Europe Minister: Climate change, Brexit and Finland’s EU impact

As Finland takes over the six-month Presidency of the European Council for the first time since 2006, Tytti Tuppurainen explains why it's an important moment for the country.

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File picture of Europe Minister Tytti Tuppurainen (SDP), 1st July 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Finland’s Europe Minister Tytti Tuppurainen (SDP) says she hopes Brexit doesn’t overshadow Finland’s Presidency of the European Council over the next six months, as the Finns try to keep a firm focus on climate change.

The Nordic country took over the rotating six-month role from Romania on 1st July at a time when the 28-nation block is undergoing a generational change in leadership and the likely departure of the UK on 31st October.

“This is a very special time frame, because there is an institutional transition going on, there isn’t a Commission yet, there’s going to be a new president of the Council and everything, so it leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre for us to bring our own agenda to the table” says Tuppurainen, in her first English-language interview since Finland assumed the Presidency mantle.

In a classic example of Nordic consensus politics, the Finnish Presidency agenda discussions were started by former Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) earlier this year, and included all the parliamentary parties, something Tuppurainen says the current government appreciates in terms of bringing continuity to the process.

“We had elections in April and you couldn’t know beforehand who was going to run the government office, so we did it together so it’s more solid ground under our feet now that we’re working” Tuppurainen explains.

Detail of blue balloons with EU logo / Credit: News Now Finland

No two-speed Europe for climate change targets 

The most important priority for the Finns over the next six months is pushing their climate change agenda, and getting the rest of the EU to agree to a 2050 timetable to be carbon neutral.

“Solving the climate crisis could be Europe’s next heroic act, one that will be admired and praised by future generations” Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP) told reporters in Brussels on Monday morning.

It’s a target that some countries, including neighbouring Estonia, have so far resisted.

“There were only four countries that were opposed to the long-term EU climate strategy, so I don’t take it as totally impossible, quite the contrary, I think it’s possible to achieve a solution. You have to have ambition, and we are going to have it, and have the pragmatic approach that we Nordics can do” says Tuppurainen, a Member of Parliament from Oulu, a city in the north east of Finland, close to the Arctic Circle.

Finland is hoping those hold-out countries will come around during the next six months, if offered the right financial incentives, but doesn’t think it’s feasible to have a two-speed Europe when it comes to agreeing climate change targets.

“European Union as one is stronger when we take the climate issues to a global stage, and that’s why our mission is to have an agreement within the Council unanimously, and I’m optimistic that we’re going to do that”

“Probably it needs linkage to the multi-annual budgetary framework, because those regions and countries that are, for good reason, a little bit afraid that their economies are going to be hurt, so if we can find a way to compensate them, it’s easier to find a solution” Tuppurainen tells News Now Finland.

Brexit graphic / Credit: iStock

Brexit shadow hangs over Finnish Presidency 

Despite the positive cheerleading from Finland about climate change, rule of law, possible EU expansion and other issues it wants to tackle during the next six months, the reality is that much of the EU’s attention will be focused on Brexit.

“We hope that Brexit won’t dominate our Presidency but of course events happen, and Brexit is one of those events, and I hope we can avoid a no-deal Brexit but if it comes we have to be prepared”

“Lots depends on the UK side, we will have to wait and see what the new Prime Minister decides” says Tuppurainen, referencing the ongoing campaigning between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to become Britain’s next Prime Minister. Both men have said they will go back to Brussels to negotiate a ‘better deal’ (sic) and both have also said they are prepared to leave the EU without a deal as well.

“There will be no new withdrawal agreement, that is clear, and I think everybody understands that as well in Britain, but they are still having hopes, and they need to settle those hopes” she says clearly.

“I think there has to be total clarity on that matter. The withdrawal agreement is as good as it is. It won’t be opened. It won’t be renegotiated. But what we can accommodate is some sort of new political declaration, or at least refining the political declaration we have. If that would be of help then we are ready”.

That political agreement covers the future relationship between the European Union and Britain once it leave the EU.

If the UK’s new Prime Minister could show to a domestic audience some kind of movement or change that he can sell as a ‘concession’ to parliament, then it might be enough to get the withdrawal agreement which was negotiated by Theresa May approved by British MPs so that the UK can leave the EU by that 31st October deadline.

Despite the British hand-wringing over Brexit, and uncertainty as the departure date looms, Tytti Tuppurainen highlights how important the next six months are for Finland – especially with a lame duck lineup of senior leaders giving the Presidency holders an elevated profile.

“We want to make an impact to European policies, because a small country like Finland needs a strong, united European Union and if we can contribute to that, it’s good for Finland and good for Europe”

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