The European Council has reached agreement on the nominations for senior institutional appointments for the next legislative cycle. Recently, the European Council agreed on an ambitious and far-sighted Strategic Agenda for the next five years. These are essential steps for Europe to move forward.
The focus will understandably be on the new personalities taking the helm. However, one should not underestimate the crucial role of the incoming Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Finland’s Presidency has the huge responsibility of ensuring a smooth transition to the next legislative cycle and to build constructive inter-institutional relations with the new Commission and the new Parliament. It will also be the first presidency with the task of integrating the new priorities of the Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 into the Council’s work.
It is therefore relevant to examine how the programme of the Finnish Presidency fits within the overall objectives of the EU and how it connects with Malta’s national priorities.
Prime Minister Antti Rinne, addressing the Finnish Parliament on June 26, stated that the slogan ‘Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future’ neatly summed up the goals of the Finnish Presidency. He added that Finland intended to make an impact on the future of the EU by focusing on a programme that would make Europe socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.
This commitment echoes the top priorities of the Maltese government, which focuses on maintaining economic growth, consolidating an inclusive social protection system and building an ecologically-friendly infrastructure.
The approach of the Finnish Presidency is based on the view that work at the EU level should complement national policies. This same concept has guided Malta’s participation in the work of the EU institutions. It is coupled with the strong belief that cooperation at the EU level is needed to create sustainable growth and to face global challenges.
The Finnish Presidency highlights the need for multilateralism and for rules-based cooperation. The EU’s commitment to multilateralism provides the best guarantee to small countries like Malta.
The first key priority of the Finnish Presidency is the EU’s global leadership in climate change. This means committing to climate neutrality by 2050. The new presidency aims to convince the European Council to embrace this commitment. Malta supports climate neutrality by 2050.
The objective of the programme of the Finnish Presidency is to integrate climate policy in all sectors, particularly agricultural, forestry, fisheries, consumer protection, water management, transport and energy.
Measures to fight climate change have a tangible effect on all sectors of society. The sustainability of the EU’s future very much depends on the EU’s ability to generate growth and boost employment, while building a climate-friendly economy and social cohesion.
Malta, together with the Finnish Presidency, insists that measures to fight climate change should be carried out in a socially-equitable way. Malta gives its full support to a programme that aims to make the EU the world’s most competitive and socially-inclusive low-carbon economy.
One can conclude that the main proposals in the programme of the Finnish Presidency converge with the Maltese government’s approach to the Union’s future
Another section in the Finnish Presidency’s programme that is of direct interest to Malta concerns migration. The Presidency is well-aware that efforts to agree on a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) have not been successful, despite strong common efforts under successive presidencies. There is agreement that a CEAS package, once agreed, would be the most effective way to deal with migration at EU level, and this should remain the Council’s objective.
To overcome the current impasse, the Finnish Presidency proposes to adopt, one at a time, the elements in the package that are already agreed. In this way, the EU would take some vital steps forward in managing migration and delivering concrete results.
The Finnish Presidency also notes that there has been no progress in establishing the controlled centres within the EU as proposed by the European Council of June 2018. It therefore proposes the establishment of a temporary relocation mechanism for migrants rescued at sea. Such a mechanism would help solve challenges related to internal relocation within the EU, which, so far, have been tackled on a case-by-case basis. Malta should support such an immediately-beneficial initiative.
The Finnish Presidency believes that resettlement has been an important and effective instrument to deal with irregular migration. It proposes an EU-wide resettlement system with sufficient financial incentives. To make a return policy more effective and sustainable, the EU must use all means at its disposal, including positive and negative incentives in trade, development and visa policy.
This would ease migration pressure and demonstrate solidarity towards countries receiving large numbers of migrants.
The Finnish Presidency also proposes strengthening the European Border and Coast Guard Agency to enable it to play a larger role in helping member states control their borders and effect the return of illegal migrants.
The proposals on migration of the Finnish Presidency support what Malta has been backing for some years, namely an early implementation of a Common European Asylum System based on burden-sharing and solidarity among all member states.
Another key objective of the Finnish Presidency of direct relevance to Malta is the conclusion of the Council’s negotiations on the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) for the years 2021-2027. These are high-priority negotiations for Malta because they will determine the funds to be allocated for the next seven years.
The Finnish Presidency is aiming at a balanced financial framework that reflects both new priorities and traditional policies that contribute to the common European objectives. In this context, it believes that sufficient funds should be made available to put the EU at the forefront of research, development and innovation. Of equal importance is the cohesion policy, which should be more focused on promoting growth and competitiveness throughout Europe. Social cohesion is also a crucial objective for the Finnish Presidency.
Malta supports these objectives for the MFF because they conform with its priorities for economic growth, innovation, employment and social inclusion.
Another point of direct relevance to Malta is the Finnish Presidency’s insistence that, when allocating funds, attention should be given to country-specific characteristics of a more permanent nature. What the Finns have in mind are sparsely-populated areas; however, the argument can also be applied to Malta’s specific characteristics of high population density and of double insularity in the case of Gozo.
Malta supports the Finnish Presidency’s insistence that the new MFF should ensure sufficient funding for the implementation of a comprehensive migration policy that will deal with both the internal and the external dimensions of migration.
One can conclude that the main proposals in the programme of the Finnish Presidency converge with the Maltese government’s approach to the Union’s future, that is, to create a Social and Sustainable Europe.
Edward Zammit Lewis, MP, is chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign and European Affairs.