Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s speech to the European Parliament
President of the European Parliament, President of the European Commission, Honourable Members,
I am pleased to be here among you today.
First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the honourable members upon your success in the recent European elections.
As the representative of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union, I would like to stress my full commitment to constructive cooperation with the European Parliament.
For this purpose, our Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen will represent the Council in the plenaries.
The foundations of the European Union were laid in a divided continent ravaged by war.
The founders of our Union shared a common vision and belief in the future.
The people dreamed of and had expectations for peace and stability for the whole continent. In other words, they wanted the unity of Europe.
For many decades now, the EU has fulfilled these expectations.
EU cooperation has deepened as the Member States have come to realise that together we are stronger.
Nowhere else in the world is there anything to compare with this unique form of cooperation between nations.
‘Unique’ is indeed the right word to describe the story of the European Union.
Only 30 years ago, our continent was still divided by barbed wire and walls.
Since then a whole generation has been born and raised who have never known anything else than free movement across borders.
Our continent that suffered the horrors of war and dictatorship and witnessed a genocide 75 years ago is now the strongest defender of democracy, human rights and peace in the world.
The EU is a living example of how we can learn from the past. That peace overcomes war. That hope is stronger than despair.
In recognition of this unique story, the European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.
Maybe, the peace prize was also meant to be a reminder to us: While keeping the peace, it is now our responsibility to meet new expectations.
For the EU, this unique story is a source of pride. But, as I said, this pride also means we bear great responsibility, as the EU is now the object of these new expectations.
While maintaining stability and peace is still one of the EU’s core tasks, many other big questions remain unanswered.
We have all seen that the EU’s values — the rule of law, human rights, equality and democracy — are being challenged.
Europe’s economic growth has slowed. This has led not only to growing unemployment and inequality, but it is also paving the way for the rise of populism and extremism.
In this regard, we need to find long-term and comprehensive solutions to migration.
The EU’s unity has also been tested and will be tested by the prospect of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal.
We believe that it is better to seek answers to complex questions together rather than alone.
For Finland, this is our third presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Many things have changed since the previous presidencies in 1999 and 2006. Some things, however, remain the same.
One of them is the pragmatic way Finland will run its Council Presidency.
Another is the close relationship between the Presidency and the European Parliament.
In Finland, our Parliament plays a strong role in EU decision-making. The Finnish Parliament has the right — and obligation — to express its views on EU matters that fall within its decision-making powers.
We have found this active engagement of Parliament to be very useful, as is the continuous dialogue between the Government and Parliament.
Within the EU, we again have an opportunity to build a close and pragmatic, forward-looking relationship between the EU institutions.
I believe we can achieve this and meet the expectations of our citizens by taking the lead in addressing the major challenges ahead.
Finland has just launched its Presidency of the Council, and in this role we can make an impact on the future of the EU.
That future should be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. In fact, the slogan for our Presidency neatly states this goal: Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future.
To this end, the priorities for Finland’s Presidency are
- to strengthen the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action
- to strengthen common values and the rule of law
- to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive and
- to protect the security of citizens comprehensively.
A key priority of Finland’s Presidency is the EU’s global leadership in climate action.
We already have the most ambitious targets among the industrialised economies in place and we have a binding legal framework that will deliver our current commitments.
But 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 plan by the end of 2019.
As the necessary measures will have an impact on all sectors of society, these measures to tackle climate change must be carried out in a socially sustainable way.
We need to boost employment with the help of the bioeconomy and circular economy, for example.
This is how we can make the EU the world’s most competitive and socially inclusive low-carbon economy.
The European Union is first and foremost a community of values. It is not a store where we can choose today a little bit of freedom of speech and human rights, but then decide not to pick freedom of the press or independent courts today. It doesn’t work like that in Western democracies.
Human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law are all values that EU countries commit to as part of their membership.
These values belong together. They are the cornerstones of all EU action.
But they are not just values, they are a European reality. Because of these values, European societies are safer and more secure, more stable and more prosperous than anywhere else in the world.
