How can Finland support environmental protection during its presidency of the Council of the EU?

From July 2019 onwards Finland has the honor to held the position of the President of the Council of the European Union (hereinafter ”EU” or ”Union”) for the third time. Finland’s Presidency takes place right after the elections of the European Parliament. This means that the institutions will start to formulate their political objectives that will guide EU action all the way down to the 2024 elections. Since the whole world faces different environmental challenges and the public is more and more concerned about the state of the environment, this article will consider how Finland could contribute to environmental protection at the EU level during its Presidency.

In the Council of the EU, government ministers from each EU Member State meet to discuss, amend and adopt laws, and coordinate Union policies. The Presidency of the Council of the EU rotates between the Member States every six months. Finland will chair the Council’s meetings of ministers and meetings of working groups and experts except in the Foreign Affairs Council, which is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In these meetings, Finland is responsible for taking forward the Council’s work on EU legislation and policy initiatives, and for ensuring the continuity of the EU agenda. In addition, the Presidency represents the Council in relations with the other EU institutions such as the Commission and the Parliament.

The position of President of the Council of the EU has gained greater importance in recent years, for a number of reasonsFirst of all, the scope of EU power has increased, which means that there is a need for greater leadership in the Council. This also means that the President may develop policy initiatives within areas of concern either to the Council, or to the Member State that holds the Presidency. This, in turn, enables the Council to be more proactive in the development of the EU policy. It is said that the purpose of Finland’s presidency is to strengthen Member States’ commitment to the shared EU agenda. This is, of course, necessary in order for the Union policies to work in practice.

However, since the European Council has nowadays a separate President, the policy pursued by the Member State holding the Presidency of the Council must cohere with, or at least take into account, the more general EU strategy of the President of the European Council. This also means that Finland will have less visibility outside the EU given that also the Foreign Affairs Council is presided by a different person. Finally, since Finland’s Presidency takes place during a time when the formations of the institutions change, less laws will be passed and, consequently, a smaller amount of laws than ”usually” will be handled during Finland’s Presidency.

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU and environmental protection

The EU is argued to be ”a global leader in combatting climate change and with respect to environmental policies”.  However, and as we all know, there is still a lot of work to be done and many problems to be solved in order for our environment to be in a better state. That is probably why protection of the environment forms one of the key points on which Finland is going to focus during its Presidency.

This focus on environmental protection is seen already in the Trio-Programme formulated by the three Trio-Member States, Croatia, Finland and Romania. In the Programme, the three Presidencies underline the need to strengthen and sustain the multilateral system and also pay attention to promote Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. Also, they intend to finalise the negotiations on the Clean Energy package and the negotiations on the proposals under the mobility packages. At the same time, they aim to build on the Energy Union framework and promote the Strategy for long-term EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The Programme also underlines the Union’s position as the global climate leader and the minimisation of black carbon emissions in the context of the EU policy for the Arctic. These environmental goals seem ambitious and it is desirable that Finland will support the ability of the Union to respond to common actual and forthcoming European and global environmental problems. Especially in 2018 the whole Union suffered from unusual and ultimate climate conditions. These experiences have without a doubt made the Member States to realize that something has to be done at the Union level due to the transnational nature of the environmental problems.

During the summer, Finland will preside over six different informal ministerial meetings, including the Environmental meeting in July and Agriculture and Fisheries meeting in September. What are then the concrete actions Finland could take during its Presidency to enhance the state of environmental protection in the EU? Finland will, at least, have a chance to upbring environmental challenges that are either nationally or regionally significant. Later, there is a possibility that these matters are taken into account when formulating the Union’s general objectives, for example, in case of the Commission’s five year plan that will be handled in June.

In the Report produced by the Parliamentary Working Groups it is noted that Finland should also aim to ensure that the environmental effects of EU policies are always assessed and the emissions objectives of the Paris Climate Act are updated to each policy sector. According to the Report, Finland could also promote a more sustainable agrciulture policy that would govern the challenges caused by the climate change in a better way than the prevailing one. That could alleviate the effects of climate change on the conditions of the production of groceries on a global scale. Also, Finland could introduce its knowledge on the agriculture policy and – technology and on the new, bio-based products and, in that way, contribute to the sustainable development policy. Finally, Finland could promote ambitious bioeconomy and circular economy that could have the effect of, among others, preventing climate change, stopping the overuse of natural resources, promoting employment and solving the waste problem. All of these measures would benefit not only the Union but the whole world.

In the Council informal meetings, Finland could also highlight the consideration of environmental matters by organizing the meetings in a more environmentally-friendly way. This is especially important when we are talking about such a large-scale meetings as those of the Council of the EU. Consequently, matters such as serving vegetarian food instead of meat, the use of tableware made of board or glass instead of those made of plastic, the use of print paper and public transport will have a huge impact. In this way, Finland could also make a precedent for the forthcoming Council Presidencies and enhance the position of the Union as the global leader in the area environmental protection. By organizing the meetings in a more sustainable way Finland could also add the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the citizens when talking about the real steps the EU and its Member States take to enhance the level of environmental protection.

Conclusions

This article has showed that Finland will have the power to impact the state of environment not only during the informal Council meetings but also by the way of organizing the six-months long Presidency in a more environmentally-friendly way. The three Trio-Member States have shown in their Trio-Programme that they have ambitious goals to be fulfilled and we can only hope that these goals will be met. Finland can do its part of the work by supporting the Union’s ability to respond to common actual and forthcoming European and global environmental problems. Although less laws will be passed due to the fact that the formations of the different EU institutions will change, Finland will have a chance to impact, for example, the Commission’s five year plan. Due to the alarming state of the environment, concrete actions are required more than ever before and Finland should take the lead.
TEXT Heidi Kaarto
PICTURE Valtioneuvoston kanslia

The author has a LLM degree in European Law from Leiden University and is specialised in the internal market of the EU. During her free time, she participates as a researcher in the Leiden Advocacy Project on Plastics.

Tagit: EU presidency, EU-puheenjohtajuuskausi Kategoriat: Artikkelit, In English, Nostot, Yleinen, Ympäristö
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