Finnish Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Ministers are outlining the priorities of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the EU to parliamentary committees, in a series of meetings.

Finland holds the Presidency of the Council until the end of 2019. The first series of hearings took place in July. A second set of hearings is taking place in September. This press release will be updated regularly.

Internal market and consumer protection

“Our priorities are closely linked with the objective of achieving sustainability”, said the Employment Minister Timo Harakka to Internal Market and Consumer Protection MEPs on Monday, 2 September. He highlighted in particular the sustainable growth agenda and its importance from an economic, environmental and social perspective. The digital economy, including digital services, implementing consumer protection laws efficiently and the MFF files related to the single market and customs are also high on the Presidency’s programme, the Minister confirmed.

Digitalisation, artificial intelligence, support for SMEs, geoblocking, digital skills, product safety, customs and dual quality of products were among the issues discussed further with MEPs. On Brexit, Mr Harakka said: “We are prepared for many outcomes, but unexpected things can happen”.

Foreign Affairs

Strengthening EU ties with Africa, working together in the Arctic, boosting common action to counter hybrid threats, while continuing to combat climate change were some of the priorities outlined by Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto, on Monday 2 September. He also advocated the introduction of qualified majority voting when making decisions on foreign policy in the Council, to ensure the EU has a more united voice internationally. On enlargement, the Minister said he was in favour of opening accession negations with Albania and North Macedonia, while still keeping the dialogue with Turkey open, despite the latter having drifted in the wrong political direction for many years.

MEPs questioned the Minister on Iran, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Russia, the Amazon, Ukraine and the Western Balkans. While some Members criticised the EUs’ efforts to tackle irregular migration and welcome potential new member states, most support the Presidency’s proposals to strive for qualified majority voting in the Council. They also called on the Finnish government to support maintaining sanctions against Russia.

Hearings held between Monday 22 and Thursday 25 July:

Industry, Research and Energy:

Economic Affairs Minister Katri Kulmuni underlined on Tuesday that Finland will promote a modern industrial policy driven by the digital economy, with a strong focus on research and innovation to create sustainable growth in the EU. This will also be significant in the transition towards a climate-neutral economy. She also said that an agreement among member states on the EU’s 2021-2027 budget is an important objective. Transport and Communications Minister Sanna Marin told MEPs that building citizens’ trust in new technology should also be a priority, for instance on artificial intelligence.

MEPs welcomed the presentation, but stressed the need to be ambitious on the EU’s long-term budget, as an increase in funds, not least for research and technology, is needed to promote jobs and growth. The Committee Chair also urged the Presidency not to cut EU funding for research and innovation in the 2020 budget, as proposed by the Council.

Regional development:

Economic Affairs Minister Katri Kulmuni also presented on Tuesday the priorities in the field of regional development, which include making EU cohesion policy more result-oriented, efficient and thematically focused. She also stressed the important role it has in boosting research and innovation as well as in creating resilience to globalisation.

MEPs welcomed the announcement of the minister that the Presidency is ready to resume inter-institutional negotiations as soon as possible, with priority given to ensuring a prompt start of “next generation programmes”.

Employment and Social Affairs:

Employment Minister Timo Harakka told MEPs on Wednesday that the most important goal of the Presidency is ensuring a sustainable future. To achieve this goal, Finland will promote “an accelerated transition to a climate-neutral economy in a way that is socially sustainable”, he added.

Improving workers’ skills as well as protecting workers were among the issues debated. Questioned by MEPs on measures to assist people with disabilities into work, the Minister said they are currently drafting Council conclusions on promoting the employment of persons who have difficulty accessing the job market. Mr Harakka told MEPs that he is looking forward to further work on a possible EU minimum wage, while Social Affairs and Health Minister Aino-Kaisa Pekonen stressed that the European Semester and the EU Social Pillar should integrate the aspect of wellbeing.

Development and EU-ACP Relations:

The Minister of Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari stressed the importance of climate action, implementing the 2030 Agenda, values-based foreign policy, in particular gender equality and a partnership with Africa, on Wednesday. Given the extremely worrying context, the minister highlighted the need to defend humanitarian action based on the principles and respect of international law, as well as on support for vulnerable populations.

MEPs welcomed the minister’s focus on climate and stressed the importance of addressing gender inequalities and sexual violence in conflicts, as well as examining how to respond to the increasing number of forced displacements caused by climate change and the need for greater coherence of other EU policies with development goals.

Transport and Tourism:

Europe needs a broader offering of transport services, and automation will be key to solve environmental and safety challenges, Transport and Communications Minister Sanna Marin told MEPs on Wednesday. Regarding the legislative proposals tabled so far, the Presidency will try to reach a position on rail passenger rights and Eurovignette, will continue working on summer time arrangements and is ready to negotiate on the Mobility Package. They would also like to put air passengers’ rights back on the agenda.

Economic Affairs Minister Katri Kulmuni, responsible for tourism, said that the main priority in this field will be to boost digitalisation of the tourism sector to accelerate growth and employment.

MEPs voiced support for concluding the legislative work on the Single European Sky and Eurovignette proposals. They also quizzed the ministers on rail transport, how to overcome differences on the mobility package, the proposal to open up coach and bus markets, how to ensure that there is a reduction in traffic levels with increasing automation as well as financial support for the tourism sector under the new EU long-term budget.