We Europeans know better than anybody what happens if we lose sight of these values.
For Finland, it is only natural that common values and the rule of law are high priorities on our Presidency agenda. We look forward to working together with the European Parliament on these issues.
In fact, we have close ties in a way to the European Parliament as well. As some of you may know the first European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, came from Finland.
During our first presidency in 1999, leaders agreed on the common priorities for justice and home affairs.
We also worked closely together with the European Parliament on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Respect for the rule of law is not only a matter of protecting the rights our citizens. It is also a matter of the proper functioning and credibility of the European Union.
Our approach is positive and constructive.
Finland wishes to improve and strengthen the EU’s rule of law toolbox and build cooperation between different entities and parties. The aim is to find better and more efficient ways to ensure respect for the EU’s common values in the Member States and to forestall potential problems.
The rule of law dialogue in the Council will be evaluated, with the aim of taking it in a more structured and result-oriented direction.
We also need to continue negotiations on how to link the receipt of EU funds more closely with respect for the rule of law. We are aiming at setting up a well-balanced and effective mechanism that will tie EU funding to compliance with the rule of law.
The single market cannot function without its central principles, which are the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital.
The single market, rules-based free trade and up-to-date regulations of a high standard combined with a modern approach to industrial policy are elements that make the EU collectively competitive.
The EU now needs a positive and comprehensive long-term strategy for sustainable growth.
Our two institutions and the Commission can build on the success achieved on the digital economy during the last term.
Additionally, our emphasis must be on taking full advantage of research, development, innovation, services and digitalisation.
An active industrial policy and development of the service sector and the digital economy will help lay the foundation for a new economy fit for the modern age.
It is clear that wellbeing and economic policies go hand in hand.
The EU works best when we increase people’s wellbeing and security and reduce inequality.
By fostering skills, education and training, and promoting regional and social fairness, as well as gender equality, the EU will create sustainable growth.
The single market, which is at the core of the European Union, should treat all workers fairly.
This is why Finland’s Presidency will promote the EU’s social dimension and investments in education, training and skills.
We know that new needs arise from new forms of employment and global competition.
Our aim should be to make European education, training and research the best in the world.
To do so means that we need to increase the exchange of students and other forms of cooperation between educational institutions.
We should also explore the possibility of establishing a networked European super-university, based on the existing European Universities Initiative, and substantially strengthening the Erasmus programme.
Only by acting together, can we defend European values and interests.
The EU should aim to be a values-based global leader and defend a rules-based approach in trade.
We also believe that to be able to tackle the challenges of climate change, population growth and migration management, it is essential for us to support stability and development in Africa.
I would like to thank Mr Juncker and the Commission for the excellent work done on the EU–Africa Partnership.
Finland’s Presidency will work towards taking the EU-Africa partnership in the direction of greater equality, in a way that benefits both partners.
At the same time, EU citizens expect us to protect their security and this should be done comprehensively.
This means making progress in defence cooperation.
Digital security and countering hybrid threats, such as disinformation, are also increasingly important.
Finland’s Presidency aims to step up the fight against hybrid threats and build the resilience of our societies.
We will organise the work of the Council in such a way that we can boost awareness and understanding of what can and must be done in good cooperation.
The next multiannual financial framework is one of the most important files for the Finnish Presidency.
I want to thank the Commission for its balanced proposal to modernising the MFF.
Indeed, we must find a balanced solution.
This solution should reflect both new priorities and traditional policies that contribute to the common European objectives.
In this way, it will enable us to meet the expectations towards the EU and tackle the challenges I have mentioned here today.
We will facilitate the final stages for reaching the Council MFF deal by the end of the year.
In this work, good cooperation with the European Parliament is important.
In times of difficulty, people are heard to say that the EU should act quickly.
We think what is needed is a stronger EU position as a global leader in climate action, a strengthening of our common values and the rule of law, a more competitive and socially inclusive EU, and comprehensive protection of the security of our citizens.
I believe we can meet these expectations through good cooperation with the European Parliament.