EU Presidency

Finnish presidency: The unexpected agenda?

An overview of the ups and downs of the last six months

, by Joonas Turunen

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Finnish presidency: The unexpected agenda?

Finland took over the EU presidency from Austria in July with an ambitious agenda. On the checklist there were issues such as globalisation, improving competitiveness, population ageing, climate change and security. Issues such as the EU-enlargement, Service Directive, chemicals Regulation and WTO-negotiations were coming up in addition to the “northern dimension” and EU-Russia relations, which Finland wanted to emphasize. On top of everything Finland was to come up with a plan to push forward the Constitutional Treaty.

The presidency had a hasty start as the conflict between Lebanon and Israel rapidly escalated in the beginning of July. The EU, often criticised for scattered and disordered foreign policy, managed to take a united and strong position on the issue. The EU took a firm position in the UN Security Council and rapidly facilitated a strong UN peace-keeping operation with up to 15 000 peacekeepers.

Even if the EU response to the crisis in Lebanon was a success, the difficulty in the discussions between the Finnish presidency, High Representative Javier Solana and Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner demonstrated the need for reform.

Accordingly, the European Movement in Finland stated that the Finnish presidency should advocate for a common Minister for Foreign Affairs, as agreed in the Constitutional Treaty.

United in diversity?

The unity of the foreign policy of EU seemed to be the focal point of the Finnish presidency in general. First the ASEM6 collected the heads of states from European and Asian countries to Helsinki to discuss EU-Asia -relations and the future of the process. Shortly after that EU Heads of State and Government gathered to Lahti for discussions about external relations and especially energy, where the Russian President Mr. Putin was also present.

The results of both meetings seemed to show that the EU leaders were able to present a united front, and there were even talks of the “Lahti spirit” with regard to the successful and constructive spirit of the discussions with Russia.

However, the “Lahti spirit” of October soon turned frosty as the EU-Russia -summit was overshadowed with the meat export dispute between Poland and Russia. Poland’s veto over the partnership agreement proved us how bad Europe needs the constitutional reform.

Much talk, little action?

However, the Finnish presidency was not all talks. Prolonged talks about the EU legislative framework on chemicals were pulled together, as the REACH Regulation was finally adopted. Another breakthrough was achieved, as the services directive was adopted. The new directive will create the world’s largest market in services. Economically this is especially important, as services account for an estimated 70% of the economic activity inside the EU.

The competitiveness of the EU, an issue that the services directive also addresses, was one of the key points of the Finnish presidency agenda. However, the progress towards a more dynamic and competitive Europe seems frustratingly sluggish. Baby steps in the form of policy reforms are overshadowed by the lack of commitment of national parliaments to the principles of the Lisbon process.

And this constitutes to…?

It seems that the Finnish presidency has showed in many ways, how the problems EU is facing all come down to the Constitutional Treaty: the EU needs a single strong voice as a global actor, qualified majority decisions and transparency. However, we must not let the constitutional hangover or “reflection time” to stop the development.

the problems EU is facing all come down to the Constitutional Treaty: the EU needs a single strong voice as a global actor, qualified majority decisions and transparency...

There has been a lot of discussion about the future of the Constitutional Treaty. Some suggest a Sarkozyan mini-constitution; others prefer a new Convention (maybe not lead by a Frenchman this time?).

Finland has held systematic discussions with each member country about their wishes and views about the future of the Constitutional Treaty. As these consultations remain confidential, we do not know the exact nature of the outcomes. However, as the Prime Minister of Finland, internet-dater Matti Vanhanen stated in his speech in the European parliament on the 18th of December, “there is a broad consensus that restarting negotiations from scratch, as if there had been no agreement, is not an option”.

It seems that the conclusion the Finnish presidency has come to with the consultations, is that we need to advocate for a “Constitution plus”. In this updated treaty we should address the focal problems and to re-discuss the biggest disappointments. It goes without saying that opening the package will be disappointing for the 16 (or 18 in 2007) countries that have already ratified the agreement. However, a compromise that will result in a broad Constitution before the 2009 parliamentary elections would give the best possible platform for further development.

Whatever the solution, national parliaments must bear their responsibility to the European citizens. The justification for the development of the Constitution will have a crucial effect on the pace of the process. This is where we must carry our responsibility to emphasize the importance of decisive and swift action to adopt the new Constitution.

- Additional reading :

 Results of the Finnish EU Presidency.

 « EU Presidency: The Finns bow out » : article by Nabeelah Shabbir, source : Café Babel.

Your comments
  • On 24 December 2006 at 15:24, by Catherine Guibourg Replying to: Finnish presidency : The unexpected agenda ?

    Thank you for this good article.I agree with your conclusions and the need to work on a “Constitution +”. The finnish Presidency has been a good one, but ,of course, with a new treaty, we will not have rotating presidency any more. Do we have to regret it ?

    Catherine, blog “l’Europe dans la campagne”

  • On 26 December 2006 at 14:15, by Peter Matjašič Replying to: Finnish presidency : The unexpected agenda ?

    Just a short comment on the provisioned rotating presidencies and the current system. Catherine asked whether we should regret probably not having them in the future? To me the answer is clear: NO. It’s a very costly adventure for any state and 6 months doesn’t really allow much continuity in the agenda. Luckily the European leaders started implementing the idea of a so-called troika (the future 3 Presidencies, e.g. the case of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, which will be the next EU countries holding the Presidency from 2007 till mid-2008). This troika system namely enables the coordination of activities, agenda-setting and preparations well in advance. Something that hasn’t been the case so far, at least not officially. The Finns and Austrians, however, did start cooperating better together, but solely on their own initiative and good will. So, in this sense, I don’t mind giving up the rotating Presidency as it hasn’t proven efficient and transparent at all.

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