Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) will join other EU leaders in Brussels this week for a summit, the first time they’ve met in person since the start of the coronavirus crisis limited meetings to video conference calls.
On the agenda for Thursday and Friday’s special European Council meeting is a massive financial double bill for leaders to agree on: the regular multi-annual budget for the 27-nation block, and a €750 billion coronavirus recovery package: a mix of €500 billion in grants and €250 billion in loans which eventually need to be paid back. Before that, on Wednesday, Europe Ministers will meet for talks ahead of the main event.
European Council President Charles Michel presented his final proposals on Friday, after final bilateral discussions with EU prime ministers that began before Midsummer (although diplomats and bureaucrats have been slogging away with their regular budget talks for more than two years) but it doesn’t necessarily mean this week’s set-piece events in Brussels will be a rubber stamp exercise.
“First of all it’s clear the EU needs to respond to this Covid-19 crisis. This is a huge, massive shock to our economy and we simply cannot ignore our responsibility. We need to react, and Finland fully supports the idea of creating a recovery package that is substantial and is able to respond to the crisis accordingly” says Europe Minister Tytti Tuppurainen (SDP).
Indeed, Michel’s latest proposals are slightly smaller than before, and don’t address one of the key complaints by some more frugal northern countries like Sweden and Denmark, that there are too many grants being given out, which require countries to take on more joint debt, something that Finland’s political establishment has always been very wary about.
EU’s slow response times to Covid-19 crisis
When the first coronavirus cases cropped up in Europe at the beginning of the year few could have predicted quite how widespread it would become; how high the death toll would be; how much it would change and challenge the way Europeans live their everyday lives; nor how much impact it would have on the region’s economy.
The EU was criticised for being slow to react, leaving countries to carve their own lockdowns and emergency responses. Oulu MP Tytti Tuppurainen says not all the blame for slow responses to the pandemic can be laid at Brussels’ doorstep.
“Covid-19 and corona was a crisis that none of us could imagine, and therefore none of us could prepare ourselves for crisis like that. In the very early days of the crisis it was the national governments that started acting, and it is understandable because the EU simply doesn’t have the mandate to operate on the areas of health and security. But after a difficult start so to speak, the EU was quick to catch up and started acting accordingly” Tuppurainen tells News Now Finland.
“I think this was a sort of test, and it’s evident that in the future we must be better prepared. But Finland sees the European cooperation as a value in itself.”
The minister cites cross-border agreements on the movement of vital goods during lockdowns between member states, and bulk purchases of protective gear as examples where there was good cooperation between EU countries.
“After a difficult start, so to speak, the EU was quick to catch up and started to act accordingly” she says.
Finland’s position on the recovery package
Despite a reworked proposal from Charles Michel, the Finnish government has signaled that it still wants to see more movement on his newest coronavirus recovery package details.
“Some right steps regarding the [multi-annual financial framework] but much work needs to be done on the recovery package” PM Sanna Marin wrote on Twitter on Friday in response to Michel.
“We need a lower overall level and better balance of grants and loans” she says.
Europe Minister Tytti Tuppurainen says that Finland’ position on this hasn’t changed.
“It’s very important to make a difference that this new proposal does not mean any mutualisation of debt. So every country is still responsible for the debt they have, and if you’re going to take a loan you’ll have to pay it back. That is clear.”
The Commission wants to also raise money on the financial markets and then allocate this cash as grants to EU member states – grants which do not have to be paid back.
“We want to make sure that all the liabilities we have are absolutely clear and we shall know what we are committing ourselves to” explains Tuppurainen.
“This is not a crisis package as such. This is not the euro crisis. This is an economic shock that every EU member state has to deal with and we have to show solidarity. And in this very very specific and unprecedented situation, Finland is also willing to agree on a common recovery package, if the liabilities are all clarified.”
Listen to our full interview with Finland’s Minister of European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen on the first episode of our News Now Finland summer Podkäst.