Helsinki, 13 September 2022
Prime Minister Sanna Marin spoke at the plenary session of the European Parliament on Tuesday 13 September. Her visit is part of the “This is Europe” series of debates. Check against delivery.
Madam President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Dear Europeans,
My visit to the European Parliament comes at a dark time. Europe is at war. In its war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia has breached and abandoned the key principles and commitments of the European security order. The energy market is suffering from exceptional uncertainty, and that, together with inflation, may cause an economic downturn in Europe. This summer’s record drought and natural disasters show how climate change is progressing. If we don’t act in time – if we don’t act immediately – it will be too late. We will not get a second chance.
However, there is hope even in the darkest moments. Ukraine will win this war with our support. There is no other alternative. In our hearts, the Ukrainians have already won it. They are full of courage and unwavering in their determination. Their counter-offensive is advancing at an incredible pace, and they have forced Russia to retreat from many parts of their country.
We have jointly responded to the Russian invasion with extensive sanctions and by providing Ukraine with military, economic and humanitarian aid. Europe and the Western world have acted decisively and consistently. Unity is our greatest strength.
And we need unity now more than ever, as Russia is using energy as a weapon against Europe. Blackmailing our societies through energy supply is a way to erode European support for Ukraine and break down our unity. Putin must not succeed in this. Using energy to blackmail us is a short-sighted strategy for Russia. The ongoing energy crisis will simply accelerate Europe’s transition away from Russian fossil fuels. With its war, Russia is destroying its economy and future. Russia has broken our trust. Even if the war ended today, our confidence would not be restored for a long time.
We must be just as united and determined in showing solidarity towards our citizens and looking after them as we have been in responding to Russia’s blackmail. We must ensure the availability of energy across Europe and be prepared to take exceptional measures to lower energy prices.
It is in difficult times like these that the unity of Europe is put to test. Our commitment to human rights, the rule of law and democracy are being tried. In Russia’s view, diversity, democracy and respect for human rights make us weak. This is the gloomy doctrine Russia is spreading to the world. But it is exactly this commitment that makes us strong. Our societies are flourishing precisely because in democracy, it is for the people to decide their future.
We value diversity. We promote human rights. We want to give everyone an opportunity to succeed.
Members of the Parliament, it is a great honour to speak to you here today. The European Parliament has a strong role in defending the Union’s common values. This role is especially important at a time when these values are facing their greatest challenge.
The European Union is the most important political framework for each of its Member States. Since Russia began its attack against Ukraine, we have proved our ability to work together, again and again. However, the unity of the European Union is not dictated from above. Our unity is a result of vibrant democratic debate and understanding for each other.
Recent crises – the pandemic, the war and now the energy crisis – have shown that any Member State may need solidarity and unity at a given time. That is why we should continue to cherish our unity. A European Union that is internally divided is weak and that is precisely what Russia wants.
We will survive Russia’s blackmail and the long winter ahead. But for that we need unity, determination and courage. We may count the cost of war in euros, but Ukrainians count it in human lives. This is not only about Ukraine, but about European values and the entire rules-based international system.
Honourable Members of the Parliament, Madam President,
Ukraine’s place is in the European Union.
Our decisions in June to support enlargement of the Union showed integrity and our credibility as a partner. Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status and Georgia was given a European perspective. The Western Balkan countries’ convergence with the Union is finally progressing. The road to membership is neither short nor quick. However, 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.
This is about every state’s freedom to decide its future and place in the world. It is precisely about the fundamental principle that Russia is now attacking.
Russia seeks a world of spheres of interest that cannot be accepted. Russia may challenge us, blackmail us and threaten us, but we will not give in. The Russian war of aggression triggered Finland and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership. Our countries’ membership in NATO will strengthen the security of the whole Northern Europe and reinforce the Alliance. Russia’s actions have unified the West as never before, while Russia is lonelier than ever.
Above all, we must continue to provide Ukraine with all forms of support and be prepared to impose even stricter sanctions. The stronger the impact we can achieve through sanctions, the more expensive it will be for Russia to continue the war.
Sanctions must be reflected in the everyday lives of ordinary Russians. It is not right that while Russia kills civilians in Ukraine, Russian tourists travel freely in Europe. For that reason, we must place strict restrictions on issuing visas. In the current situation, completely suspending the visa facilitation agreement between the EU and Russia is justified, but this alone is not sufficient.
The availability and price of energy are among the most important questions we must solve in the coming months and years. Together we must do everything we can to ensure that our citizens and businesses can cope with the coming autumn and winter.
In the short term, we must find all possible means to secure energy supplies and lower energy prices. It is important that the Commission is introducing proposals for rapid intervention in electricity prices, disruptions in the electricity market and related acute questions, such as the problems affecting the trading exchanges for power derivatives. Conventional solutions are no longer enough. We must seek new solutions with an open mind, and we may even need to take exceptional measures.
