on the Convention’s proposals for the articles in Title I of the Constitutional Treaty.

Parliament will eventually receive a comprehensive report on the final result of the Convention as part of preparations for the Intergovernmental Conference.

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Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja

Development of the EU's external action as an element of the work concerning the Union's future

Strengthening of the European Union's external action is one of the key issues discussed in the European Convention on the Union's future. Finland considers it important that the EU be a powerful international actor. The Finnish economy and society are essentially characterized by openness and therefore the changes that take place in the surrounding world affect directly the security and well-being of our country. Global development has also led towards growing interdependency between states. The European Union offers a framework, which is suitable in terms of both its values and objectives, to promote Finland’s interests and to guarantee our position.

The Union is already a significant global actor. It is world leader in both trade policy and development cooperation. The Union has also played an active role in the promotion of environmental protection, consolidation of international law and, related to this, has markedly contributed to the success of such important projects as the International Court of Justice and the Kyoto Climate Protocol, and the commencement of the WTO Doha round of negotiations. There is great demand for the kind of global role that the Union has assumed. Therefore, the Convention and the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) have to seek increased effectiveness, greater coherence and heightened visibility for the EU's external action.

The preliminary draft Constitutional Treaty brings together the principles and objectives related to the Union's external action. The Union's goals must reflect such central challenges as global governance, strengthening of the multilateral system, sustainable development, and eradication of poverty. In this respect, the draft reflects well the Union's unique character as an international actor and corresponds to the views that Finland has put forward in the Convention.

Finland sees it important to enhance the coherence between the various sectors of the Union's external action. The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), development cooperation and trade policy have to form a single policy. The proposal by the Convention's Praesidium to gather all provisions on external action under one Title in the new Constitutional Treaty serves this purpose. This would clarify the Treaty and convey a more complete picture of the Union’s external relations. The elimination of the current pillar structure, which Finland supports, would also contribute to increased coherence.

During the previous IGC, Finland acted constructively to bring about Treaty changes in the field of trade policy. The Government considers that the additional amendments that are being prepared at the moment have to be in line with the premises that Finland had during the negotiations for the Treaty of Nice. For example, we must retain the competence to determine how we choose to provide public services in a manner that we regard the most suitable for us.

In the field of development cooperation no major changes in the Treaty are called for. However, decision-making and procedures can be strengthened also in this domain. In addition, we should consider whether the financing of the European Development Fund, which is now covered separately, could be brought under the EU budget.

The majority of the EU's internal policies - such as the environment, agriculture, and justice and home affairs - have an external dimension or significant external implications. It is therefore important to ensure coherence not only between the different policy areas of the external action but also between the Union's internal policies and its external action.


Finland sees it important that the Union play an effective role in international organizations and conferences. The EU's positions should be better coordinated, and presented by one party. The Union should also be given the possibility to accede in international organizations along with the Member States if it is necessary in order for the Union to obtain its goals.

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The European Union has a common foreign and security policy. For a long time and especially during the last few years, the need and the support for making it more effective has grown. European citizens, also the Finns, expect this to take place and Finland supports this goal. These views must be reflected in the outcomes of the Convention and the IGC. We actively support these efforts.

A central element in the development of the CFSP is to improve its decision-making system and to reform its structures. Qualified majority voting should be the general rule also in the field of CFSP, excluding decisions related to security and defence policy, which have to be made in unanimity also in the future. The use of qualified majority voting should be combined with the possible use of the so-called 'emergency brake' and constructive abstention. The provisions in the Constitutional Treaty concerning decision-making should be as detailed as possible and they should not be left for the European Council as has been proposed by the Convention Praesidium.

From the point of view of reforming the Union's structures, the establishment of an EU Minister of Foreign Affairs is a central amendment. This would be done by bringing together the present functions of the Commissioner for External Relations and those of the High Representative. Finland has underlined that this arrangement should not affect the Commission's competencies nor change the present balance between the institutions. Therefore, the Minister's powers in respect of the present Community activities and the CFSP should be defined in an explicit manner. The Minister would act as a Vice-President of the Commission. On the other hand, he/she would be subordinate to the Council in questions related to the CFSP, in which he/she would also have an autonomous right of initiative that is not dependent on the Commission nor the Member States. The Minister would have the principal responsibility for the implementation of the common foreign and security policy and could represent the Union internationally instead of the Presidency or the Troika. The Council dealing with external action should also in the future be led by the Member State holding the Presidency on the basis of rotation. A separate provision is needed to cover the rules for the dismissal of the Minister.

The Common European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is a part of the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP. Finland sees it positive that this premise has been adopted also in the preliminary draft Constitutional Treaty.

Even if the ESDP is already an operational part of the CFSP, it is essential to make sure that the capabilities required for the Union to act in crisis management be finalised in all respects.

Finland considers that the ESDP can and should be developed further. This has to be carried out in a manner that strengthens the Union's unity. We are prepared to examine with an open mind all proposals made to this end. For example, crisis management activities and related capability development as well as armament cooperation can be developed on the basis of the existing principles.

We therefore welcome the expansion of the so-called Petersberg tasks in crisis management. The additional tasks presented in the preliminary draft Constitutional Treaty clearly fall under the framework of crisis management tasks and are mainly based on practical experiences gained from the past.

Development of crisis management will call for an increase of the capabilities available to the Union. Finland for its part is prepared to contribute in the development of capabilities, which also in the future has to be conducted in cooperation between all the Member States that are willing to be involved.

Cooperation relating to armaments has to be intensified by means of setting up an European Armaments and Strategic Research Agency, in the work of which all Member States have equal rights to participate. However, setting quantative objectives for the Member State's defence resources should not be included in the mandate of the Agency nor for that matter in any constitutional provisions.

In addition to military crisis management broad-based civilian crisis management activities must also be strengthened; the related treaty provisions should be enhanced. Here Finland has proposed a separate chapter for civilian crisis management to be included in the future Constitutional Treaty.

We also consider it necessary that the so-called solidarity clause be included in the future Constitutional Treaty. This would further strengthen the existing cooperation against terrorism.

The principles concerning security and defence policy must remain as they are. Participation must be open to all Member States that are willing to be involved. It is important not to create a separate, closed group to perform crisis management tasks, consisting of only some Member States. This would divide the Union into two and weaken the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Therefore, the point of departure has to be an effort to find solutions that can be implemented together by all Member States of the Union. We have to keep an open mind and see which of the tasks presented by various countries and groups can be included in the list of common ESDP tasks. If this is not feasible, the Government sees it important that the activities be carried out at least in accordance with the principles of closer cooperation written down in the present Treaties. For example, the number of the participating Member States has to be large enough. The system has be open to all and respect the Union's institutional system and all Member States' interests.

Finland considers that inclusion of a common defence obligation in the Union Treaty would not strengthen the CFSP nor would it bring any added value from the point of view of the Union's activity. In case a larger group of Member States would want to proceed towards a common defence, the aforementioned principles of closer cooperation should, in any case, be respected. At this stage it is not necessary to take a position on whether Finland should participate in this kind of cooperation or not.

Finland's point of departure is the strengthening of the CFSP. The development of the ESDP is an element of this. A pragmatic analysis has to be made on what new initiatives and projects are needed and how they can be implemented in a manner that allows ensuring a coherent CFSP.

We regard this approach, which emphasises consolidation of common tasks and rejects introduction of any new dividing lines in the Union, as a route that best serves Europe and European unity, and we will be actively promoting it as the negotiations are drawing to their close.