Priorities of the Finnish Presidency

28 June 2006

HE Eikka Kosonen, Finland’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, opened his speech on the priorities for his country’s presidency by underlining that Helsinki had been working closely with its predecessor in the chair, Austria, and intended to do the same with Germany, which takes over the presidency on 1 January 2007. “Good cooperation between presidencies is crucial,” he said, stressing the need for continuity in EU policies.

While some of the key issues to be dealt with over the next six months were well known, Finland was also prepared for eventual surprises during its term in the EU chair. “At the moment it does not seem that any one particular issue will dominate. A lot of different issues which are on the table are quite important,” he added.

Restoring public confidence in the Union

Finland’s over-riding concern was that public attitudes towards the EU were “not very positive”. “The situation is not easy,” he said, adding that there were signs that current economic and political difficulties could lead the Union to look inwards, rather than outwards. Popular opinion and support for the EU were “not very favourable”. However, it was important to realise that the rest of the world was also changing. “What we do in Europe does not stop the world from going forward,” he stressed.

Given current difficult times, the focus must be to “restore some confidence in the EU,” he said. This could be done by producing concrete results which have an effect on the everyday life of citizens and business. “The effectiveness and functioning of the EU is close to our heart,” said the Ambassador.

He said Finland would implement the mandate it received at the EU summit in June to take forward current reflections on the Constitutional Treaty, but he cautioned against too high expectations, saying he did not expect any final solutions on the issue. “We take our mandate very seriously and will start consultations in due course - but I cannot predict the outcome,” he said. “This is going to be a long process and a big task.”

Mr Kosonen said Finland wanted to take “a message” from its consultations on the treaty to Germany, which would present a report on the issue during its presidency in the first half of 2007. “The Finnish presidency is a preparatory phase,” he said.

Different ideas were being floated and discussed as regards the “solemn declaration” to be issued by EU leaders next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Enlargement perspectives

Future EU enlargement will be a top agenda item for the presidency, with a decision expected on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, based on a final evaluation undertaken by the European Commission in the autumn. “I hope all goes well so that entry takes place on 1 January, 2007,” he said, adding that while the EU took its commitments “very seriously,” it also expected applicants - including Croatia and Turkey - to keep to their side of the bargain by meeting membership conditions.

The “enlargement perspective” given to countries in the western Balkans was irreversible, he said, but - once again - the conditions set by the EU must be fulfilled before going further. The Ambassador said he hoped negotiations with Serbia on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement could resume quickly following the Union’s decision to suspend the talks earlier this year because of Belgrade’s failure to arrest fugitive war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic. The EU was looking at different ways to improve cooperation with Serbia through visa facilitation, and readmission agreements. But before this could happen, commitments and conditions must be met.