I will not speak for long as we have much to do and many problems to tackle. We should be able to fix anything – as I note from our programme we have a Mayor, several MEPs, 1 Prime Minister, half a dozen Ministers, a former Commissioner, leaders of industry, commerce, finance and the internet – plus Santa Claus lives up the road from here. Only the Pope is missing – but who knows what may happen later?
May I extend my special thanks to Aleksi Randell, Mayor of Turku, who has brought the heart of the EU to Turku – I was very careful in saying that, it is not the same as bringing Turkey to the heart of the EU though I hope that will happen in due time.
Of course, this is an opportunity to examine and maybe fine-tune our policies in the EPP. It is also a time to reflect on the whole political scene in Europe. I would refer to the recent elections in France where the word growth played a crucial role for the socialists. Our political family has been accused for concentrating on harsh austerity measures while the socialists claim ”growth” to be their word and their tool to cure the economic ills of the EU.
I think our group has been overly polite in defending itself, taking into account the political spin of the Socialists and the concept-theft they are guilty of. It was not long ago, when ”economic growth” was considered a ”conservative” or ”bourgeois” concept, despised by the political Left and Greens, who offered to replace it with ”de-growth” and ”downshifting”. It was only when the recession revealed the harder side of life that ”growth” could not be looked down upon in the camp of the politically left wing.
Suddenly ”growth” has become the catchword of the Left. Many are too excited to notice that the concept is in a completely unordinary use. In socialist talk, growth is a euphemism for stimulus, to increased borrowing and debt. It makes one think, whether this is also some kind of Orwellian newspeak. Borrowing from our children by raising the public debt in order to support even greater public sector and artificial jobs, living on the expense of future generations is absolutely not what we mean by ”growth”. This brings to my mind a quote from Bernanos’ classic book ”Diary of a Country Priest”: It is one of the most mysterious penalties of men that they should be forced to confide the most precious of their possessions to things so unstable and ever changing, alas, as words. It needs much courage to inspect the key each time and adapt it to one´s own lock. – – I wonder at revolutionaries who strive so hard to blow up the walls with dynamite, when the average bunch of keys of law-abiding folk would have sufficed to let them quietly through the door without wakening anyone.
This word trickery, of course, is not real growth. Like many, and at least our Minister for European Affairs Alex Stubb, has noted: If the extent of public economy would determine it, Zimbabwe would be the most competitive country in the world.
We must not remain silent nor passive on this if we are to stay true to our political hearts and convince the voters that we have always been the party for prosperity balanced with environmental responsibility and staying true to a ”reward for effort”-society and not a ”the state will provide”-attitude regardless of the effort from each of us.
After Mayor Randell’s welcome, we will hear from our good friend and former MEP colleague Alex Stubb. Alex, as many of you know, is Finland’s Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade. So who better to lead us into the session on Neighbourhood Policy of which EU-Russian Relations is such a vital part?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the enormous pleasure to introduce our host for this visit: The Mayor of Turku, Aleksi Randell.
On Baltic Sea
We are now on the shore of the Baltic Sea and later tomorrow evening, you, honourable colleagues, have the opportunity to board a cruise boat to experience an archipelago considered one of the most beautiful ones in the world You just heard that the Baltic Sea is an exceptional brackish water basin, which does not reach the salinity levels of seawater. You also heard that the most difficult environmental problem of the Baltic Sea has to do with eutrophication and oxygen deficiency. In addition, the sea is exceptionally shallow. These factors together make the Baltic Sea extremely sensitive.
Because eutrophication of our coastal line, archipelago sea and inland water is mainly caused by our own behaviour and actions, we also need to fix it From a wider perspective, the problem of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea is sewage water, flowing particularly from Russia, Poland and the Baltic countries. Therefore, the focus of international politics and cooperation should be on repairing and building wastewater treatment plants in the countries concerned, as well as cutting down on excess nutrients.
There is also good news about the Baltic Sea; the Finnish Academy’s research results reveal that correctly targeted actions have surprisingly fast effect on the condition of the Baltic Sea. The level of internal excess nutrients in the Baltic Sea can be influenced by reducing external burdens. The best news concerning the Baltic Sea is that the political opportunities to save it have never been as good as they are today. After the 2004 enlargement, Baltic countries became EU members, and the Baltic Sea has nearly become an inland sea of the EU’s. At the same time, the EU must now if ever, be capable to rescue the Baltic Sea. In the midst of crisis, we need concrete, practical results. Therefore it is also worth posing the question the other way around: could the Baltic Sea save the EU?
Increasing distrust towards the EU worries political leaders. The EU is anxiously looking for remedies to change public opinion. One of our most crucial political needs would be to point out, with concrete achievements, that we benefit from the EU, and that by acting together the Member States are stronger than on their own. To fulfil these types of needs, saving the Baltic Sea would serve as a great example. That’s why we should politicize the Baltic Sea. It could be marketed as a political test of EU enlargement and as a prime example of what the Union, at its best, can achieve. In this respect, saving the Baltic Sea should not be introduced as a local environmental project of border areas, but as an EU-project with high political importance.
The Baltic Sea is polluted enough to be perceived as a problem by everyone; and a territory still limited enough to enable an intervention. Enlargement gave the EU the possibility to set limits on emissions that eutrophicate the Baltic Sea. We gained political muscle, which we must fully exploit now.
Well, we have covered a number of topics and shared our ideas and concerns so that we can sharpen our act in the future. The fact that we are the largest political group in the European Parliament brings its advantages – but only if we use them correctly. This also brings responsibility – especially in times of economic challenges.
