Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne told the European Parliament on Wednesday (17 July) that his country’s presidency of the Council of the EU would continue negotiations on how to link more closely the disbursement of EU funds with respect for the rule of law in member states.
Rinne, a social-democrat, is one of the most recently elected leaders in the EU: after he led his party to victory in the April elections, he took office on 6 June, replacing the liberal Juha Sipilä.
The Finnish prime minister congratulated the MEPs in Strasbourg for their recent election and committed to working closely with the EU assembly.
The Parliament’s narrow approval of Ursula von der Leyen as the new Commission president the previous evening suggests that cooperation with the pro-European forces needs to be more substantial than ever before.
Rinne presented four main priorities of the Finnish presidency: strengthening the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action; strengthening common values and the rule of law; making the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, and protecting the security of citizens comprehensively.
Finland is one of the EU’s frontrunners in climate action, a field in which the bloc plays a global leadership role.
“For the European Union, leadership means committing to climate neutrality by 2050. Our aim is to reach agreement on the main elements of this plan by the end of 2019”, Rinne said.
He made it clear that Helsinki hopes the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland, who last month stopped short of backing a plan that needs unanimous support, would get on board before the Finnish presidency ends.
Regarding the rule of law, Rinne reminded MEPs of his country’s strong credentials in this field: as an example, the first European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, came from Finland. Also, it was during the first Finnish Presidency in 1999 that leaders agreed on the common priorities for justice and home affairs.
He didn’t mention it, but Jyrki Katainen, the current Finnish Commissioner, has been at the forefront of EU decision-makers seeking to link the disbursement of EU funds to member states with the respect of rule of law.
A major innovation in the next long-term EU budget proposed by the European Commission is the conditionality between EU funding and the rule of law. But two countries that have held the EU Presidency since then, Bulgaria and Romania, have voiced their own clear rejection.
“We are aiming at setting up a well-balanced and effective mechanism that will tie EU funding to compliance with the rule of law,” Rinne said.
Speaking after him, S&D group leader Iratxe García Pérez also highlighted linking the disbursement of EU funds to rule of law as one of the biggest priorities for her political force.
Romania’s Sigfried Muresan (EPP) focused on issues closer to his country’s sensibility: an EU budget in which cohesion would be preserved, and a call to the Council to endorse Romanian Laura Codruța Kövesi for the post of first-ever EU Prosecutor General.
Muresan belongs to Romania’s opposition PNL, but the socialist government is pushing against Kövesi’s candidacy, although she was the choice of the previous European Parliament, in competition with a French candidate backed by the Council.
On the EU budget, Rinne also committed to delivering results before his country’s presidency ends on 31 December.
“We will facilitate the final stages for reaching the Council MFF deal by the end of the year”, he said. MFF is an acronym for the Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027.
Garcia Perez from S&D and Pascal Canfin from Renew Europe highlighted the MFF among their groups’ biggest priorities. Garcia Perez said the MFF should include solidarity, including in cohesion and agriculture, as well as instruments to fight against poverty.
Canfin focused on preserving the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and linking it to ecological transition, with 30% of spending for climate-favourable agriculture. Ska Keller from the Greens also called for a reform of the agricultural policy and argued against climate-harmful subsidies
Regarding EU hopefuls North Macedonia and Albania, the Finnish prime minister said his country’s presidency hoped that the decision to open accession talks would be taken in October.
As for the bigger picture, he said the European Union needed to answer important questions asked by its citizens. These answers could only be provided together, and not by individual countries, Rinne argued.
“That’s why we took those issues in our programme,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]