Democratic forces of Europe will win back the trust of the people by making decisions and implementing them, at home and here in Brussels, Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä on Thursday (31 January) told EU lawmakers in Brussels.
In his speech on the Future of Europe in a nearly empty Parliament chamber, he presented the priorities of the Council Presidency which Finland will take over from Romania on 1 July.
“The most important cornerstones that define Finland’s position towards developing the EU as well as the monetary union, are to respect the decisions already agreed and to carry out efficient implementation,” he told the assembly.
According to the draft presidency programme, Finland’s main themes will be growth and security.
Citing the Finnish example of reducing its public deficit, the prime minister stated that “the idea of solving these kinds of problems with permanent fiscal transfers is unacceptable.”
Instead, Sipilä urged member states to review their finances and respect the rules already agreed: “The best insurance against financial shocks is a balanced budget and a low debt ratio.”
When it comes to trade, he criticised rising protectionism, while highlighting the free trade agreements the EU signed with Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Mexico and Canada.
“It is very harmful if the major players continue to build trade walls. We must do everything to prevent or tear down such walls,” he told MEPs in Brussels.
“Especially from the point of view of smaller countries, the damage would be fatal. We must respect and obey the common rules on trade,” he added.
In terms of the ongoing negotiations on the EU’s multi-annual budget (MFF), Sipilä stated that he is “sure we will find a compromise during the Finnish presidency.”
The European Commission came up with a plan last May to make access to money from the EU budget conditional on the successful functioning of the rule of law in a particular country.
According to Sipilä, in recent years, Europe has learned a lesson from populism and voiced his support for linking the access to EU funds with the rule of law.
“Our common values, democracy, the rule of law were the foundation for Europe. We have to bury the divisions that exist in Europe, but there can be no concessions regarding the rule of law,” Sipila emphasised.
While the establishment of the European Defence Fund and PESCO are steps in the right direction, security and defence cooperation, according to Sipilä, should now focus on implementation and achieving results.
As the EU has also strengthened its capacity to counter hybrid threats, he invited member states that have not done so to join the European Centre for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki, which contributes to the preparedness of NATO and EU countries against these threats.
On migration, he stated that there is still the “need to move forward on the difficult issue of sharing responsibility among EU countries.”
Another Finnish objective is for the EU to take the lead in climate action.
Last week, Finland hosted the Nordic Climate Meeting in Helsinki, where the Nordic countries promised to raise the level of their climate ambition by 2020 and catalyse efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Additionally, eight Finnish political parties set an objective that the EU should achieve carbon neutrality before 2050. “That requires tightening of the emission reduction obligations for 2030 to at least 55% of the 1990 level,” Sipilä told MEPs.
He indicated that Finland also aims to renew the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), the most cost-efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so that the price of emission allowances will guide operators towards emissions reductions more quickly and efficiently.
“We have proposed that new sectors such as the heating and cooling of buildings should be integrated into the ETS,” he said.
He also urged measures to increase carbon sinks and include new technology to tackle the issue.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker indicated that the EU also wants to use the Finnish presidency to develop an Arctic dimension and together with the Finnish Presidency call for a joint summit with the Arctic Council.
“We have to ensure that the Arctic is moving to the top of the European agenda”, Juncker told Sipilä who assured that the “Arctic question will absolutely be a key part of our climate agenda.”
Besides the common agenda of the Presidency trio set (Romania, Finland and Croatia), Finland started drafting its own programme in last year, the final programme will be presented in June 2019.
However, it is unlikely that there will be many new legislative projects during Finland’s Presidency as the next Commission’s term of office does not start until November due to the European elections in May.
Juncker said the upcoming Finnish presidency would be of a “unique nature” as it will come after UK’s exit from the bloc, the European elections in May and a range of changes in EU top jobs.
Finland goes to the polls in April and recent surveys see the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) in the lead, while the ruling coalition partners NCP and Sipilä’s Centre Party are in second and third position.