Good governance, clean nature, a silent people, midnight sun, frosty winters, heavy metal and saunas are some of the features commonly associated with Finland and Finns. As Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) begins from July 1, the country has an opportunity to bring forth and present the values it believes in. Openness, transparency and equality are not just words for Finns; they are in Finland’s DNA.
Seeing these values increasingly emerge in cooperation between India and the European Union is great news. Finland wants to strengthen the EU as a global actor and sees India as a key partner in tackling global challenges. India and the EU share the same values of democracy, tolerance and a strong rules-based international order.
The union was formed to ensure peace and prosperity in Europe after the Second World War. It began as purely economic cooperation between the six founding member states. Today the EU is an organisation with common laws and regulations which span policy areas from climate, environment and health issues to external relations, justice and migration.
This is Finland’s third engagement with the EU Council Presidency. In 1999, its slogan was ‘Europe into the new Millennium’. In 2006 the integration of 10 new EU member states was a cross-cutting theme. The Presidency rotates between the member states, and the Finnish Presidency is preceded by the Romanian Presidency and succeeded by the Croatian Presidency. The three countries form a troika, agreeing on certain principles together. While the Lisbon Treaty (2009) reduced the role of the Presidency, it is still important in trade, development cooperation, enlargement, legal and consular affairs. The task of the Presidency is to bring forward the EU agenda.
Sustainability runs through the identity of Finland’s Presidency. Delegates attending meetings in Helsinki will be served organic, and locally produced Finnish food; the emphasis will be on vegetarian fare, with the use of plastic reduced. Finland wants to lay stress on the importance of a circular economy by replacing the use of paper and plastic material with digital applications and Finnish innovations. During Finland’s six-month tenure, there will be six informal ministerial meetings in the country.
The implementation of the EU-India Strategy is close to Finland’s heart. The EU Council adopted the strategy in November 2018. As an ambitious document, it spells out clear priorities to develop further already excellent EU-India relations in sectors such as trade, terrorism, defence, science and global affairs. In New Delhi, the EU delegation and member states will implement the strategy together. It goes without saying that Finland hopes for a breakthrough in free trade negotiations and a resumption of the dialogue on human rights.
The EU is complex by nature. The responsibilities of the EU institutions and the member states need to be explained repeatedly and this applies to Finland and India. However, for Finns it is easy to speak about the EU in positive terms. Finland’s membership is a value-based choice because it has anchored the country permanently to the West. The support for the EU is at a record high in Finland. Its currency is the Euro. Further, most Finns consider themselves both Finnish and European. The EU is a unique economic and political union that binds 28 countries together.
After the European parliamentary elections that were held in May 2019 in all 28 countries, a new leadership and a new Commission will be appointed. In addition, there will be challenging issues brought to the table during the six months Finland holds the Council Presidency. These include the multi-annual budget, migration and Brexit, the process of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU. Finland wants to deepen security cooperation in the EU. If at the end of December, Finland has contributed to this agenda having been brought forward, then there will be reason to be content.
Erik af Hällström is Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, New Delhi