Kaisa Tiusanen: Common rules ensure safe sailing for the EU
Common values are strongly highlighted in the Strategic Agenda 2019–2024 of the EU, which states that they are the foundation of freedom, security and prosperity in Europe. Nevertheless, in the EU and beyond, we have seen that the foundations of society can be eroded by problems relating to respect of fundamental rights and the rule of law and to the functioning of democracy.
The EU is founded on common values that provide a basis for both international cooperation and sustainable action by individual states. The role of values in EU cooperation is comparable to the importance of the rules of maritime navigation: if the rules of the sea did not exist, or if sailors ignored these rules and failed to respect their fellow seafarers, shipping would become unpredictable and outright dangerous.
Respect for common values and for the rule of law is one of the priorities of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. The Presidency has adopted a constructive and forward-looking approach to this issue.
Finland will host a conference in Helsinki on 10–11 September 2019 focusing on the interaction between democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and discussing how to ensure the resilience of our societies in a changing European landscape. The speakers include two Finnish government ministers, Anna-Maja Henriksson and Tytti Tuppurainen, and two members of the European Commission, Věra Jourová and Frans Timmermans.
Why do we need to discuss common values?
Smooth cooperation within the EU depends on mutual trust. At state level, this translates to the ability to rely on certain fundamental principles, such as respect for citizens’ fundamental rights, human rights and well-functioning state structures in each Member State.
Democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights can be seen as a tripod that needs all three legs to stand.
Adapting to change is crucial
The resilience of society means the extent to which societies tolerate change and are able to cope with crises. Trust plays a key role here. It is important that everyone in society can feel confident that their rights are respected and that they can participate in the management of common affairs and, if necessary, have their case brought before an independent court. Such a society works more effectively than one in which those fundamentals cannot be taken for granted.
It is not easy to excel in the art of putting common values into practice. Although all EU Member States are doing quite well in international comparisons, they all have room for improvement.
While individual countries may face different challenges, many issues still unite us: the transformation of communication, hybrid threats, and the widening gap in voter participation are some of the challenges common to all Member States. Instead of pointing fingers, we need forums for discussing and learning from one another.
What is the aim of the conference?
The conference in Helsinki highlights the benefits of implementing common values better both at EU level and in the Member States. The key focus will be on strengthening social resilience.
With regard to democracy, the conference will consider the challenges posed by disinformation and examine ways to respond to them. In the field of fundamental rights, the main topics will be the right to participate and how to strengthen access to this right. Regarding the rule of law, the focus will be on the various EU actors and mechanisms involved and how to enhance their role.
Changes in the international operating environment have become increasingly difficult to anticipate in many respects. Over the next few years, the EU and its Member States will face a number of tough challenges, such as the need to introduce measures to mitigate climate change. The structures of our societies are being challenged by change, making resilience even more crucial than before.
The EU derives its strength from unity. That is why we need to talk to each other and find means to strengthen the value base of our societies. In the same way, seafarers must occasionally cope with storms and fogs, but a skilled crew, appropriate equipment and adherence to jointly agreed practices make it possible to navigate safely.