Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to me to address this academic seminar, which gathers participants from most of the new Member States of the EU. I want to thank the Aleksanteri Institute and the Centre for European Studies for taking the initiative and arranging this occasion for in-depth exchange of views on key European issues.
Ten new Member States joined the European Union ten days ago. This historical event brought to an end the division of Europe and will further strengthen democracy, stability and prosperity on the continent, inside the enlarged Union and even beyond.
This fifth enlargement is without precedent in terms of scope and diversity. The new European Union is a common family of more than 450 million citizens. The new Member States widen the cultural and historical diversity of the Union, and deepen our common understanding of shared European values.
Enlargement is a milestone in the progressive demolition of trade barriers, and the creation of a seamless and more efficient single market. Future conversions to the euro will contribute to the same goal.
The internal market will expand with ten rapidly growing economies. The sphere of free movement of people, goods, capital and services will expand as well. This enlargement is also a challenge to the functioning of the internal market. New members should afford special attention to the full implementation of the EU acquis.
With enlargement the global position and influence of the Union reaches new levels. The enlarged Europe becomes a truly global player, which has economic and political power, and is on a more equal footing as concerns the United States of America. This poses a particular challenge to the EU to strengthen itself as a great power with different policies to influence the world and implement its global responsibilities as compared to the United States – maintaining simultaneously close transatlantic relations of partnership.
It is up to the unified Europe to defend genuine multilateralism, based on the European way of interpreting and applying the common values of democracy, human rights, rule of law and market economy, to promote the primacy of political methods instead of military ones and advance the management of uncurbed globalisation.
For Europe to be able to exert its influence to the maximum in global issues it is also important that we do not create new divisions inside the Union. Notwithstanding all the loose talk about the need to create new core group inside the enlarged Union it seems that there is little or nothing in concrete terms that can be done to establish such groupings without an adverse effect on the existing acquis. As this is the precondition for so-called enhanced cooperation we will not be seeing the formation of a new avant-garde nucleus in the Union, although we can expect to see more bloc-building with temporary or more lasting alliances within the Union. These are not new phenomena, however, and not necessarily negative either.
Coming back from global visions to our neighbourhood, the EU enlargement to the Baltic countries and Poland means a profound change in the region in a time span of ten years, starting from 1993 when the Copenhagen criteria were adopted. It has been and still is a process with a considerable, positive impact for Finland as well. The Baltic Sea region will become a common area, where not only people, services, goods and capital, but also new ideas flow and network naturally and with as few barriers as possible.
Membership of the EU promotes economic integration between Finland and the Baltic countries, particularly between Finland and Estonia, with increasingly close contacts between Helsinki and Tallinn. Enlargement expands the internal market of Finnish goods and services and facilitates the establishment of Finnish businesses in new Member States. For many companies, the Baltic Sea region has already become a genuine home market.
In the end, the continuing growth and success of the region depends to a great extent on the full participation of Russia and especially St. Petersburg in these flows and networks of business and tourism. Let me remind you that St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region constitute overwhelmingly the biggest metropolitan area along the shores of the Baltic Sea.
EU enlargement has been and remains a high priority for the Finnish government. We have consistently worked for an enlargement process based on the Copenhagen criteria and the principle of recognizing the applicant countries’ own merits and achievements. In the process, we have called attention to the importance of the development of the applicant countries’ institutional capacity and judicial systems, as well as their compliance with and fulfilment of the obligations of an EU Member State.
The enlargement of the European Union did not end on the First of May. The accession negotiations of Bulgaria and Romania are advancing. Welcoming them in January 2007 as members of the Union, if they are ready, is the common objective of the Union.
Turkey has made impressive progress in fulfilling the membership requirements. If the Commission recommends to the December European Council that negotiations be launched, the Commission’s recommendation should be observed.
