Speech by State Secretary Matti Anttonen at Corleap Eastern Partnership meeting, Turku, 12 September 2019

9th annual meeting of the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), Turku, 12 September 2019

Introductory remarks by Mr. Matti Anttonen,

Permanent State Secretary, MFA of Finland


Your Excellencies, dear colleagues, quests,

Thank you for the invitation to attend the 9th annual CORLEAP meeting. I’m particularly happy that you have decided to meet here in Turku, in the old religious, academic and political capital of Finland, and my home town. Welcome to Finland and Turku also on my behalf.

I would like to start by commending the work of CORLEAP as the regions and the local level actors are crucial in any policy field. Whatever we want to achieve from improving the living conditions of our citizens to combatting climate change, the action and final delivery happens locally.

This is also true in whatever decisions are made in Brussels and in such broader political frameworks as the Eastern Partnership. Our main goal is to achieve tangible benefits for our inhabitants. This goal is the same both in the EU and partner countries. In this Annual meeting I’m happy to be among people who deal directly with this and I look forward to learning from you today.

In Finland, our work is guided by our new Government’s program and our priorities for Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

As many of you may know, the new coalition government of Finland has now been in office for three months. The work has started in tandem with our EU-Presidency.

Our government program is very ambitious. It’s foreign and security policy is based on common European values, rule of law, human rights (particularly women and children), equality and media freedom.

Environment and climate change are an essential part of our foreign and security policy. Actually, what comes to climate change, our new program may be the most ambitious in the world.

The Finnish EU-Presidency takes place in a very challenging time: the change of the Commission, Brexit and some extremely difficult negotiations (multiannual financial framework, climate change, migration etc.).

Secondly, I would like to share some thoughts on Eastern Partnership and regional cooperation more broadly.

What comes to our cooperation with the Eastern European countries and the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy, they reflect very well Finland’s foreign policy priorities. Our common values and mutual interests have been the anchor of cooperation, and so it will be also in the future.

Eastern Partnership is fundamentally a reform process. You, regional and local cooperation actors, play a key role in implementing reforms. We know that reforms are painful and take time, but I want to encourage you to continue with them, as they are necessary for the better future of your citizens and resilience of your countries.  Anticorruption, energy efficiency, education, rule of law, freedom of media, decentralization - just a few examples. 

What comes to the conflicts in the post-Soviet territory, we emphasize the EU’s unity. Finland remains firmly committed to the EU sanctions against Russia due to the illegal annexation of Crimea and conflict in eastern Ukraine.   

But, isolating Russia is not in our interest. Dialogue is important even in the current political climate. It is important to us as neighbors and cannot wait for better times: we have a large number of practical issues to tackle.

As tools, we have some pragmatic cooperation formats: the Intergovernmental Regional Councils, the Northern Dimension (ND) and the Cross-Border cooperation. They all function for concrete people-to-people –contacts.

This cooperation involves national, regional and local authorities, but it also reaches out to the civil society. I want particularly mention the ND partnerships. For example, the ND Environmental Partnership has had a concrete and visible impact on the Baltic Sea environment. The seawater is now much cleaner than some ten years ago.

This year we are celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). No doubt, the Partnership has been a success. It has brought concrete results and benefits for the citizens both in the region and in the EU. Congratulations to all, who have made it a success story.

Finland continues to carry on the Eastern Partnership during our Presidency. The main theme of this year is youth. In addition, our theme is resilience. We have invited experts from Eastern Partner countries to different events in Helsinki (hybrid, education, rule of law and media). Also today’s meeting is a good example of the EaP successes. Let our partnership continue as a pragmatic, very much needed policy, which benefits us all. 

Thank you for your attention. I wish you good luck in your important work.