European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said on Thursday (1 March) that Europe can compromise on many things, including Brexit, but not on the “more worrisome” threats to the rule of law and media freedom.
The Finnish commissioner, in charge of jobs, growth and investment, told an audience of businessmen to stand up for European values more forcefully.
“Values shouldn’t be only a nice thing to mention in anniversaries. I sincerely ask for your help to openly and vocally stand for EU values,” he said during an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of BusinessEurope. Euractiv was a media partner.
Katainen said that “at the end of the day, there will be a compromise with the UK” regarding its departure from the bloc. “But we cannot compromise on the rule of law”, he added.
Asked if he thought Poland represented a bigger threat to Europe than Brexit, the former Finnish prime minister said there were “some signals” about the erosion of the rule of law in other countries than Poland but he did not elaborate.
He argued that the erosion of the rule of law is “more worrisome” than Brexit because of the risk that it becomes “mainstream and partially accepted” by politicians and society as a whole.
He also expressed concern about press freedom and the protection of journalists.
His comment came a few days after the killing of a Slovak reporter who was investigating the ties of his government with the Italian mafia. Another Maltese investigative journalist was murdered four months earlier after she revealed numerous corruption cases affecting the political class on the island.
“I am more worried about the trend”, he said. “We cannot lose the EU setup, which is its fundamental values,” he added.
BusinessEurope Director General Markus J. Beyrer highlighted during the same panel discussion the importance of upholding the rule of law for the business climate.
Some in the Polish business community voiced disappointment with the Commission’s timid support for the private sector in the country. But they were hopeful that the situation will change this year.
The business community in Poland remains divided. Major firms in cities are more critical of their government’s actions, which have sparked tensions with the EU institutions. But smaller companies in towns show more affinity with the ultra-conservative executive in Warsaw.
Meanwhile, foreign companies don’t shy away from doing business with the current government in Poland, the same business representatives explained.
Katainen cited “preserving our fundamental values” as one of the challenges that the public and private sector should take up together. He added the defence of “open, fair and rules-based trade” and “embracing technological change while making our economy circular”.
Speaking in another panel Ann Mettler, the head of the European Political Strategy Centre (ESPC), highlighted the importance of values to attract businesses.
Against the backdrop of the “illiberal” trend and other political shocks across the planet, she said that Europe is “very attractive” not only because of its regulation.
“It is about values, democracy and freedom”, she said, referring to “what happens across the Atlantic but also across the channel”.