We give our full support to Croatia’s efforts to reach EU membership, its respect for the full implementation of the Copenhagen criteria and the conditionality based on the Stabilisation and Association Process. So far remarkable steps have been taken on Croatia’s road towards the EU. A longer-term membership perspective applies to Macedonia and the rest of the Western Balkan countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At 25, the EU can no longer carry on as before. The institutions and methods that were originally established for a community of six countries will not be adequate for the enlarged Union. This is not only because of enlargement to 25 and even a greater number of countries, but also because the Union will have much broader competences and responsibilities than the original EEC had.
The Intergovernmental Conference started last autumn. All Member States are committed to support the Presidency in its aim of concluding the negotiations in June. As a result we should have a better functioning and more efficient EU. Even though some important questions still need to be solved we have already achieved a lot. For example, the new Treaty will include a clearer definition of competences, the pillar structure will be abolished and the Union will possess a single legal personality. The status of the fundamental rights will be strengthened and the control of the principle of subsidiarity will be improved.
One of the most significant questions which is still open is the Council’s voting system. Finland and many other Member States have preferred a system which would guarantee efficient decision-making and equality of Member States. Extension of the scope of qualified majority voting (QMV) is also an essential goal especially in view of enlargement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the coming years, enlargement and the transformation of the EU itself will demand time, money and decisive action. In this situation, one might think that less attention is devoted to the neighbourhood of the Union.
This is not the case. On the contrary, the development of relations with our neighbours will remain a top priority on the EU agenda. Enlargement gives new impetus especially to the relations between the EU and its new eastern neighbours.
The debate on the EU’s neighbourhood policy started some two years ago. The so-called New Neighbours and Wider Europe initiatives have evolved into a European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The content and form of this policy which will be an important tool reinforcing a coherent EU policy towards the countries in the neighbouring regions will be specified during the coming months.
After enlargement, the Union will be facing bigger challenges on the Eastern border where we will have new neighbours Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. A common border means naturally challenges – but also opportunities for closer relations. The EU’s eastern border should not – and will not – become a ”velvet curtain” but rather a zone of active cross-border co-operation.
This thinking is also at the heart of the ENP which is a clear step further from mere co-operation towards practical integration. The key to the success of the ENP is joint ownership. The views and visions of our partners must form an important element to the process. Failure to do so would result in a unilateral form of policy, which can not be conducive to the overall objective of creating a circle of friends.
Our new neighbours have certain expectations of the ENP. Thus it is important for the EU to find a balance between our possibilities and their expectations. It is clear that the best ”carrot” the EU can offer – membership perspective – is not on offer, but we can think other incentives such as a combination of elements from various instruments.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Among our neighbours, Russia is indeed sui generic because of its huge territory, rich nature, multiethnic and multicultural population and its role in the European history. Our strategic partnership with Russia is based on respect for shared values and enhancement of common interests goes beyond the concept of the ENP. Joint Action Plan on four the common spaces co-operation will provide us with a new tool, not only to implement our policies towards Russia, but first of all to pursue common, values, goals and interests on the basis of reciprocity and mutual commitment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The EU’s Northern Dimension was born in the context of the Union’s previous enlargement in the 1990s. The idea was to develop the EU’s external and regional cooperation towards the then new neighbours, the Russian Federation, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The initiative’s concept was to address the threats and challenges as well as the opportunities identified in the region.
The main focus of the Northern Dimension Action Plan and the concrete cooperation is now clearly in North-West Russia. This makes the Northern Dimension closely connected to the EU’s policy vis-à-vis Russia.
The early discussions between the EU and Russia on the four common spaces of intensified cooperation indicate that many of the objectives that will be set in this context coincide with the objectives of the Northern Dimension. The difference is of course, that the Northern Dimension focuses on a limited geographical area. It is logical that there should be more synergy between the Northern Dimension and the EU-Russia mainstream cooperation. The Northern Dimension could be seen as a regional component of the EU-Russia relations.
Even though Russia is not discussed in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy there are, however, some elements in the ENP that can benefit EU-Russia cooperation and especially the Northern Dimension. We expect that the new financial instrument, ”Neighbourhood instrument”, which is now under development, will facilitate the implementation of projects in North-west Russia and even bring along additional financial resources.
I hope that you will have an interesting and fruitful seminar. Thank you.