Prime Minister of Finland Antti Rinne: Follow-up to the strategic agenda
Speech by Prime Minister Antti Rinne at the European Council on 18 October 2019
In June, we agreed on an ambitious Strategic Agenda for the next five years. The Finnish Presidency is the first to integrate its priorities into the Council work in all sectors.
Earlier this week I wrote to Donald outlining the progress made. Today, I will point out just a few examples. I will focus on four key themes in which the citizens expect results and where we need further efforts by the new Commission.
Protecting citizens and freedoms: safeguarding the rule of law
As regards the priority “Protecting citizens and freedoms”, the Agenda underlines the importance of respecting the EU’s common values. They are the foundation of European freedom, security and prosperity.
Rule of law problems in a member state hamper the functioning of the European Union as a whole. A well-functioning single market, economic growth and resilience against external threats – just to name a few – all require that the rule of law be respected by each member state. Ensuring this has been a major aim of our Presidency.
The key word is prevention. The Finnish Presidency has looked for more efficient ways to identify and prevent potential problems early on.
Firstly, systematic dialogue is needed among all member states on the rule of law situation in the Union to prevent problems in the long run. Our Presidency is working to create an arena for an open and fact-based debate – in cooperation with the Commission.
Secondly, protecting the EU budget in situations where there are generalised rule of law problems would also send a strong preventive message. This is a crucial element in the next multiannual financial framework.
Protecting citizens and freedoms: countering hybrid threats
We must protect our societies from hybrid threats. This requires a comprehensive approach and more cooperation and coordination.
We also need better awareness of hybrid threats at the political level. This is why we organised several scenario-based policy discussions at the beginning of our Presidency. These ministerial discussions also allowed us to assess and test relevant EU tools.
The discussions showed a strong will to look for EU-level actions, as well as a strong sense of solidarity and the need for mutual assistance.
The importance of early detection and the ability to use multiple sources for accurate situational awareness became very clear.
The Finnish Presidency will make suggestions for further work at the Council by the end of year. We are pleased to see hybrid threats outlined in your Political Guidelines, Ursula, and look forward to close cooperation.
Developing a strong and vibrant economic base: sustainable growth
Thirdly, when it comes to the priority “Developing our economic base”, European industries are facing difficult times. The European Council gave very clear guidance on this in June – underlining the need for a more integrated approach connecting the single market, industrial policy and the digital transformation.
The single market is the EU’s key asset. This was our strong message to the new Commission.
If we do not make sure that the single market works better, we can forget about our ambition for industrial or technological leadership.
The EU’s economy is more and more dependent on services. That goes for digitalisation, the circular economy, innovations and other key elements of new growth. The EU must absolutely proceed to build a real service economy.
Furthermore, if we want to deepen the single market, we have to put more emphasis on the social dimension. We need modern employment and social standards. The full implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights is a key factor in this.
The long-term objective should be to make the EU the world’s most competitive and socially inclusive low-carbon economy.
Building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe: EU as a global leader in climate action
The fourth and last example of the progress made relates to the priority “Building a climate neutral, green, fair and social Europe”. Climate change affects all sectors of our society, and during our Presidency, different Council formations have discussed means to achieve climate neutrality.
I have also had the pleasure to discuss this challenge personally with some of you.
What are my conclusions on all this?
Climate change has extensive impacts on the economy. The finance ministers discussed a wide range of policy measures for climate mitigation. These include carbon pricing through the emissions trading system and taxation, sustainable budgeting, and financing and investments.
For example, the EU budget and the European Investment Bank could be used more to mobilise funding for climate action.
The EU needs big investments. In fact, the Commission estimates around 550 billion euros a year are needed. This means that the yearly investment rate would go up from the current 2 per cent to 2.8 per cent of the EU’s GDP. These investments are not only a challenge, but also an opportunity – especially for sectors that play a major role here, such as the energy sector.
The ministers responsible for competitiveness discussed breakthrough technologies. We are starting to see some of these in mature industrial sectors, where, at one time, it would have seemed almost impossible to have such opportunities.
For example, the process for making steel has not really changed in the last 150 years. Yet today, there is a pilot project where carbon dioxide emissions are prevented with the use of hydrogen in the process. This is a game changer. Moreover, the steel industry is committed more and more to change through improved resource and energy efficiency.
Innovations like this can help to tackle climate change. Various industrial sectors will benefit hugely from the first-mover advantage, if we set an ambitious goal that gives them predictability for decades to come.
In addition, agriculture and forestry have a crucial role to play. The ministers of agriculture discussed the potential of increasing carbon sinks in fields. Farmlands in the EU store ten times more carbon than the EU annually emits into the atmosphere. These soil carbon stocks must be taken care of and increased.
We need to make the decision on the EU’s long-term strategy and climate neutrality goal this year. The Finnish Presidency will work hard to have the agreement on the EU 2050 vision in the European Council in December.
I have brought up some highlights from the implementation of the EU’s new priorities during the Finnish Presidency. The work continues. In my view, we, as the European Council, need to continue to ensure the active follow-up of the Strategic Agenda.
It is crucial that the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament work together to implement the ambitious priorities. I am glad that Ursula is here today to outline her plans for the next five years.
Thank you and, once again, I look forward to close cooperation in these final months of the Finnish Presidency.