CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Dear representatives of the Brussels press, dear friends
On my behalf, a warm welcome to Finland and to this dinner.
You have heard today our Prime Minister, Mr. Antti Rinne, present the programme of the Finnish Presidency. This is a good time to speak about Europe – our surveys show that the EU is more popular than ever. The European elections were not the triumph of anti-EU parties that many either waited or feared. We even had an increase in the turnout for the elections, which can be seen as a turning point.
I have been in politics for almost whole my adult life and I do not remember another time EU having such a positive image among voters. This is an opportunity to be seized.
As you know, this is our third presidency during our membership of the EU. The previous two have been successes as well, and we are really determined to make this one a success too. Third time’s the charm – as they say.
However, as an ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted: “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” The forthcoming Finnish presidency will be not the same as the previous two. There is the institutional transition, a new European Parliament, a new Commission, and Council presidency make this presidency a challenging one. And there are open questions, such as the future relationship between United Kingdom and the EU 27, where the UK should define for herself both the answers and the basic rules of the game.
Dear members of the press corps,
Of the many important political priorities, I wish to emphasize the principle of the rule of law, both within the Union and its member states and within the rule-based community of nations.
The rule of law is one of the common values upon which the European Union is founded and embraced by all Member States. It is enshrined as such in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union. The rule of law is essential for the functioning of the EU as a whole, for example with regard to the Internal Market, cooperation in the area of Justice and Home Affairs, and ensuring that national judges who are also EU judges can fulfil their role. The judgment of the European Court of Justice in June 24th is clear stating that the Member States are required to comply with their obligations under EU law.
A small member state – such as Finland – sees the rule of law in international politics as a most important principle. Indeed, the rules-based international order is an existential question for us. We need a multilateral rules-based international order in trade for our economic well-being. We need a rules-based geopolitical system for our security. It is far from self-evident that these systems are preserved.
Today an American historian Robert Kagan is often quoted about the perils of today’s world. He describes the rules-based world order as a garden needing constant care and protection. The natural order of things, he writes, is of violence and disorder. It is the order of jungle, not garden. If we are not vigilant, the jungle grows back.
The European Union is a union of laws and rules. It is its strength, enabling a functioning co-operation between member states and laying a solid foundation with our relationship with outside world. The rule of law a positive factor, and should be seen that way. Therefore, the rule of law is in the front and centre in the Finnish Presidency. We are committed to develop the rule of law instruments: rule of law dialog and the mechanism within Multiannual Financial Framework, MFF.
The dreaded letter combination M-F-F, the seven-year budgetary framework, is a concrete project, and it is a test of inter-institutional cooperation as well. To do an EU-wide multi-billion seven-year deal is a tall order for any presidency. It will be the MFF that will test the resolve and readiness of our Member States and European institutions.
We are prepared to do our utmost to facilitate a decision on the MFF during our Presidency. Within a few weeks’ time we will launch bilateral talks with all of the countries. After drawing the conclusions from these talks, we should have a negotiating framework in October and a deal on the MFF by the end of the year.
We are willing to put in the legwork to make it happen and we’re asking the others to do the same – to come to the table with realistic expectations and a willingness to find a solution. We also have the sauna, where – the tradition says – for negotiations you close the door and don’t come out until a solution has been found.
Of course, some might accuse us of being overly idealistic, or optimistic, or point that we don’t recognize the differences and difficulties. To them I would say that we are idealists, but pragmatic.
We will get things going and the ball rolling and restore a sense of can-do attitude to the day-to-day business. And we are not going anywhere, this attitude we promise to bring to the table also after our presidency.
The European Union is enormously important to us Finns – even though we might not always say it out loud. We rarely do say anything out loud for that matter. Therefore, I find it natural to use our musical tradition to describe the workings of the Union. Finland is a country of music and the proud home of Jean Sibelius, Kaija Saariaho and many other great composers and conductors. Moreover: my father is a violinist and he knows that a good conductor can make the orchestra work together. In this presidency, it should be our role to try to be the conductor of this 27 or 28-member orchestra. We don’t write the music, but we can make everyone play together.
We should be very careful, that EU decision making doesn’t turn in to a cacophony of different regional or other blocks. There is a risk that same countries find each other on opposite sides of the aisle in question after question. Our EU is not a union of regional alliances. It’s a transnational cooperation of peoples, who face similar challenges: from warming climate to youth unemployment.
I should also say, that while the EU is a political union, it is a union based on consensus and compromise. It is not for one party or opportunistic party-political alliances to try to clinch victory. Whether talking about nominations or individual policy, European political parties must be willing to work together and find the common ground.
To conclude, I wish to point out something that the Finnish presidency has been very keen to promote. Transparency and openness. We are fully committed to opening up working procedures, our goal setting and who we meet during the presidency. This includes our relationship with the media.
Therefore, I hope you will take the advantage of this and that we can try to increase European citizens’ interest in Brussels affairs. It does not need to be muddy or laden with jargon.
I wish you all the best for the rest of the evening and for the rest of your stay in Finland. Regardless of the weather at least the summer light is at its brightest.
We will be in touch.