Stockholm – Finland on Monday assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union from Romania without major fanfare, while EU leaders met in Brussels in a bid to fill the bloc’s top jobs.
“Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future”
“Morning has broken at 6.30 after sleepless night in Brussels. And the #EUCO just continues and continues…” a Finnish presidency tweet read.
Promoting the EU’s “global leadership in climate action” is to be a central issue during Finland’s six-month leadership of the bloc.
This also means committing to climate neutrality by 2050, Prime Minister Antti Rinne said in a speech to the Finnish parliament last week.
The Finnish presidency’s motto is “Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future.”
As part of efforts to adhere to that vision, Finland has opted to drop EU presidency gifts such as ties and scarves. The 500,000-euro (568,000-dollar) sum would be used to compensate for the carbon footprint of flights that delegates take to EU meetings in Finland.
In a column published on the Finnish EU presidency website Monday, Rinne noted how young people in Europe and beyond have assembled outside “national parliaments to show what they think about the big issue that worries them: the climate crisis.”
He was referring to protests staged under the “Fridays For Future” slogan inspired by Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg.
“During Finland’s presidency, not only are we going to listen to young people’s concerns, we’re going to answer them,” Rinne wrote.
Looming over the Finnish EU presidency – and the bloc – is the challenge of Britain’s delayed departure from the EU, scheduled to take place by October 31.
Britain’s ruling Tory party is seeking to find a new leader to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. The pro-Brexit former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is widely tipped to become party leader – and the next prime minister.
Johnson has advocated reopening Brexit negotiation with the EU, which several top EU officials have consistently rejected.
Should no agreement be reached by October 31, Britain could leave the EU without a deal, a move with a host of problems for both Britain and the EU.
Other key issues in the next six months include decisions on the EU’s budget for the period 2021 to 2027.
Finland is likely willing to discuss “a modest increase” of the budget against the backdrop of the need to fund new areas such as immigration policy, research and development, and external relations, said Teija Tiilikainen, head of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
She told dpa that this partly hinged on the need for continued support to the Finnish agricultural sector.
Several topics on the agenda
Another topic on the Finnish presidency agenda is the need to defend common EU values such as the rule of law, human rights, equality and democracy.
The presidency programme said efforts were to continue “on making the receipt of EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law.”
Poland and Hungary have for instance been criticized by other EU members and the European Commission over rule-of-law breaches, yet receive sizeable EU funding.
Migration is another theme that Finland has interest in seeing progress on, despite the impasse over the Common European Asylum System. Finland was somewhat taken off guard by the 2015 influx of migrants during the migration crisis, Tiilikainen said.
It is the third time the country of 5.5 million holds the EU presidency since joining in 1995.
Compared to 2006 when Finland last held the presidency, reforms have strengthened the role of other EU institutions.
Those reforms mean that “the role of the presidency is more modest and I think Finland is happy to accept that,” Tiilikainen said.
Heading into its EU presidency, Rinne’s five-party centre-left coalition, which took office early June, can draw on backing for the EU among Finnish voters.
A recent poll commissioned by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA) said 56 per cent of Finns were positive to EU membership while 13 per cent were negative.
This could perhaps be attributed to the problems associated with Brexit and that voters percieve the benefits of belonging to the EU amid “the new type of political environment, and great power rivalry,” Tiilikainen said.
An overview of the major EU institutions