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Jori Arvonen: Finland prepares for the Presidency

EU2019FI 21.5.2019 15.15
Column
Jori Arvonen

Finland is preparing for the start of its third presidency of the Council of the EU. At the same time, negotiations are under way to form a new national government following parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the European Union is about to embark on a new five-year electoral term after the European Parliament elections.

Antti Rinne, leader of the Social Democratic Party, is heading the government formation talks. His goal is to have the new government in place by the beginning of June, which would give the new ministers time to attend some Council meetings before they start chairing them.

The ongoing government talks will establish the main guidelines for Finland's EU policy and the national programme of the Finnish Presidency. Preparations for the presidency programme began last year as a joint effort by all the parties in Parliament. It appears likely that Finland’s long-term EU policy will continue to dictate the key elements of our work in the Union for years to come. This being said, however, every new government brings its own priorities to the table.

Fostering unity

Finland's Presidency comes at a special time for the EU as well. The European Parliament will constitute itself, followed by the appointment of a new Commission, the High Representative of the EU and the President of the European Council. Finland will do its part to ensure a smooth transition to the new electoral term.

In the past few years, the EU has had to make decisions on some issues on which the member states were divided. This highlights one of the main tasks of the presidency, which is to foster unity. We all need to have the political will to strengthen the union’s ability to make decisions and speak with one voice in the world.

With the European Parliament elections approaching, the Commission has refrained from adopting new legislative proposals, while agreement has been reached under the current Romanian Presidency on many of the proposals already on the table. Of the 167 proposals that remain, some will be left for Finland to deal with while others will lapse. In any case, fewer legislative issues than usual will be discussed during the Finnish Presidency.

Major files dominate presidency agenda

It is obvious that the coming autumn will be marked by a small number of large and complex files.

The new deadline set for the UK leaving the Union is the end of October. It remains to be seen how the preparations advance in London. Whatever the outcome, Brexit is bound to have an impact on our work.

Under the Finnish Presidency, the Union will prepare its decision on the Multiannual Financial Framework – that is, the size of the EU’s budget over the next seven years and how it should be used. This is a demanding task. We will have to wait for the summer to assess the chances of reaching a decision by the end of this year. Finland will conduct the negotiations purposefully and constructively.

We want to see the EU show leadership in international climate negotiations. To be able to do so, it is crucial for the union to hammer out agreement by the end of 2019 at the latest on its own long-term climate strategy to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Managing migration calls for common European solutions. The Member States are divided on this issue, however, and have been unable to agree so far on all the necessary decisions.

Strategic Agenda charts course for EU

A new strategic agenda for the Union is due to be adopted at the June summit, just before the Finnish Presidency begins.  It will set out the issues the EU should focus on over the next five years.

The strategic agenda is important, for it will guide the actions of the new Commission to be appointed in the autumn. The meetings scheduled during Finland's Presidency will give us the opportunity to start working on mutually agreed objectives. The Council will explore each policy sector in-depth at its meetings over the summer and autumn months.

In preparations for the strategic agenda, Finland has emphasised the importance of sustainable growth and security-building policies. Calling a halt to climate change should be at the centre of EU action over the next five years. We also see the EU first and foremost as a community of values which must ensure respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. While presiding the Council, Finland will strive to improve and strengthen the instruments of the rule of law available to the Union.

Focus on transparency

During our presidency, we will seek to develop the working methods of the Council, in particular in the fields of transparency, better regulation and the use of new technologies. We will communicate as openly and actively as possible. We will advocate openness and transparency in legislation and at Council meetings, and launch a discussion on increasing the EU’s transparency during the next five-year period.

These measures would strengthen democracy and involvement of EU citizens and support the fight against disinformation. Digital tools could help the Council work more efficiently and reduce the need for traditional working party meetings, which consume time and money and cause emissions, since delegates have to travel to them from their national capitals. We have therefore launched an initiative to increase the use of videoconferencing for Council working party meetings.

Finland started preparing for the presidency about a year and a half ago. We are ready to take the helm on 1 July.

Jori Arvonen
State Under-Secretary for EU Affairs