HELSINKI, June 26 (Xinhua) -- The role of the European Union as "a global leader in climate action" will be a key hallmark of the Finnish presidency of the Council of the EU. Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne announced on Wednesday the priorities of the Finnish tenure that begins next Monday as presidency transfers from Romania.
Finland will underline the common values and the rule of law. It also wants to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive. The EU is also to offer "comprehensive protection" to its citizens.
Addressing the parliament, Rinne said the combat against climate change must be carried out in a socially equitable way. Rinne rolled out the vista of making the EU into "the most competitive and socially inclusive low-carbon economy in the world". He listed bioeconomy and circular solutions as catalysts. Rinne summed up the goal as "a new economy for the modern age".
He said the EU single market should treat all workers fairly. "We cannot allow social dumping to become a source of competition", he noted. He said it may be necessary to update the rules to match new forms of employment. Finland would emphasize the strengthening of the EU's social dimension and education.
Rinne admitted that Europe's economic growth has slowed and as a result inequality has increased and populism and extremism have arisen. The unity of the EU is also being tested by the prospect of Britain's withdrawal.
Rinne noted the EU is rooted in the idea of multilateral and rules-based cooperation. "It is in the interest of a small country like Finland to have a system in which the rules are agreed jointly rather than dictated by a bigger or stronger party," Rinne said.
In the parliamentary debate, the largest opposition party, the Finns Party underlined that Finland should pursue its national interest. The Finns Party caucus chair Ville Tavio said "the EU does not represent Europe".
The other main opposition party, the conservative National Coalition Party, praised the pro-European attitude in the governmental agenda for the presidency.
Commentators have noted Finland faces a major challenge in creating EU unity on the climate issue. In the summit last week, four EU countries blocked acceptance of carbon neutrality in 2050 as a joint goal. Rinne said on Wednesday Finland aims that agreement on the "main elements of this plan" is reached by the end of 2019.
Analysts have seen the option that financial compensation to the opposing countries could be embedded in the EU financial framework, to reach unanimity.
Talks about the seven-year financial framework of the EU are to begin in October and should be completed by the end of the Finnish presidency. Jenni Virtanen, a EU correspondent of the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, said it would be "a great victory for Finland if the schedule of talks holds."
The arrangements of receiving the European high-profile guests during the Finnish presidency also underline the climate theme. Anja Laisi, head of the presidency secretariat, told media that guests will receive no gifts. Instead, the gift budget will be spent towards offsetting the carbon emissions of the flights to Finland and back.
Finland is breaking away from the EU tradition that the country of the presidency pampers visitors and tries to get EU-wide publicity. Laisi said that Finland wants to indicate that the EU is part of everyday life.
There will be no opening gala, instead an open-air civic event will take place on July 8 in downtown Helsinki. The European Commission will visit Finland during the first week, but without extravagant hospitality. The logo of the presidency reflects the 2006 logo, from the same artist.
As part of the campaign to get rid of single use plastics, guests will be offered tap water, instead of bottled water. Municipal water in Helsinki is totally drinkable and of good quality.
However, Finland has not given up the traditional concert of the presidential country in Brussels. The Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Susanna Malkki will travel in October for the occasion.
When Finland last took the presidency in 2006, there were meetings in 21 towns and villages, but now all the meetings will take place in Helsinki, at the Finlandia Hall.
The budget of the presidency amounts to 70 million euros. In 1999 Finland spent 84 million (converted to present euros) and in 2006 about 90 million. (1 euro = 1.14 U.S. dollars)