Statement by the Prime Minister to Parliament on the EU programme for Finland's Presidency

Government Communications Department 16.6.1999 21.00
Prime Minister's Announcement -

Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen

Madame Speaker,

A few months ago Agenda 2000, funding for the Union during the next seven years, structural funds and agricultural issues were seen as the greatest challenges facing the European Union and it was feared that the decisions regarding them would be left for the Finnish Presidency. Consensus was nevertheless reached at the European Council in Berlin, although at the same summit a new situation arose. The European Council could only note the unexpected resignation of the Commission and it chose Romano Prodi to form a new Commission, while it also had to decide its position on the Kosovo crisis and the subsequent NATO air strikes.

As a decision-maker, the Union of fifteen countries is generally regarded as slow and clumsy. This means that continuity and advance planning are emphasized in management. On the eve of the Finnish Presidency, however, we must note that life does not always respect plans. Leading the Council, the task now being undertaken by Finland also calls for flexibility. The programme for the Finnish Presidency must take these factors into account.

The programme is essentially a message from the Council's President to the other Member States, to other institutions, the Union's partners and of course to the citizens of the Union. The message explains Finland's aims in steering the activity of the Council with its hundreds of working groups, the various types of Council meeting, and the European Council or 'European Summit'. It should be borne in mind that the Presidency has no control over the activities of either the Commission or, particularly, the Parliament. We can nevertheless insist that these institutions perform their own functions in close cooperation with the Council. Unfortunately, our Presidency will be fairly far advanced before we can achieve full cooperation with the recently elected Parliament and the new Commission, which will take office in the autumn. There is now reason to underscore the fact that cooperation with the European Parliament will be even more important. The Finnish Government has long been preparing for this development, for example by visits of ministers to the Parliament.

The Presidency programme is based on continuity and advance planning, which rest in turn on the projects undertaken by the various councils and working groups, initiatives made by the Commission and tasks assigned by the European Council, that is the summit meeting. The report on the agenda for the Presidency recently presented to Parliament shows the great number and diversity of the issues involved. This also indicates that there would be little sense in contriving any additional tasks for ourselves.

The programme for the Presidency must have clear goals. It is not enough to classify matters as important and more important. As President, Finland is setting a target for each project setting out how far and with what content the issue can be advanced during the Presidency. Although the targets must be both ambitious and realistic, it is better to set the bar higher than lower. We must therefore consider what the best feasible compromise could be.

On the eve of our Presidency, the Union's image reveals conflicting features. The implementation of Economic and Monetary Union at the beginning of the year and the Treaty of Amsterdam that has just taken effect will tend to makethe Union more stable and effective. However, the sudden resignation of the Commission has created some uncertainty, which it will take time to dispel. The depressingly low turnout for the European Parliament elections also gives cause for serious reappraisal of the relationship between the Union and its citizens, and also of the Union's structures, and in Finland of national issues such as the election system.

Citizens expect the Union to succeed in its basic function, that of enhancing the security and well-being of its individual citizens. Here, security must be viewed broadly and well-being also includes concern about the state of the environment. The Union should be based on a functional division of labour with the Member States; it must produce added value without unnecessary intervention in every single matter.

Finland's goal as President and as a Member State is to strengthen the image of the Union as an open, effective and responsible actor. This will not be achieved merely by informing people or through public relations. We must increase transparency, make our institutions more effective and ensure that the Union's funds are used appropriately and with proper supervision. In this sector, there are numerous reform proposals on the Council's table. I believe that Finland is expected to make a concerted effort to implement these and we are indeed prepared to do so.

In the Union's external relations, too, the Treaty of Amsterdam gives the President the opportunity to increase effectiveness by combining the various political and economic means at the disposal of the Union into a comprehensive and consistent policy. An example of this is the Common Strategy on Russia recently approved by the Cologne European Council; as President, Finland will make a determined effort to implement this strategy. Thus Finland will now have to draft an agenda in this area. The Northern Dimension, the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe and the Barcelona process concerning the Mediterranean region are all based on an overall conception of this kind.

The Council's machinery for external relations will be enhanced by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy appointed at Cologne and also by the future Policy Planning and Early-Warning Unit. The goal is primarily to develop the prerequisites for defining the common interests of the Union, and this, in fact, is one of the basic premises underlying the Northern Dimension. This does not merely involve compiling the views of the fifteen Member States. It will allow us to shape a single comprehensive policy.

Development of the Union's capacity for crisis management, which is where we are now heading, is a natural outgrowth of a provision of the Treaty of Amsterdam based on an initiative by Finland and Sweden. Progress in this matter in accordance with the guidelines adopted at Cologne will be an extremely challenging task shouldered by Finland during our Presidency, and we shall then pass on the baton for the next President to continue this work.

During Finland's term, the development of instruments for crisis management will not be the subject of discussion alone. Settlement of the Kosovo crisis, restoration of stability in the western Balkans and shaping the future for south-eastern Europe as a whole will perhaps pose the greatest challenge for Finland's Presidency and for the effectiveness of the Union's common foreign policy. In close cooperation with other international actors, the Union will play a major role in organizing reconstruction and implementing stability arrangements for the region. The major role of the President of Finland in the Kosovo peace process has tended to increase the expectations for the coming Finnish Presidency.

