Finland to promote EU transparency and legitimacy

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Wanting to ‘win back the citizens’ the Finnish presidency sets out to do more than business as usual. The Turkey-Cyprus issue looms as a potential crisis.

Finland’s Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen has declared that the presidency wants to take on the task of promoting “greater acceptance of Europe in the eyes on European citizens”. This will be demonstrated by “effective legislative work and efficient management of the Union’s other business.” Finland will concretely promote greater transparency via open sessions of the Council, which transmitted via the Internet.

The presidency has itself identified four key areas:

  • The future of the EU, Constitutional Treaty and enlargement.

The official ambition is to end the “passive period of reflection on the Constitutional Treaty” and start “active discussions” on the future of the Treaty with the Member States and EU Institutions. However the plot is not expected to thicken before the following German and French presidencies in 2007.

Enlargement will figure concretely at the December council in shape of final decisions to be made on the accession timetable for Bulgaria and Romania, and the ongoing accession talks with Turkey and Croatia. 

The EU and Turkey have agreed to a customs union in 1995, and this agreement was extended to the EU’s ten new member states, including Cyprus, with the so-called Ankara protocol in July 2004. But Ankara has still to ratify the protocol and continues to block access to Cypriot ships and airplanes from its territory. This is a potential flashpoint for the EU and the negotiators in Helsinki as Ankara has taken a tough stance.

  • Competitiveness:

Finland wants to focus on initiatives that promote effective use of innovation. This will partly happen through the adoption of a roadmap for EU innovation policy that will seek to improve coordination. The Finns will also have to broker a final deal on the Services directive.

  • External relations:

Finland wants to strengthen “the EU’s international role and reinforce the consistency of its actions”. Helsinki is also keen to discuss how external relations can assist in achieving common energy policy objectives. Particular emphasis will be placed on relations with Russia and the Northern Dimension. The tense situation in the middle-east between Israel and Palestine will also keep the Finns busy.

  • Justice and home affairs:

Finland, under whose presidency the EU adopted the first Justice and Home affairs package in Tampere in 1999, wants to explore ways of reinforcing decision-making on criminal law and police cooperation. EU should “live up to its citizens’ expectations in combating international crime, human trafficking and terrorism.”

Matti Vanhanen, Finland's Prime Minister said on the constitution:

"It is no use expecting much before the elections in France and the Netherlands next year. We must be realistic here. However, there are no guarantees that the elections would bring any essential change either".

On Turkey, Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, said: "The issue is clear. Everybody in the Union waits for Turkey to ratify the additional protocol, otherwise there could be consequences. The end of the year is the deadline".

On innovation, former prime minister Esko Aho, who authored a report on innovation, said "Innovation and stability cannot live together. It's innovation and mobility. That means you have to change whole societies," Aho said, calling for simultaneous, synchronised change in all of the EU. 

On carrying out tough reform choices Aho said: "Every single government loses an election sooner or later. It is better to lose having tried to do something than to do nothing." 

With these words Aho countered Luxembourg PM Junckers remark on the Lisbon-agenda: "We know what has to be done, but we do not know how to win the elections once we have done it".  

The presidency of Finland, which joined the EU in 1995, began on 1 July. The Finns start out with a good reputation and high expectations after the country's successful 1999 presidency. 

Beside that the Finns are at the top of the EU's Lisbon reform class when it comes to innovation and science, the country also boasts a healthy economy.  

Even if there are no big EU issues to be concluded during the next six months, the presidency will be faced with the huge diplomatic challenge of solving the looming crisis over Turkey's EU negotiations. 

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