Speech by Minister for Foreign Trade Jari Vilén on the occasion of the Europe Day in Vilnius

Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to have this opportunity to speak today, on the eve of Europe Day, at the Vilnius Academy of Sciences. As neighbours across the Baltic Sea, Lithuania and Finland share many common interests. Lithuanian accession to the European Union will bring us into cooperation on an increasing number of important issues.

In Finland, we are looking forward to the day when our Baltic neighbours exercise their voice in the enlarged European Union. It is indeed a pleasure to be able to contemplate on some of our common concerns to the distinguished audience gathered here today.

Europe is today a place of prosperity, stability and harmony. Even in those parts of our continent which have recently undergone major upheavals, such as in the Balkans, the situation is calming down. The roots of democracy and stable economic systems are taking shape. There are signs of recovery and normalcy in a region that has suffered great tragedy within the past years. Concerted political effort is helping to bring the war-torn area back into the community of European states.

Europe is today not just a geographic location, but a concept that stands for the common core beliefs of democracy and human rights, market economy as well as the pursuit of equal economic opportunities.

It would be easy to take for granted this European “idea”. But it is one that needs constant nurturing. We have, as Europeans, all the tools at our disposal. We can enlarge the sphere of stability and we can ensure that the fruits of our labours are more evenly distributed.

The past year has proven how fragile stability can be. The tragic events of September 11th last autumn shook the global society in multiple ways. In its aftermath, with the fight against terrorism and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the world has come to recognize once again the importance of cooperation.

The United Nations’ role in world affairs has again been highlighted. The European Union and Russia have enhanced their dialogue in the fight against terrorism. The United States and Russia have entered a new dimension in political dialogue as well. NATO’s enlargement process continues. In the European Union and in the candidate states, the events of last autumn also focused our attentions on the importance of cooperation in combating terrorism.

There is a near universal consensus on the need to search for lasting solutions to the poverty and inequalities that underlie also support for terrorism. The current crisis in the Middle East is yet another reminder, that while the citizens of Europe live in fairly prosperous and harmonious circumstances, all is not well in the world, not even in our immediate neighbourhood.

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The past couple of months have also seen positive developments which prove that when there is a unity of purpose and a vision, much good can happen. The successful launching of the euro is a striking example. Although the euro for the moment is limited to the twelve countries that are participating in the European Monetary Union, its impact on the whole of Europe is positive. The euro area is expected to continue enlarging, first with those Member States of the EU that did not take part in the first wave, and later, with the inclusion of the future, new Member States.

During the past year, the world economy has been in a recession. However, Europe is today much better prepared to counter the threat of an economic downturn than was the case ten years ago. The successful launching of a new round of trade talks at the WTO meeting in Doha last November will benefit global trade. It is one more proof that in today’s world, cooperation among nations is essential, unavoidable and fruitful.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Within this wider context, what does European reality look like today?

Europe is at an important crossroads. The future of Europe is being formed even as we sit here today: by the enlargement negotiations, by the Convention meeting in Brussels, as well as by the reforms that the EU is facing in the next few years. We must also decide on the Common Agricultural Policy, structural policy and the institutions, as well as on the financial framework for the period to follow 2007.

The current round of enlargement negotiations is historic in its scope. Its significance lies also in the de facto reunification of Europe after the Cold War. At the same time, we are not only participating in a process with historical or theoretical implications.

The enlargement concerns, very concretely, the economic integration of over 70 million, and soon 100 million new consumers into the internal market. This has enormous implications for the balancing of those inequalities that have existed between the present EU-countries and the applicant countries, most of which have only recently had the opportunity to develop their systems into functioning market economies.

With the enlargement, the European Union will become an even bigger economic and political player on the world arena. At the same time, the economic benefits of cooperation are more widely, and more equally distributed in Europe.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the same time as we proceed with the enlargement negotiations, the European Convention has begun discussing the future of an enlarged Union. For the first time EU Treaty reform is being prepared in a transparent way by a broad-based forum including representatives from governments, national parliaments and EU institutions. The significance of the Convention is further highlighted by the fact that the candidate countries participate in its work on an equal basis. This is crucial since we are now shaping our common future.

The Convention will adopt a final document which will serve as a basis for the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in 2004. The final document will comprise either different options or recommendations if consensus is achieved.

In my opinion, here the approach should be pragmatic. Reaching an agreement on many important issues already at this stage might prove extremely difficult. If a genuine consensus for recommendations cannot be reached, options reflecting the variety of different views hould rather be drafted. The Intergovernmental Conference will in any case make the ultimate decisions. Enough time should be left before the beginning of the Conference, so that the results of the Convention can be thoroughly debated and evaluated in the member and candidate states.