I feel honoured to have been able to host this wonderful political group here in Turku, Finland. This morning our chairman Mayor Oreja said something that I feel we must contemplate: the link between our problems and our values, when we debated our challenge with the current demographic pyramid. He said that if we in Europe have reversed value pyramid it is no wonder that we have this reversed demografic pyramid too. And certainly there are many other examples to show how values or their absence play a crucial role in Europa.
Naturally, this has also been a valuable opportunity for us Finns to bring forward those challenges that we experience in EU regulation. The most common shortcoming is that early actions have not been taken into account enough. We for example, are a country with high environmental standards, and we have been reducing our emissions, developing renewable energy resources and boosting energy efficiency already years ago. These achievements, however, are rarely taken into account, when new obligations are imposed. Minister Jyri Häkämies, for example, raised these concerns.
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, on the other hand, reminded us that when we develop the EU, fairness is the idea on which a strong Europe is being built. When we create new structures, such as the banking union, it is important to start from a clean slate. We should not take an approach in which we look for new payers to make up for our prior mistakes. The trust of our citizens is acquired through a fair game. This principle concerns the environment and other policies alike.
On Wednesday, I was telling you about a case study of the democratic deficit in the Parliament’s committee work, but I had to shorten my speech slightly, when the Prime Minister came in. I would like to take the chance to convey part of the important message now. In recent years, we have noticed that especially in matters relating to energy or environmental policy, we have not won, even though we are the largest political group. These defeats have often been marked by the commonality that a so-called first reading agreement was made in the process. Using the often hollow reason of urgency, the rapporteur leads a process in which a ready-made agreement is concluded with the Commission and the Council before the dossier is brought to the plenary. Another commonality has been that the rapporteur has been a Green. Every time when a first reading agreement is made under the direction of a Green rapporteur, our influence is being reduced.
On this slide, the situation in the ENVI committee is highlighted: the committee has six Green members; who can use 12 points altogether when buying reports. Because the same number of directives passes through the entire committee, the individual Green MEPs have their hands full of work whereas the EPP reports that we buy with our 48 points are shared among our 24 MEPs. The Green party’s strategy is clear. They use their limited number of points to bid for the most important reports. Having achieved that aim, we have seen time and time again, their usually successful attempt to fast-track the process in the ”first reading agreement”. Of course the Council Presidency is keen to get the credit for completing the process in their half-year and the Commission rejoices in the likelihood of fewer changes to their draft. Clever tactics but a true democratic deficit – and we are standing by and letting it happen.
In conclusion, I would say that this practice is neither democratic nor transparent. It is evidence of a severe democratic deficit. It is noteworthy, however, that the parties, who have a tendency to talk against the democratic deficit in decision-making, are actually causing it with their own deliberate action. Only we can stop this by fighting for the important reports and standing against the fast-track process when there is no good reason for it. We are the party of economic growth balanced by our concern for the planet so we must show it. I think that is why we were elected and, unless we deliver in the second half of this mandate – maybe we risk our dominant size for the future.
Finally, there is something I would like to say. I feel great joy to be your colleague; it is a great honour to be able to work in Europe with so many nationalities and cultural wealth. We should also treasure what is most precious in Europe, not just in our own countries. Today, for instance, we can all follow the example of Super Mario’s exemplary will-power and focus.
We need to learn to love Europe; see a little bit further from our own countries; understand the common benefits of it all.
30 years ago, I was a young student at the University of Vienna. In those days, I most often travelled to Vienna through Eastern Europe, sometimes through Poland, Czechoslovakia, sometimes East Germany. A divided Europe was a heartfelt experience. The extent of controls and the lack of freedom of expression was explicit and scary. What felt like an eternal order, was unexpectedly gone within a few years from then. History has truly taught us in the last few years, how quickly change can come about.
History has also taught us, that humanity still does not have a better alternative for democracy. The philosopher and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once expressed a wise idea about democracy: ”Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
Democracy can peacefully enable that those corrupted by power, can be replaced by new faces and structures. In recent times, however, I have ever so often felt that we need something else, too. Democracy needs a soul, direction and dreams. If it does not have these, it will become a mere technocracy, an arithmetic operation, which does not excite anyone but campaigning politicians. To this also relates the idea of hope: in a democracy we need trust in the idea that small deeds will make a big difference.
I am often asked what the EU really is: is it in the end a community of values or an economic community. I would like to claim that the question has been falsely posed. Robert Schuman once made this kind of contrasting unnecessary. The virtue of the Schuman Declaration lied in the fact that values and the economy were intertwined with one another, because the economy was harnessed to serve the end of peace in Europe.
The archenemies Germany and France were bound together with economic means, which made waging war a matter of insanity. The same challenge still prevails today: the politicians should find the wisdom in which the economy will realise the structures of peace and stability. When the European Community was created, the most concrete challenge was bringing peace to Europe. Today, the most paralysing challenge is the stabilisation of the economy.
I hope I have been a little guilty for saying some hard truths about our tactics – but I will not be guilty for keeping you from your lunch.
May I thank you all for coming and especially Mayor Randell for being such an excellent host, as well as Mr Mika Akkanen, Ms Minna Arve and Ms Sari Ruusumo. I also want to thank our excellent EPP staff John Biesmans, Aneta Matuszaczak, Annick Jarles, Carola Maertin, Amanda Said, Christine Detourbet, Jeanne Krmek-Rados, Gianfranco Emanuele, Cedric Ivry and naturally Taina Mertalo and Sarita Rauta.