In the second half of 2019, Finland will be responsible for the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (composed of representatives of national governments).

H. E. Mrs. Päivi Pohjanheimo, Ambassador of Finland to Romania, exercising the Finnish presidency of the EU Council in the interview he gave to Vladimir Adrian Costea for Europunkt.


Citeşte versiunea în limba română aici.

Vladimir Adrian Costea: What is the importance of holding the Presidency of the EU Council in July-December 2019? What are the benefits that Finland can benefit from this opportunity?

Päivi Pohjanheimo: It will be the third time for Finland to be at the helm of the European union. For us the main target is to keep the EU’s wheels moving in a manner that the EU continues delivering results on key priorities that are also of key importance of our citizens. Finland wants to contribute to the European project in a sustainable way focusing on the essential.

We form part of the EU presidency trio together with Romania and Croatia. Of course Finland will cooperate with both the preceding and the succeeding presidency and wish all the three of us will achieve as successful presidencies as possible.

For Romania and Croatia it will be the first time taking over the presidency. From our own experience I can tell that the member country becomes more influencial and operational after having thoroughly learnt to use all EU-tools and mechanisms during the presidency. The presidency also helps to engage your citizens better to the European project. It can give also possibilities to gain visibility in European and also in wider international context.

What are the policies under which Finland could make an important contribution?

We shouldn’t forget that each rotating presidency inherits the council’s ongoing agenda for six months. But in general Finland wishes to preside a Union that is unified, operational and result-oriented. We see that we would need concrete deliverables from deepening the internal market, enhancing the free trade, strengthening the external action and defence, focusing on internal and external security and managing migration. Our shared European values as the principle of rule-of-law should also be enhanced in all EU’s activities.

What Finland also wishes is to make sure is that our joint decisions and agreed rules are implemented before we rush into new initiatives. You see, as a pragmatic country we feel that implementing what has already been agreed together is the way of achieving an operational EU in a complex world. It is also a way of winning accountability and gaining trust in the eyes of our own citizens.

All in all it’s good to remember that the EU is as strong as its member states want it to be.

What challenges will the Finnish Presidency have to manage at that time?

There are some very important files that will evolve during following presidencies and perhaps our Romanian friends will take care many of them to the finishing line. To name first the multiannual financial framework, meaning the budget. Finding an agreement on the EU budget is never simple. It is about resourcing the union to make it stronger outwards and more stable inwards. Differences of point of view and national interests of all member states must be consolidated to a mutually accepted compromise. The role of the presidency country is crucial and its own national interests must be replaced by the hat of the presidency.

Secondly of course Brexit and the Future of the EU. As we lose a strategic partner when Britain leaves we need to show more unity than ever, stick to our common values and use one voice to be able to perform as a convincing global actor.  Romania will host a crucially important meeting of the heads of state on how the EU27 will move on without Britain. The outcome and guidelines of that summit in Sibiu will be followed by the succeeding Finnish presidency.

Worth mentioning is the institutional gap during 2019 as well. The European parliamentary elections take place during the Romanian presidency. After that the negotiations on forming the new Commission begin and the strategy plan for its mandate will be drawn. All is ready by the end of the Finnish presidency. This institutional transition phase means also a gap of the legislative work but does not mean that the presidency would not have plenty to do.

In addition there is always the element of the unexpected events that can make the carefully prepared agenda turn upside down.

What are the objectives of Finland in areas such as the single market, agriculture, security, and energy?

For the moment I can only share with you some general and longstanding national positions of Finland. The focused targets for our presidency will be agreed next year together with other trio-countries and the council secretariat of the EU. Only after that we’ll finalize how we want to highlight different topics during the Finnish presidency.

So, in general terms Finland believes that we still need to focus on policies supporting the economic growth, sustainable development and stability of the union. This means we put emphasis on the need of further developing the single market and take a stronger role in support of the open markets. We are also keen on enhancing the digital agenda, bioeconomy and circulation economy as ways of the EU to step up its competences in global economy. Also through better regulation we could achieve better functioning single market.

When it comes to agriculture I believe next year the commission will publish a reform paper on the common agricultural policy. For Finland it is important that agriculture continues European wide including also the less favourable regions. In addition, we see the need in agriculture as well for better regulation and better monitoring. In general the topic is always a key element when negotiating the new financial framework for the EU.

Next you asked about the security. Due to both external and internal security demands and challenges we’ll continue working towards strengthening the union as a security community and also a provider of security. This means also reaching for coherence of relevant internal and external actions. Finland also aims for developing EU’s defence cooperation further. It is important to show to our citizens and also to the outside world that EU is shouldering responsibility. And also developing together our cyber capabilities and our preparedness for hybrid operations is of high importance.

When it comes to energy we need to wait the commission communication on the forthcoming energy- and climate policy next year. However, the longstanding approach of Finland – the necessity of implementing the already agreed, contributing to the energy security and maintaining the unity on climate policy – will be the starting points.


What are the risks to which Finland may be exposed as a result of inappropriate management of the presidency of the EU Council?

Well, this is a surprising question! As I mentioned before, the role of the rotating presidency is to ensure the continuity of the council agenda and to keep the European project running. If the rotating presidency country forgets this essential recipy and for example focuses on enhancing its own national interests to gain support from its national audience only, undermining the European interests, it may be a risky tactics. This sort of a behavior would bring costs in political credibility in the eyes of other capitals and EU-institutions and would not therefore bring benefits nationally either.

Also, if the presidency takes over unprepared or without necessary resources to run the presidency in successful manner, that would be inappropriate management as well.

But I assure you that Finland’s approach is operational and pragmatic. We build on the experience we accumulated and what worked well during the two previous presidencies.  Of course the unexpected events in both European and international environment very often play a complicating role and can change the well prepared plans of the presidency country. But I would not call that a risk, it belongs to the category of “known unknowns” that every presidency country meets with.

What are the limits imposed by the presidency of the EU Council? What can Finland not achieve during this period?

I partly answered this question already. It is about putting the national interests aside when leading the European Union. If the presidency achieves to lead the Union in a balanced, efficient, operational and transparent way and is able to find mutually accepted compromise between all the member states, it can make a very positive impact. We think that good coordination and good communication play a key role. The most successful presidencies are remembered for this kind of action.

Since Lisbon Treaty is in place, the role of the rotating presidency country has diminished especially in foreign policy. However, there are recent examples from eg. the migration crises when the presidency country achieved to help the High Representative for Foreign Affairs with her workload.

How do you see your collaboration with Romania, which will hold the Presidency of the Council in the first semester of 2019? 

I am sure the collaboration between Finland and Romania will be positive and active. Romania has already since some time been proactive as the first country of the trio in approaching Finland and Croatia. First meetings at official level have already been held to exchange views on the trio program. Officially the trio-cooperation with the council secretariat will begin early next year. Focusing on good communication and establishing contacts between the key persons should pave the way for good and operational cooperation.


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