Speech by Foreign Minister Timo Soini at the HAnalys 2019 Seminar in Hanasaari on 29 January 2019.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year will be a "super year” for the Europe. In Finland, legislative elections are held in April and elections for the European parliament in May. Thereafter, setting up a new Commission and appointing the President of European Council will follow. During the institutional transition, Finland as the rotating presidency will ensure continuity and show leadership.
In Finland we probably have a coalition in place somewhere between the EP elections and Midsummer so that the country is ready for the EU presidency first of July.
Things may be more difficult on the European front. According to polls, the composition of the EP will be very different from today. I have predicted an "EU level big bang”. The so-called populists will win more seats and the traditional parties will lose. New representatives will challenge the established set up and thinking in the EP. And some EU skeptical commissioners could appear.
The world is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Europe is challenged also from the outside. The EU tries to defend global cooperation, multilateralism and democracy, and struggles to keep its key partner, the US, engaged. Russia’s behavior, and in particular the occupation of Crimea breached the foundations of European security. China is increasing its influence by other means.
But what about the EU - from within!
Immigration remains the main concern among EU citizens. Unemployment is high and too many young people have no jobs. People expect the EU to provide prosperity and security.
For the first time since the Second World War, there is a real risk that the generation of today’s young adults ends up less well-off than their parents.
Recent barometers show that less than halve of Europeans trust the EU. Trust is higher in the North and lower in the South, for example in Italy only 36% and in Greece 26% of respondents say they trust the EU.
This means that a lot of people are not satisfied. Changes are needed. I believe that the urge of an ordinary person to have a meaningful say in a society can still constitute a driving force. We must respond to this.
For voters to feel that their voices count, they must be able to engage in political debate and connect with politicians and political parties.
This demands a lot not only from European politicians but from citizens, too. There is a role for citizens to become more engaged in socially responsible political dialogue. Civic participation has never been easier or more accessible. Internet and social media can provide ways to do also this – not only provoking negative trends.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope that Brexit has forced the EU to take an honest look at the mirror and reflect what went wrong. There are of course the specific UK-related reasons, but we need to admit that many Europeans consider the Union too distant or too interfering into their lives. The crucial question is, how can people regain the feeling of influencing policies that affect their daily lives.
The EU has not been able to demonstrate the benefits it brings. One example being the Single Market.
How many people - including journalists - wake up in the morning thinking: What a great thing it is! At the same time, people have personal experiences of the banking crisis, migration flows, outsourcing of jobs. Why are Italians, who used to be one of the most pro-European nation, turning their back on the EU? Right or wrong, they feel that Italy was left alone during the migration crisis.
And yet - when we look at the challenges facing Europe, in many cases, the EU is maybe the most useful actor: combatting terrorism, uncontrolled migration, promoting free trade etc. Acting in unity is key. But for the EU to do these things, it needs the support of the voters!
EU criticism or populism gaining ground is not equal to disinformation or fake news. We need to accept that there are different views on the EU. These views can be well-founded. An open debate is necessary. It is for the voters to choose what direction the EU should take.
Many people are angry because they feel they are not heard. For me, populism is about giving people a voice and acting accordingly. People cast their votes based on every-day practical evidence. It cannot be wrong. The worst thing a politician can do is to claim to know better.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the Northern part of our continent, we have been able to build a network of cooperation bringing together countries around the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. It is worthwhile to notice that the Northern Dimension is the only institutional structure the EU has with Russia. Channels for dialogue should be open in all circumstances and in all directions.
Sweden’s and Finland’s outlook and national interests are similar on many issues. In a world that is turning away from our shared objectives, it is our duty to make our voices heard.
And by acting together our impact is stronger. That is also the reason why we decided to set up together this HAnalys as a foreign policy forum in order to deepen foreign and security policy dialogue between the countries. Margot, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you personally for being a strong supporter of this cooperation and always a reliable partner in our common efforts. I am sure that with you in charge of Sweden’s foreign policy this cooperation remains a priority also for the years to come – even if in our side there might be a new "Beast” as your partner.