In the medium and long term, the only way out of the energy crisis is to invest heavily in renewable and emission-free energy production, common European transmission networks and storage technologies. We must phase out Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible.
We also need energy investments to respond to the climate crisis. Although the current state is far from what we had hoped for and every European country will be tested in an unprecedented way, the crisis also presents an opportunity for a better future. Now as never before we must take the leap towards a more climate-resilient economy. Investments in the green transition will improve our self-sufficiency and guarantee the competitiveness of our societies in the future.
I am pleased to note that determined steps have been taken to advance the Fit for 55 Package, even during this difficult period. As the negotiations are approaching their conclusion, we must ensure that the level of ambition for the package remains unchanged.
The war and the energy market crisis are putting enormous pressure on the European economy. Meanwhile, expectations towards the EU have grown. It is clear that the EU budget must be sufficient to safeguard the Union’s ability to act during crises. A Union that functions efficiently and is internally coherent is also a credible actor in external relations. Nevertheless, 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.
That said, there is a lot we can do together while keeping in mind the division of labour between the Union and the Member States. It is essential that the Member States themselves continue to be responsible for their economic policy, in accordance with the Treaties. At the same time, we must remember that our economies are not separate from each other. Were just one Member State fall into recession, the effects would be felt across the Union. We need our common rules and together we must develop them further.
The most important task of the fiscal policy regulatory framework is to curb the Member States’ excessive indebtedness and the associated risks. At the same time, the regulatory framework must take into account the impact of cyclical fluctuations on general government finances and encourage a countercyclical policy aimed at balancing the fluctuations. The current regulatory framework does not provide sufficient incentives for this.
Our common rules are not just about fiscal policy. Our key tools, such as the European Semester, should be developed so that they take better account of the interactions between economic, social, employment and environmental actions.
We need a rules-based and responsible economic policy, because only an economically strong and economically sustainable Europe can act independently and help others, as in the case of Ukraine.
Members of the Parliament,
The EU has demonstrated its flexibility and ability to act during crises. Even in exceptional times, we are determined to work for a better Europe.
The fact that, despite crises, we can keep promoting our common objectives and implementing reforms agreed on earlier reflects the EU’s capacity to act under external pressure. Nevertheless, the crises have brutally exposed our vulnerabilities.
The debate on Europe’s strategic autonomy is one of our most important ongoing discussions in the Union. It is about our ability to meet external challenges and to safeguard the functioning of our societies in all circumstances.
As the pandemic swept over us, we suddenly realised how dependent we are on medical supply chains outside Europe. We had to build our capacity quickly to ensure the availability of personal protective equipment and other necessary supplies.
The war has shown how important it is for Europe to have its own defence materiel production and how vulnerable we are when it comes to energy. We must acknowledge how naive we have been about Russia and how mistaken we have been in our ideas about Russia’s actions. We should have listened more closely to our friends from the Baltic states and Poland, who have lived under Soviet rule. Together we are now paying a high price for our dependence on Russian energy.
The price of energy is increasing other living costs. War and energy prices threaten to drive the world into a food crisis. While Europe must be self-sufficient in food production, we must also help others. At worst, a global shortage of food would lead to famine, social unrest and mass migration. That is why Africa is our business.
Although we are now focusing on energy and other acute problems, we must be able to prevent future crises. Going forward, one of the most important issues concerns our technological skills and knowledge. As our societies complete the digital transformation, we cannot afford to make the same mistakes we made with energy. We cannot rely on authoritarian countries in the development of critical technologies or in production chains. Together with our democratic partners, Europe must strengthen its technological capabilities. We cannot afford to be naive about this. It is not only about the economy but also about our security and the ability of our societies to function.
Although we have significant challenges ahead, I would like to stress that in our long history, European cooperation is a success story. We can see it in the desire of ever more European nations to become members of our democratic community. Yet Europe is not a monolith. The integration of the Union will not stop but will change constantly. We must become better, bolder and even more capable. The efficient functioning of the European Union is ultimately a question of political will.
Finland also takes a constructive view on the development of the EU. We take very seriously the voice of the citizens and the new proposals they have brought up in the Conference on the Future of Europe. However, a crisis is not the right time to open up a debate on the Treaties. Our citizens did not ask for institutional changes as much as for reforms that respond both to the major challenges facing humankind and people’s everyday concerns. The current framework allows us to meet these needs. For example, we can increase qualified majority decisions in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
This isn’t the first and won’t 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. In order to be strong externally, we must internally look after our common values – the rule of law, democracy and human rights. By following these principles, we will tackle any future crises.