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Sustainability and climate change: main aspects in the Finish Council Presidency

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 19.07.2019.Print version
Finnish Presidency in the Council of Ministers is running for six months: from July to the end of the year. The Presidency’s program is composed of the following three issues: sustainable growth in transition to low-carbon economy, competitiveness and the rule-based trade policy; besides, there are issues of regional security and defence.


Finland’s time during the Council’s Presidency coincided with the beginning of the new EU political and institutional cycle which needed concentrated efforts from the Presidency in the search for a compromise on the new EU leadership: e.g. in finalizing the discussions on the EU’s strategic agenda and seeking to complete negotiations on the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (2021-29).

First Finnish Presidency in the Council took place in 1999; a lot has changed since but the work in the Council still needs leadership and stability, which the Finnish team will deliver having experienced, pragmatic, down-to-earth and cool-headed civil servants.

On a visit to Finland during the first days in July, the outgoing Commission’s President underlined that there were “good reasons to be optimistic at the start of the Finnish Presidency because Finland has proven itself a leader in the Union… because Finland has always chosen the European path”. He also mentioned a specific Finnish concept – Talkoo, which means the communities working together as friends and neighbors towards a common goal. Reaching the common goal is the EU’s intention in the months ahead, because the member states want to implement the European strategic priorities.

Source: July 2019


The Commission President Juncker said in Helsinki in the beginning of July that “Europe needs Finland, because Finland is pragmatic, down-to-earth, cool-headed; that is exactly what we need in the next upcoming months. Besides, reaching climate neutrality with zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is not only possible but also economically beneficial. The energy transition will not hurt our economy but on the contrary will result in the creation of new jobs, new business opportunities and hundreds of billions of euros per year in reduced air pollution damages. Finland is showing the EU states the way ahead with the unprecedented ambition of becoming climate neutral by 2035.

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Domestic situation before the Council’s Presidency has been turbulent in Finland: following the resignation of the government in March 2019 and parliamentary elections in April, the political parties have only in the beginning of June concluded coalition talks to form Finland’s new government. Antti Rinne, a Social Democrat, as a new Prime Minister strives for a successful implementation of the country’s Council Presidency (although it was the ousting former Prime Minister Juha Sipilä from the Centre Party who actually prepared the program).  

Finnish Council Presidency: challenges and outcomes

The priorities for Finland’s Presidency are to strengthen common values and the rule of law, to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, to strengthen the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action and to protect the security of citizens comprehensively. Finland is taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a crucial moment. The European leaders have just agreed on an ambitious and far-sighted strategic agenda for the years 2019–2024 to take the EU forward and address its internal and external challenges. The European Union faces an increasingly complex and unpredictable global environment: great power competition and assertive unilateralism are on the rise, and the international rules-based system and its norms and principles are being challenged. We have also seen the EU’s common values being called into question.



Finland has one big priority: finding agreement on an EU commitment to climate neutrality “by the end of the year”, although there are some EU states that blocked an agreement on climate change at the European Council’s summit at the end of June 2019. The “blockers” wanted to know how climate neutrality by 2050 will change their economies, i.e. they wanted more EU money to finance the transition. Thus, according to Finland’s MP Rinne, climate policy will indeed be one of the big issues for all states and should adequately be addressed in the EU’s next long-term budget. Besides, Finland will push for a revision of the EU Common Agricultural Policy that “can better respond to climate change,” according to its program for its six-month presidency.


Finland’s European minister, Tytti Tuppurainen made it clear there might be carrots, but there will also be sticks: the EU is a union of laws and rules; hence the rule of law is in the center of the Finnish presidency, in particular in the European fiscal rules, which are going to be taken seriously and linked to payments made from the EU budget.

Sustainability and climate: Presidency’s priorities

The common denominator for all EU action should be sustainability, which includes implementation both within and beyond the EU of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The EU should raise its profile as a global leader in climate action by adopting a long-term climate strategy aimed at making the EU carbon neutral by 2050.

The transition to the bioeconomy and circular economy will have a central role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in improving Europe’s competitiveness. At the same time, it will help in modernising national economies and industry, creating jobs, generating sustainable growth and protecting the environment.

Finnish Presidency will support effective implementation of the Commission’s updated bioeconomy strategy. As regards the circular economy, the work has so far focused especially on plastics, waste, consumer empowerment and stakeholder engagement. While continuing this work, the Finish team will provide guidance on the next steps, e.g. extending the measures into new sectors, such as moving to the circular use of materials, to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and halting the loss of biodiversity.

Every sector of national economy shall take part in sustainability: the financial sector is the most important; hence the action plan for financing sustainable growth presented by the Commission in 2018 is a good example and therefore a quarter of the next long-term EU budget is to be spent on climate objectives and circular economy. In 2016, sectors relevant to the circular economy employed more than four million workers in the member states, a 6% more than in 2012. And that is the reason, why circular economy is going to form a solid part in the EU states’ perspective industrial policy directions.


 Besides, the EU member states have to stay at the forefront of research and innovation. The Horizon Europe framework programme for the next seven years, based on open competition and excellence-based research, is an essential tool in this connection. At the same time, cohesion policy should have a stronger focus on promoting growth and competitiveness throughout Europe with particular importance on social cohesion with common cohesion funding to facilitate regional cohesion. When allocating funding, attention should also be given to country-specific special characteristics of a more permanent nature, such as sparsely populated areas.

A reformed and modernised EU Common Agricultural Policy must respond to the challenges of food safety, food security, climate change and environmental protection; rural development funding in particular plays a crucial role in this regard.

Commission Vice-President Katainen in his speech at the plenary session of the European Parliament on the Finnish Presidency of the Council of Ministers in Strasbourg (17 July 2019) wished “a lot of energy, and strength to the Presidency’s team, as there are high expectations for the work ahead”.

The “Baltic Course Magazine” filly supports these wishes and hope that effective implementation of all Finnish priorities will serve best both Finland and its neighbors in the Baltic Sea region.


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