Written by Ralf Drachenberg.
‘This is Europe’ – an initiative proposed by the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola – consists of a series of debates with EU leaders to discuss their visions for the future of the European Union. On 13 September, the Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, was the fifth EU leader to address the Parliament since its Conference of Presidents endorsed the initiative on 28 April 2022. Ms Marin stressed that the European Union was the most important political framework for each of its Member States, and that its unity was its greatest strength. She also emphasised that Europe’s strategic autonomy was one of the most important discussions in the Union, regarding the EU’s ability to meet external challenges and to safeguard the functioning of our societies in all circumstances.
This is not the first and will not be the last crisis we live through. Despite the difficult times, and precisely because of them, we must rely on our greatest strengths: trust in each other and unity with each other.Sanna Marin
Launched by Roberta Metsola soon after her election as President of the European Parliament in January 2022, the ‘This is Europe’ initiative is particularly relevant in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), a bottom-up exercise allowing EU citizens to express their opinions on the Union’s future policies and functioning. A similar initiative by the Parliament took place between January 2018 and April 2019, ahead of the 2019 European elections, when different EU leaders spoke in the Parliament’s plenary sessions about their views on the future of Europe. An EPRS analysis of the Future of Europe debates identified the similarities and differences between the views expressed by EU leaders.
On 30 April 2022, the CoFoE plenary adopted 49 proposals, containing more than 300 measures by which they might be achieved. As a follow-up to the CoFoE, Parliament adopted a resolution, by a large majority, calling for a convention, on the basis of Article 48 of the Treaty on European Union. This call was backed by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the Union speech on 14 September 2022.
At the June 2022 European Council meeting, the Heads of State or Government ‘took note’ of the CoFoE proposals. While calling for ‘an effective follow-up’, they did not provide concrete guidelines in this respect, just stating that each EU institution should do this ‘within their own sphere of competences’, rather than doing it jointly among the EU institutions. Recent EPRS research (see The Conference on the Future of Europe and the European Council) has shown that there is significant convergence between the results of the CoFoE and the priorities of the European Council as expressed in its Strategic Agenda for 2019‑2024 and in its conclusions over the past three years.
Main focus of Sanna Marin’s speech
While Ms Marin addressed a wide range of topics in her speech to the Parliament (see Figure 1), she devoted a significant amount of attention to the following themes: i) Russia’s war in Ukraine; ii) energy policy, iii) European integration, and iv) the economy/economic governance.
Russia’s war in Ukraine
The Finnish prime minster put strong emphasis on Russia’s war in Ukraine. She highlighted the significance of the EU’s joint response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with extensive sanctions, underlining that the EU’s unity was its greatest strength and that this unity was needed now more than ever.
For Sanna Marin, the availability and price of energy are amongst the most crucial issues the EU must tackle in the coming months and years. She stressed that the EU and its Member States had to make sure that energy was available across Europe and be prepared to take exceptional measures to lower energy prices.
Whilst stressing Finland’s constructive approach to the development of the EU, she argued that a crisis was not the right moment for Treaty change. She believes that citizens are not asking for institutional changes, but rather for reforms that respond to the major challenges and people’s everyday concerns.
The Finnish prime minister called for a rules-based and responsible economic policy. The EU’s key tools, such as the European Semester, should be further developed to better take account of the interactions between economic, social, employment and environmental actions.
Specific proposals and positions
The Finnish prime minister used the opportunity to present her views on how the European Union should advance in specific policy areas, also making some new proposals, as summarised below.
|Policy issue||Priority action and proposals (quotes)|
|Support for Ukraine||‘Above all, we must continue to provide Ukraine with all forms of support and be prepared to impose even stricter sanctions.’|
|Enlargement||‘The European Union’s doors must be open to any European state that wishes to become part of our community of values and is committed to carrying out the necessary reforms.’|
|EU budget||‘We cannot develop the EU’s ability to act by increasing the budget or loosening our common rules for the economy. The recovery instrument was a necessary one-off solution, not a model for future crises, as we have agreed together.’|
|Defence||‘The war has shown how important it is for Europe to have its own defence materiel production.’|
|Fiscal||‘The most important task of the fiscal policy regulatory framework is to curb the Member States’ excessive indebtedness and the associated risks.’|
|Digital/technology||‘Going forward, one of the most important issues concerns our technological skills and knowledge. Europe must strengthen its technological capabilities. We cannot afford to be naive about this. ‘|
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘‘This is Europe’ debate in the European Parliament: Speech by Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, on 13 September 2022‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.