Finnish perspective on the French Presidency priorities

The Finnish media has not clearly presented the four French priorities so far. The main newspaper mentioned them for the first time a day before the start of the French Presidency. The expectations of Finland during the French Presidency are threefold. Firstly, Finland is looking forward to issues related to developing the European Security and Defence Policy and its responsibilities. Secondly, emphasis is being put on the Lisbon Process. Thirdly, for Finland relations between the EU and Russia play an important role. The expectations in this regard are high due to the strong presidential system in France and Russia having new rulers. In addition to this, the energy and climate package should be almost ready by the beginning of next year when the European Parliament starts the electoral campaign.[1]
 
Finland’s View on Developing EEAS
 
The Finnish media has been rather silent on the European External Action Service (EEAS). The main newspaper wrote one article on the issue in February that was titled “EU is building up the new external service in silence behind the scenes”. The focus of this article was on the preparations to build up the service that have been started by the diplomats and civil servants of the EU member states. In addition to the representatives from the EU member states, the service will consist of the professionals from the European Commission and the Council Secretariat.[2]
 
The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs outlined in May the Finnish stance on the development of the new EEAS.[3] According to the Ministry, Finland takes a positive view of the EEAS, seeing it as an opportunity to have a more integrated role in implementing the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the European Union. Finland also expects to receive notable support for its own foreign service. Increased information will become available through the EEAS, and even though the EU delegations do not affect the tasks of the member states’ own foreign missions, Finland’s global presence will expand as a consequence of the EU delegations. In Finland’s view, the EEAS should bring together the tasks falling under the scope of the ‘EU Foreign Minister’, which are now handled by the European Commission’s External Relations Directorate General and the Council Secretariat. For instance, the EU’s capacity to respond to different crises will be stronger when resources are combined. The EEAS must cooperate in particular with the European Commission in affairs that remain the Commission’s responsibility, such as trade policy.
 
According to the Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Pertti Torstila, the EU’s external action should be regarded as a whole and thus the EEAS should ease institutional tensions that traditionally exist in this field in Brussels. The preparatory work carried out in 2004-2005 (before the Constitutional Treaty got into turmoil) should provide the basis of the new service. Finland has insisted that the work has to proceed fast. The concrete organisation of the EEAS will take time, but hopefully the EEAS will be fully operative in five to eight years. The preparatory work will have to involve all member states. In the negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty, Finland was among the member states that saw added value in the future ‘EU Foreign Minister’ and in having him assisted by ‘EU diplomacy’. In addition, Finland pushed for more qualified majority voting in the CFSP. Finland estimates that it will send approximately 15 to 25 officials to the EEAS and the EU delegations during the first five years. Regarding different competence areas, the tasks of the Council Secretariat related to the CFSP will be transferred to the EEAS, as will be the tasks of the Directorate General RELEX of the Commission. But little else is a more delicate issue than this. For instance, Finland would be reluctant to include tasks related directly to the conduct of trade policy in the EEAS, as the European Commission performs them very well now and trade is at the core of its responsibilities.[4]
 
Just before Ireland’s referendum, the main newspaper, “Helsingin Sanomat”, wrote about the EU’s future leaders and how they have already been secretly chosen. The problem according to “Helsingin Sanomat” is that there are neither rules nor elections to choose these leaders. The newspaper mentioned two names as candidates for the position of the President of the European Council: Jean-Claude Juncker and Tony Blair. Regarding the other posts, the first question is whether the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, deserves another five-year term. Javier Solana is the favourite for the new post of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, but the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt would get this post after him. However, nothing is certain because if the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen becomes a compromise candidate between Juncker and Blair, there would be already two ‘centre-right’ Scandinavians. Two other posts, namely the President of the European Parliament and the current position of Juncker as a leader of the eurogroup, should reflect the results of the European Parliament elections.[5]




[1] Personal interview with a civil servant at the Finnish EU Secretariat.

[2] Helsingin Sanomat: EU rakentaa hiljaa kulisseissa ulkosuhteiden uutta hoitoa, 9th of February 2008.

[3] See Finland’s goal a strong European External Action Service and an internationally influential European Union, available at: (last access: 16th of June 2008).

[4] Pertti Torstila, Seminar on the EU Foreign Policy and the European External Action Service, Parliament of Finland, 25th of February 2008.

[5] Giles Merrit: EU:n tulevia huippujohtajia valitaan jo salamyhkäisesti, Helingin Sanomat, Editorial. 2nd of June 2008.