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Speech given by Minister of Economic Affairs Katri Kulmuni during an exchange of views with the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) on 23 July 2019

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment
Publication date 23.7.2019 12.10
Photo: Laura Kotila, Prime Minister's Office

(Check against delivery) Dear Ms Chair, Dear Adina-Ioana, Honourable Members of the European Parliament. It is my great pleasure and honour to be here at the European Parliament today. The ITRE committee, and its Members, are instrumental in shaping European future energy, research and industrial policy.

Distinguished MEPs, the Presidency sees the role of the Parliament essential in bringing forward these policy areas for the benefit of European citizens. My sincere hope is that we shall be seeing each other very often during Finland’s Presidency and beyond. I look forward to continuing and intensifying our ambitious work together for European competitiveness.

Today, I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss with you about Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Finland has set an ambitious objective that the EU becomes the most competitive and socially inclusive climate neutral economy globally.

Our aim is that during Finland’s Presidency, we together, as European decision-makers, could achieve a joint vision on a new growth agenda for the EU. Furthermore, finalising the next multiannual financial framework is one of the most important political objective during Finland's Presidency.

As for the Presidency’s objectives concerned legislative files, I look forward to discuss these during our exchange of views.

Dear Members of the European Parliament, why does the EU need a new design for sustainable growth? We, in Europe, are facing global challenges. Firstly, climate change requires rapid action on a global scale. Secondly, very fast technological development is changing our lives, for example through digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence. Thirdly, global competition is fierce and requires the EU to step forward as a strong global actor.

Therefore, we urgently need a move towards a socially and environmentally sustainable economy. In other words, to respond to global challenges, we, the European decision-makers, need to set an ambitious policy agenda for growth.

I will now come to the key elements in the new design for sustainable growth.

Finland’s Presidency sees that to create sustainable growth in the EU, we need:

  • transition towards a climate neutral economy
  • effective EU single market
  • modern industrial policy driven by digital economy, with a strong focus on research and innovation
  • active trade policy as external dimension of the EU competitiveness
  • new skills and continuous learning

My distinguished colleagues at the European Parliament, our joint work is needed to translate these objectives into actions. Most importantly, the EU must act in a way that produces results visible to the ordinary citizen.

In this spirit, the EU policies that we make, need to aim at developing a socially and economically strong and fair Union.

We, as the Finnish Presidency, see that the implementation of the future growth agenda should become a core task of the new Commission. In the agenda, holistic policy measures need to be ambitious - and at the same time – effective.

The aim should be that the new growth agenda will offer a policy framework for the next five years. I hope that at the end of this year, we would have a sustainable growth agenda for the European Union ready to be implemented.

I will now be happy to talk more in detail about the five elements that will create the policy framework for the new growth agenda.

Starting from point one, the transition towards a climate neutral society. Tackling climate change is a must – and it is also an economic opportunity. Research and innovation play an important role as key-drivers to turn those opportunities towards sustainable economic growth.

At the same time, the transition to a climate neutral society needs to be fair. Hopefully, in the future there isn’t even a word for waste. For the time being, we are far from the emissions reduction targets agreed in the Paris Agreement. Our emphasis needs to be on reducing emissions both significantly and cost effectively, and at the same time boost innovation-led economic growth over the next decades. The EU should aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In the council this translates to a number of important climate policy decisions that are ahead of us – most pressingly, our long-term vision. As other Parties of the Paris Agreement, the EU needs to submit its long-term climate strategy to the UN next year.

Climate change and work with the EU’s long-term vision is a priority for the Finnish Presidency.

We are prepared to work hard based on the guidance of the June European Council, so that the European Council can finalize its guidance on the long-term strategy before the end of the year.

European Council invited the Member States, and the Commission, to work on the conditions, the incentives and the enabling framework that ensure a transition to a climate-neutral EU in line with the Paris Agreement. The transition should preserve competitiveness, be just and socially balanced, take account of Member States' national circumstances and respect their right to decide on their energy mix. 