Madame Speaker,

More than ten countries are seeking accession to the Union. This, too, is an indication of the significance of the Union as the engine for balanced development throughout our Continent. This means theexpectations of tens of millions of people are invested in us. Enlargement is necessary to ensure the stability and prosperity of Europe. In the long run, both future and present members will benefit from this process. The very process of enlargement strengthens democracy and the economies in the applicant countries to the overall benefit of Europe, as they seek to adopt Union practices on the basis of the Copenhagen criteria.

Significant progress in the accession talks can be achieved during Finland's Presidency. The Helsinki European Council plans to consider inclusion of new applicant countries in the talks 'proper'. All the applicants must be supported in their efforts to meet the accession requirements.

Enlargement will require reform within the Union. Approval of Agenda 2000 meant the adaptation of key priorities and funding frameworks to the needs of enlargement. Under Finland's leadership, it will now be possible to begin the process of institutional adaptation by preparing for an Intergovernmental Conference that will consider the composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council, and increased decision-making by qualified majority.

Employment has played an important role in the programme of each Presidency. Finland's programme emphasizes the links between employment on the one hand and stable economic development and improved competitiveness on the other. Economic and Monetary Union will provide greater potential for more effective joint use of the various instruments of the Union, such as the broad economic policy guidelines and the new employment guidelines and the process of structural reform. The new European Employment Pact will increase high-level dialogue between the Council, the European Central Bank, both sides of industry and other actors. Concrete projects will include, for example, improvements in the efficiency of the internal market and the coordination of tax systems.

Establishing the position of the euro will requireclose cooperation between countries in the Euro 11 Group to formulate common views, which should then be represented externally by a representative of the country holding the Presidency.

A competitive economy capable of providing employment is closely related to a society of knowledge and skills. Finland stresses the importance of the information society to business but also to public administration and the general public. During our Presidency, several projects will be discussed in the internal market and telecommunications sector and the areas of education, research, technology and cultural cooperation. It is obvious that in many respects Finland is seen as a pioneer in developing and benefiting from the opportunities offered by the information society. As President, we must take responsibility for meeting these expectations.

Deepening economic integration will underscore the overall responsibility of the Union for socially and ecologically sustainable development. During the Finnish Presidency, the greatest opportunities for progress will be in environmental policy. In accordance with the Treaty of Amsterdam, a high standard of environmental protection and the principle of sustainable development must be included in all policies of the Community. This work has already been started by many important Councils, and progress will be reviewed during the Helsinki European Council.

With respect to the demands for equality and non-discrimination emphasized by Finland, there are at this point fewer proposals on the Council's table, although the President will seek to promote discussion of initiatives in these areas at different levels.

The Treaty of Amsterdam set the goal of maintaining and developing the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice. Behind this solemn formulation is a concern for certain basic issues of everyday life. The special meeting of the European Council to be held in Tampere in October is expected to produce policy guidelines for better securing the right of Europeans to move freely, live securely and enjoy effective legal protection throughout the Union.

There are three broad themes on the agenda of the Tampere meeting; immigration and asylum, combating cross-border crime, and improving the legal position of Europeans. The first of these themes has become an issue of immediate urgency because of the events in Kosovo. It is important on all issues to develop a comprehensive approach both within the Union and in cooperation with the neighbouring areas and globally.

The image of the Finnish Presidency would not be complete without reference to the worldwide challenges confronting the Union. Although trade policy disputes have long been to the fore in transatlantic relations, the President should build relations comprehensively and based on significant common economic and political interests.

The President should take a more active role in promoting the peace process in the Middle East. In relations with developing countries, the main effort will be on the talks concerning a new cooperation agreement with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Fresh impetus for the European Union's relations with Latin America is likely to be provided at the Rio de Janeiro summit to be held at the end of June. Hence the entire world, with its crises and systems for cooperation, forms the stage for the work of the Presidency.

In trade policy, preparation for the coming round of WTO negotiations is the key priority in the President's activities. The intention is to continue action to deregulate world trade and develop regulations. The Presidency will aim for agreement on the broadest possible, balanced, fixed-duration negotiating round. Efforts to integrate developing countries into the world trading system must be taken into account.

Promotion of the principles of human rights and the rule of law are an essential part of the Union's external activities. The Union's first report on human rights will be approved and published during Finland's Presidency.

Madame Speaker,

I have described above the main features of Finland's Presidency. The programme itself is in the final stages of completion, although for the sake of continuity it will also take into account the results of the most recent Councils of the previous Presidency.

We are the first President to actually implement the Treaty of Amsterdam. Although we may not advance very far in implementing the reforms, we can show the direction and create precedents.

We shall be business-like, efficient and open in our activities. We shall work systematically to advance the common Union agenda, while at the same time we must have sufficient resources to deal with unexpected situations.

The programme of the Presidency must also be able to withstand inspection at the end of our term.

The Union faces many different challenges. A successful response will be possible only through close cooperation between different actors, and in the final analysis with the active support of our citizens. Meeting these challenges with a concentrated effort will strengthen the Union and increase the confidence of its citizens.

On the eve of the new millennium, we need a clear and forward-looking vision of the Union's function and priorities in future years. This can be attained with the 'Millennium Declaration' to be issued by the Helsinki European Council. Finland has the honour of seeing the Union into the new millennium.