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What kind of Europe will we share in a few years from now?

The work on the future of Europe provides us a valuable opportunity to examine the basic nature and development of the Union. What kind of a European Union do we actually want and what should be its tasks? How can we answer the European citizens’ expectations? How could we best strengthen the EU´s role as a global actor? These are some of the questions we should be able to answer.

No clear political goal has been set for the next IGC. The four themes identified in Nice (the clarification of competences, the simplification of Treaties, the role of the national parliaments and the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights) can be considered as separate political issues. However, they can also be seen as major elements in the EU’s constitutional development.

In Finland we believe that the European Union should be further developed as a close-knit community of independent Member States and European peoples. The enlarging Union must be ambitious and practical in setting its goals. It must have sufficiently strong competence in matters where it has better potential to attain common goals than the Member States individually. It is in our, and Europe’s, interest to have an economically sound and dynamic, as well as a socially and ecologically responsible European Union. The EU must be able to act efficiently to promote its common goals in Europe and worldwide.

The Convention has started its work by looking at one of the most important questions: The EU’s tasks and the definition of competences between the Union and the Member States. Although the Member States have transferred powers to the Union with care and consideration, the sphere of its competence is often defined in an ambiguous manner. In practice, it rests on non-systematic Treaty provisions as a result of political compromises, as well as on the Union’s general objectives. There is a need for clarification of the present division of competences and we are ready to consider different options for accomplishing this objective.

We are also ready to consider adjustments to the present division. However, it seems that no dramatic changes are necessary. It would be more important to concentrate on using the existing powers in an appropriate manner. In the end, the real test lies in the use of shared competences while genuinely respecting the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. As the dynamic nature of the Union is fundamental to the EU’s action, we have to accept that most of the Union competence is to remain shared with the Member States.

In matters in which the Member States have transferred their competence to the EU, it must act efficiently and democratically. The question of the efficiency and legitimacy of the Union’s action will also be addressed in the process. In this connection, we have a possibility to patch up some of the decisions made at Nice. We need to go further regarding the extension of qualified majority voting as well as consider possibilities to clarify and improve the decision-making system. This could be achieved by adopting a simple dual majority system - advocated at Nice by Finland among many others – where decisions require a majority of both Members States and population. In my view, this would offer a clear and logical solution.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Throughout the enlargement negotiations, Finland has wanted to play an active and constructive role. We continue to believe in the importance of the principles of fairness and equality. Objective criteria must be followed, and countries must be judged on their own merits. These principles, as well as that of catching up, have proven themselves to be useful tools in conducting the negotiating process, and they should be adhered to until the end.

In Finland we understand that the internal political situation in all the candidate countries is at stake when making sometimes difficult decisions. Each country has sensitive issues that need to be addressed and explained to their citizens.

In Lithuania’s case, Finland understands that the closing of the Ignalina power plant is one of those difficult issues. Nuclear safety is an important question that concerns us all in Europe. We feel that a solution is possible to find that also takes into account Lithuania’s economic concerns.

It is important, as in other nationally difficult questions, to keep in mind the end toward which we are all striving: Lithuania’s membership in the European Union. What economic concerns there are about the closure of an unsafe nuclear power plant, will be compensated manifold by the benefits of membership in the years to come.

It has been a pleasure to note, that Lithuania has advanced well in the negotiations. Your country is a good example of how well the catching up principle has worked, with 26 provisionally closed chapters up to date. The most difficult negotiating chapters – those that concern the Union’s finances, and the politically sensitive issues of agriculture and structural policy – are the challenge of the coming months.

The budget-related negotiations will be based on the Commission’s recommendations presented at the end of January. The negotiations will be conducted according to the current acquis and within the budgetary framework of the Union that was agreed in Berlin in 1999. The internal reform processes of the EU should be kept separate from the enlargement negotiations. This is the only way to conclude the enlargement process according to the road map and in the time frame that has been agreed upon.

All signs point to the possibility that at the end of this year, the extensive negotiation process will come to an end. Well conducted negotiations, fairness on our side and reasonable demands on yours will result in a successful accession treaty that can readily be accepted by the citizens and the parliaments of the candidate states.

In the end, the accession of Lithuania and the other candidate states into the European Union can only be successful, if the accession is supported by the citizens. Informing the public in an impartial way plays a crucial role. Misconceptions can occur, unless the citizens receive clear and transparent information on the negotiations as well as the benefits of future membership.

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The entrance Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into the European Union will enhance what might be termed the “Baltic Sea flavor”to the EU, as President Halonen said here in Vilnius two months ago.