Under the Finnish Presidency, the Council has started to implement this guidance by the European Council. In the informal competitiveness Council in Helsinki, ministers aimed to find answers how competitiveness and reducing emissions can be combined.

The second main element in the sustainable growth agenda is, as mentioned, smart and forward-looking single market policies are vital for the competitiveness of Europe to have a scalable single market. The focus should be on strengthening services, particularly digital services as an integral part of the single market.

The EU has an important role in contributing to favourable business environment, in particular enabling innovative companies to scale-up.In addition to this, investments by European businesses’ are also key in making transition to climate-neutral economy happen.

Thirdly, I will say a few words on modern industrial policy including digital economy, with a strong focus on research and innovation. We need to set the objective of Europe becoming a global leader in the digital economy. Digitalisation, artificial intelligence, data and platform economy are key drivers for the EU’s success in the global market.

Europe needs a set of policy actions related to the data economy, including data access, data sharing, use of data, re-use of data, interoperability and trust. Data policy principles are required right now because our societies are becoming more and more networked, knowledge-intensive and digitalised.

Moreover, I would like to bring up . Today, we speak so much about Artificial Intelligence, because AI is changing our lives. And at the same time, the AI holds the potential to improve our lives and solve the challenges that we face as European citizens.

Therefore, I see that Europe must uphold ethics and trust when developing data economy and AI. There needs to be a uniquely European way to digital economy. This can our competitive advantage. But, it will require intensive research and development efforts. I think that ethical guidelines can and should be seen as enablers of innovation.

Fourth, let me say a few words on skills as an element of sustainable growth. In the rapidly progressing digital era, new skills and constant development of skills are needed. Continuous learning will be at the heart of working life in the future. I believe with transition, we manage to create new industry and new work places.

Fifth, trade policy plays a key role as external dimension of the EU’s competitiveness. Europe’s competitiveness is best supported by ambitious trade policy that is based on openness and a rules-based multilateral trading system. To summarize, the world order is changing. The EU has to step forward as a strong global actor.

The Informal Meeting of the Ministers responsible for Competitiveness in Helsinki on 4th and 5th of July provided the first opportunity for us ministers to share ideas on the priorities of the work programme of the next Commission. Ministers welcomed the comprehensive approach to sustainable growth. We look forward to continuing the work on the sustainable growth agenda at the September and November COMPET Council meetings.

Then, dear Committee Members, let me say a few words on the EU budget.

Finalising the next multiannual financial framework is one of the most important political objective during Finland's Presidency. In autumn, we will seek to finalise the Council negotiations on it. In addition, we will seek the greatest possible progress in the MFF-related sectoral proposals.

We are aiming at a balanced financial framework that reflects both new priorities and traditional policies. We also think that the future modernised MFF should effectively deliver on the political priorities of the EU.

In addition, because climate change is affecting our way of life, the future MFF programmes should clearly contribute to our common climate targets. The proposal to raise climate-related funding to a level of 25 % of the EU budget supports this goal.

Also, Europe needs to stay at the forefront of research, development and innovation. The Horizon Europe, based on open competition and excellence-based research, is an essential tool in this. Moreover, the EU Space Programme contributes to innovation, by providing essential data and services. Space solutions are crucial also in tackling climate change.

Europe is a scientific powerhouse. It is essential to continue efforts to turn scientific excellence into economic success.This demands intensive cross-sectoral collaboration.

Dear Madam Chair, Honourable Members of the European Parliament - to conclude my remarks, economic growth is needed - and it must be environmentally and socially sustainable.

A new design for growth is necessary for the transition towards a climate-neutral society. Let us set this goal together, full of hope and ambition, and ready to work.

We need to foster competitive and socially inclusive EU to live up to the expectations of the European citizens. Your work as Members of the European parliament and this Committee is invaluable to achieve these goals.

Thank you.

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