Under the banner of sustainability, Finland assumed on 1st July 2019 the EU Presidency for the next six months. Apart from strengthening the common values in the EU, Finland’s programme focusses in particular on increasing competitiveness and on social inclusion, on the fight against climate change and on the wellbeing of citizens in the EU.
On 1st July 2019, Finland took over the EU Presidency from Romania, which she will hold until 31st December 2019. According to a fixed cycle, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union changes every six months and provides Member States with the opportunity to drive forward issues they regard as important, to bring out the main points in the EU and to have a determining influence on the future of the EU. In its Programme presented on 26th June, Finland, using the slogan “Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future” is in particular focussing on the subject of sustainability: It is the objective of this period to promote a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable future of the EU. As another important interest of the Finnish Presidency, the “Economy of Wellbeing” shall be part of the Council’s agenda. This objective shall put the wellbeing and the prosperity of the people at the centre of politics, whose aim it will be to drive forward social progress and to fight inequalities. Within the framework of the Presidency, a High-Level Conference will take place on 18th September 2019 in Helsinki in order to expand the dialogue on the subject.
When presenting the programme, Finland’s Prime Minister, Antti Rinni pointed out the achievements of the European Union such as stability and peace; however, at the same time Europe was confronted with challenges and open questions, which required joint sustainable solutions.
Strengthening of common values and rule of law
The new Presidency declares protecting and strengthening of the common values in the EU as one of its priorities: peace, security, stability, democracy and prosperity. Finland emphasises that the European Union will only be able to meet the big challenges of our era - whilst at the same time promoting the wellbeing of its citizens - by defending these cornerstones of European integration and by joint actions. Particular emphasis is given to the target to strengthen the rule of law, by finding more efficient measures to be able to guarantee the adherence to common values in the Member States. Finland also plans to continue the negotiations on coupling subsidies from EU funds to the compliance with the rule of law.
Competitiveness and social inclusion
Another issue, which will be at the centre of the coming six months is the question as to how economic growth, employment and prosperity can be continued to be created in spite of challenges like the tensions in international trade. Apart from a well-functioning Single Market and a rule-based free trade, the Presidency wants in particular to focus on social inclusion. It points out for example, that by ending gender-based inequalities, by promoting education and professional skills and by including and employing young people, it will be possible to achieve sustainable growth.
EU shall adopt leadership role in climate and environmental protection
Another, particularly emphasised focus of the Finnish Presidency is to assume a globally leading role in the fight against climate change. Hence, by the end of 2019 it will lay the foundation stone and define the key elements of the long-term EU climate strategy: it is the target to adopt CO2-neutrality by 2050 in order to realise a climate-neutral society. Bio economy and circular economy shall provide solutions in the fight against climate change and at the same time create business opportunities and jobs. Thereby the Finns intend to lead by example: apart from the goal to achieve CO2-neutrality by 2035 in their own country, Finland will spend about 500,000 Euro on compensating CO2-emissions, which will be incurred by flights as part of the EU Presidency.
Comprehensive security for the population
As a fourth priority, the Finnish government focusses on the fact that internal and external security are more intertwined than ever and that Member States have to join forces to be prepared against any security threats. With regard to external action, the commitment with regard to preventing conflicts shall be made more efficient and the instruments available, such as diplomacy, trade policy and foreign aid should be increasingly used for Europe’s protection. At the same time, the Finnish Presidency also wants to promote internal security, among other by cooperating with regard to preventing criminality and by putting an end to inequalities.
From the point of view of workers, many of these announcements, for example emphasising the importance of social inclusion, of climate neutrality and of the wellbeing of citizens - are necessary and the right steps for Europe’s future. The programme also includes the target of further developing the European Pillar of Social Rights – one can only hope that this announcement is followed by concrete measures to drive forward high social minimum standards in Europe and to counteract wage and social dumping. However, in respect of tax policy, the programme does not appear to have set many concrete goals: it mentions in a short paragraph that the discussions on a digital tax should continue at OECD level and that work had to be done within the EU to combat tax evasion and aggressive tax competition. However, in view of the increasingly more urgent tax-policy issues a stronger strategic focus to achieve a fair tax system in Europe would be desirable.