Finland took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a crucial moment. The European leaders adopted in June 2019 an ambitious and far-sighted Strategic Agenda for the years 2019–2024 to take the EU forward and address its internal and external challenges.
Finland is the first presidency to integrate the new priorities of this Strategic Agenda into the Council’s work. As emphasized in the Trio Programme, we are committed to ensuring a smooth transition to the next legislative cycle and to building up close and constructive relations with the new institutional actors.
As for inherited agenda, we have complex horizontal issues to deal with, notably the next multiannual financial framework, Rule of Law and Brexit. In addition, addressing migration and the development of the EMU have been on the table. As there are less legislative files, we have been able to dedicate time to discuss in more detail in each sector what the Union should be doing next five years. In our view, sustainability should be the common denominator for all EU action.
In line with the new Strategic Agenda, our Presidency priorities are: 1) strengthen common values and the rule of law, 2) make the EU competitive and socially inclusive, 3) strengthen the position of the EU as a global leader in climate action, 4) protect the security of citizens comprehensively.
The rule of law is enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union as one of the founding values of the Union. In recent years, established rule of law standards have come under pressure. This weakens the credibility of the EU and its influence at global level in the promotion of democracy and fundamental rights. Respect of the rule of law is a matter of protecting the rights of our citizens. But also, a matter of proper functioning and credibility of the EU. Our approach is positive and constructive. Finland wishes to improve and strengthen the EU’s rule of law toolbox and create cooperation between different actors. We have continued negotiations on how to link the receipt of EU funds more closely with respect for the rule of law.
The EU now needs a new growth strategy, aimed at ensuring the EU becomes the world’s most competitive and socially inclusive low-carbon economy. Wellbeing and economic policies go hand in hand. The EU works best when we increase people’s wellbeing and security and reduce inequality. We need sustainable ways for responding to the global competition. Developing the Single Market is our most efficient asset in this sense. A modern industrial policy and development of the service sector and the digital economy will help lay the foundation for a sustainable economy. By fostering skills, education and training, regional and social fairness, as well as gender equality, the EU will create sustainable growth. Gender equality is very much in the focus of the current Finnish government program and 11 out of 19 ministers are women in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antti Rinne. Our aim should be to make European education, training and research the best in the world for example by strengthening the Erasmus program.
Regarding the EU’s global leadership in climate action, we already have the most ambitious targets among the industrialized economies in place and a binding legislative framework that will deliver our current commitments. However, we must not stop here: for the European Union, leadership means committing to climate neutrality by 2050. Our aim is to reach agreement on the main elements of this long-term plan by the end of 2019 as requested by the European Council. As the necessary measures impact all sectors of society, fighting climate change must be carried out in a socially sustainable way.
A strong, united and effective EU external action is essential to promote peace and stability. Citizens expect the EU to protect their security and this should be done comprehensively. We have made a good progress in security and defense cooperation, which should be continued. Only by acting together, we can defend European values and interests. Digital security and countering hybrid threats, such as disinformation, are increasingly important. Finland’s Presidency aims to step up the fight against hybrid threats and increase the resilience of our societies.
All our priorities are driven by the presidency’s motto: “Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future”.
The The priorities for Finland’s Presidency are:
1) strengthen common values and the rule of law,
2) make the EU competitive and socially inclusive,
3) strengthen the position of the EU as a global leader in climate action, 4) protect the security of citizens comprehensively
Author: Ambassador of Finland Markku Virri