President Adamkus has envisioned Lithuania’s role as a bridge between Central and Northern Europe. Indeed Lithuania will be in a position to make use of its geographic proximity to its neighbouring Baltic countries and Poland, the Nordic countries, as well as Russia. The enlargement will lengthen the border between the European Union and Russia. This is a situation that will undoubtedly benefit all. Trade and political relations between the EU and Russia will be enhanced.

In the case of Lithuania and Poland, the questions relating to Kaliningrad must be solved in a way that helps develop the region as a whole. Economically Kaliningrad – and therefore Russia – will benefit from the entrance of its immediate neighbours into the EU. Finland’s accession to the Schengen agreement changed things, but it did not complicate border crossings between Finland and Russia. We believe that it is wholly possible to arrive at reasonable arrangements between Lithuania and Poland on the one hand, and Russia on the other, without putting the full implementation of Schengen at risk. Before accession the measures taken by Lithuania and Poland are subject to sovereign national decisions.

The forthcoming EU enlargement will change the focus of the Northern Dimension of the European Union. The new EU members, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland will get a new instrument to enhance their Russia relations together with the other EU member states. The Baltic states and the Nordic countries have been cooperating for a number of years now. Opportunities for enlarged cooperation will now exist within the framework of the Union.

The concept of security is different for the Baltic Sea region today from what it was a decade ago. The perceived threats are no longer military. Instead we are confronted by common environmental concerns. We can also work constructively to prevent organized crime – such as drugs, prostitution, trafficking in humans, stolen cars and the spread of transmissible diseases – HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
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In the European Union, thoughts have already turned to the time after the current enlargement. The thoughts presented by the United Kingdom and Sweden about developing a strategy toward our new neighbours after enlargement has been launched. The concept of a “Wider Europe” includes the EU’s relationship with Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

With the enlargement, there is the danger of an increasing economic gap growing between the new Member States, and their eastern neighbours. This can create unstability in the region and be reflected in the whole EU area.

We must work toward lessening this disparity between the new Member States and their neighbours to the east. We must study arrangements that contribute to the economic and political stability of the region. We feel that the model of EU-Russia relations could be looked at. Finland has good experiences of cross-border cooperation and regional cooperation that can be useful.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Enlargement is the most important of the European Union’s present tasks. The current year will be decisive for the process. There is still much work to be done and we must not lose sight of the end goal, which is Lithuania’s, and the other candidate states’, accession to the Union.

The enlargement will be a challenge to the functioning of the internal market, as well as to the cohesion of the Union and the entire decision making process. This is why it is crucial, that the candidate countries pay attention to the development of their administrative and judicial capacity. It cannot be emphasized enough that the ability of the new Member States to function and to compete on the Union’s internal market is essential for the success of the enlargement.

The implementation of administrative reform will be studied at the Seville European Council in June. In October, the Commission will present progress reports on all the candidate countries. The countries that expect to conclude negotiations at the end of the year ought to be able to show developments in their administrative capacity, as well as in the implementation of their commitments.
The over-all economic impact of enlargement will be beneficial for all countries involved. According to the European Commission’s estimate, the cumulative effect on growth will be positive in the current EU-15, and more so in the ten candidate countries. It is also important to remember, that already the prospect of EU membership has positively affected the economic development of the candidate countries.

The prospect of membership has speeded up necessary reforms. According to World Bank studies, the economic impact of the transition from command economies to market economy has been much softer than for those countries that are not negotiating for EU membership. Future EU membership has helped draw foreign investments into the candidate countries. The Europe Agreements have had a positive effect on the business climate, and have lessened the risks for foreign companies. Trade between the EU and the candidate countries has grown and exports to the EU have been a major factor in improving the economies of the candidates.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Enlargement is inevitable and the political will within the European Union is strong to bring it into a successful conclusion with up to ten countries by the end of this year. The process will continue with Bulgaria and Romania until they are ready to join. The Union’s borders will not close to others, but remain open to countries with shared values. The constitutional reforms that have taken place in Turkey recently prove that membership in the EU is a powerful motivator for developing human rights and democracy.

On the eve of Europe Day in 2002, we are looking at enlarging the sphere of stability on our continent. We will soon be working together in the Union to develop our common Europe, and to make the Union into an increasingly effective global economic and political actor .

The challenges for Europe are many and formidable. Enhancing European competitiveness is one of the major challenges in the coming years. Environmental problems and international crime concern us all. In our immediate vicinity, areas of instability still exist. The ageing of Europe’s population threatens to create a labour shortage that will affect us all. We must continue to work to stabilize the Balkans, and we must find a solution to the Middle East conflict together with other nations at the U.N.

We have a lot of work to be done. But together in the context of the European Union, we will be able to do it. In Finland we are looking forward to Lithuania joining us around the tables in Brussels, to tackle these common concerns and to continue the creation of prosperity and stability on our continent.