Madam Speaker, I wish you all a good Europe Day. For Finland, the membership of the European Union is a political choice that joins us to the community of shared Western values. Europe Day is an excellent time to examine the shared values of the European Union, and what the membership of the Union means to us.
The European Union is a community with member states with whom we share the common values of democracy, equality, human rights, freedom of speech, the rule of law and the respect of the rights of minorities. Our common goal is to strengthen the well-being of the citizens of Europe. This entity is the guarantee of stable development and the preservation of peace in Europe.
On Europe Day it is good to remember that peace can never be taken for granted. The European community was established in the middle of societies ravaged by war. Still in the 1980s, a functioning democracy was still a fragile hope – even a utopian idea – to many people who have become EU citizens since then. In many states, our European democracies are still young and, therefore, also fragile.
The European decision-making capability is not settled by voice vote, Gallup polls or Twitter democracy, but by our capability to take decisions and develop the European decision-making system. It is founded on representation, and we need to have enough fortitude to defend it. We also must have enough strength to explain what the Union is doing and why it is an important community for EU citizens.
The task of the European Union leaders is to look far into the future and to seek popular support for the implementation of reforms both in the European Union and Member States. The European Union must be big on big issues and small on small issues.
One of the most important instruments of the European Union is the EU budget, the financial framework laying the guidelines for the Union's operations and its goals. At its worst, the budget is a poor compromise, the lowest common denominator. At its best, it implements common European goals. Now is the time for the Union to be big.
It is natural that every EU Member State examines the financial framework from its own national perspective. That is, what does the budget bring to us, to Finland? But the EU budget must also be studied from the perspective of the whole of Europe. Why? Because I am certain that a strong and successful Europe is in the best interest of us all.
The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) negotiations are long and thorough. The proposal published by the Commission last week marks just the beginning of the process. As the Government of Finland, this is what we have been preparing ourselves for. We have done the background work carefully and outlined clear budget policies sector by sector. First and foremost, it is a question of an entity by which we can achieve the best possible outcome for Finland, and also for Europe.
We have been carefully working on our policies for a long time. The process has been thorough in the same way as it was when we established our EMU stand and migration policy. We collaborated with France to build foundations for EU cooperation on security and defence. The method is the same also in the MFF negotiations: we examine the issue, consider our stands carefully and, after that, seek allies from other European countries.
The departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union leaves a major gap in the EU budget. Our starting point is that the gap left by the UK will not be filled and that our net contribution should remain reasonable. However, we have not placed ourselves among the net contributors that advocate the most stringent percentages. Finland is ready to make investments through the EU if the policy priorities are balanced and acceptable, and if the decisions and EU activities provide added value and increase effectiveness.
When negotiating about the contributions to the budget, it is good to keep the pure national contribution, on one hand, and the net contribution, on the other hand, separated from one another. Our national contribution is very likely to rise, because our GDP is luckily growing at the moment. It will not be until all the negotiations on the criteria for the regulation and financial allocation are completed that we know what our net contribution will be in the future.
Our main goal from the national starting point is clear: we want to maximise the funds returned by the EU to Finland, while keeping our net contribution at a reasonable level. Through the budget, we also strive for Europe to reach a leadership status in many arenas: as a peace builder, a trailblazer in climate policy, a promoter and user of science and innovations, and as a producer of sustainable and clean food.
In the Commission's proposal last week, the total level of the budget remains too high in relation to our standpoints. The positive aspects of the Commission's proposal are the investments in safety, defence, migration, research and development, and a student exchange programme. The administration will be downsized, programmes reduced, and rebates granted to certain countries will be gradually eliminated. These are matters that also Finland has been advocating strongly.
The conditional aspect in EU funding tied to the rule of law principle is also a very important proposal. Defending the European value base by concrete measures is the duty of every European citizen. A successful European Union can only be built upon strong rule of law principles.
European well-being and competitiveness are built by investing in competence, innovations and research. The Commission's proposal addresses these issues. One interesting example of this is the InvestEU fund proposed by the Commission. This new kind of financing instrument could enable effective support for investments with lesser EU funding, when, instead of granting assistance, the support would be allocated in the form of loans and guarantees.
Investments in strategic projects, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and digital knowledge and competence, support the growth and competitiveness of the EU.
From the Finnish perspective, agricultural and regional policies have traditionally played a central role in the budget negotiations, when we regard our own receivables from the EU budget. This remains unchanged.
As concerns agriculture, the positive thing in the Commission's proposal was the preservation of the current two-pillar structure. On this foundation we can build measures by which we can directly support farmers’ income and, on the other hand, take account of our special circumstances and environmentally friendly activities. The Commission also wants to increase national authority in the planning of measures and decision-making on them. The level of financing proposed by the Commission as a whole shows that food production is an important part of the common EU policy.
However, the level of financing also entails some prioritisations that are quite difficult for Finland. The Commission proposes cuts to the agricultural budget. We find these very hard to accept. We need close collaboration and negotiations with the Commission, the Member States and the Parliament. We will work hard so that we will be able to reach the best possible outcome in regard to Finnish sustainable and clean food production and the Finnish countryside.
The Commission also proposes cutting the regional policy expenditure by approximately five percent. This is partly explained by the fact that the absolute need for money has reduced as the poorest regions are becoming wealthier. The Commission also proposes a reform in the distribution mechanism of funding, meaning a transfer from the traditional GDP-based distribution to other grounds of distribution on a wider scale. Finland has been advocating this change.
In addition to these, it is important to us that the sparse population criterion of the north be observed also during the coming financing period. Furthermore, Finland considers it important that, in the future, cohesion funding would be increasingly used for supporting competitiveness and competence.
As I pointed out at the beginning of my speech, the work for outlining the future EU financing framework has just begun. The Finnish Government has rolled up its sleeves and is ready to negotiate a budget that is fair to Finland. My own opinion is that the financing framework will be completed during the Finnish EU presidency at the earliest.
In spite of our ideological differences of opinion, I believe that we all share the aim of taking care of the balanced development of European societies and of social equality. We act this way to avoid confrontations both within the Member States and between them. We act this way to ensure that Europe would be as unified and strong as possible to respond to the challenge posed by the rest of the world.