PM hosts Merkel, Orban, Barnier and Varadkar for talks

The EU leaders are in Helsinki for a political congress, but also met Juha Sipilä for discussions at his Kesäranta residence.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä at Kesäranta on 7th November 2018 / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen / Prime Minister's Office

The Prime Minister’s residence at Kesäranta has seen a revolving door of European leaders and officials today, arriving for meetings with Juha Sipilä (Centre).

They’re all in Helsinki for the European People’s Party (EPP) congress, but also held bilateral talks with the PM. The EPP is an umbrella group of centre right European political parties from more than two dozen EU countries.

At Kesäranta today for separate meetings were German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar; Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz; Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic, and controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban.

The President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the official in charge of Brexit negotiations from the EU side Michel Barnier also came for talks.

On the agenda, Finland’s 2019 EU Presidency, the ongoing Brexit saga, and rule of law.

“This was an excellent opportunity to strengthen Finland’s position and readiness ahead of Finland’s third EU Presidency term, which will begin in July. By strengthening bilateral relationships with the different countries and establishing a unified picture of the situation in the EU, we can create a good foundation for a well-functioning and effective Presidency term” Sipilä said in a statement.

“It is also clear that a strong, unified EU is the only way we can respond to the great challenges of the coming years, such as climate change and migration” he added.

Brexit discussions: Finland backs Ireland

One of the most important topics on the agenda for Sipilä’s meetings today was Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wrote on Twitter that it was “clear that more work is needed in Brexit negotiations. We remain determined to reach a deal”.

Sipilä replied that it had been a “great pleasure” to host him, and that Finland “fully supports his work”.

Those comments come after Sipilä met with Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. One of the most important and contentious sticking points of Brexit negotiations is what to do about Ireland’s border with the UK.

During 2018 there were a number of high profile visits to Finland by British ministers, looking to find any difference of opinion between EU member states and the Brussels negotiating team. However today the Prime Minister made it clear that Finland stands together with Ireland on the border issue.

“Finland and Ireland have much in common, and Ireland can count on Finland’s support in the Brexit negotiations” Sipilä writes.