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Petteri Orpo at the European Parliament / Speeches / Petteri Orpo: ”Our actions today will define the legacy of our generation”

Petteri Orpo: “Our actions today will define the legacy of our gener­a­tion”


Prime Minis­ter Petteri Orpo spoke at the Euro­pean Parlia­ment in Stras­bourg on 13 March 2024. Subject to changes.

Madam Speaker, Dear Roberta, 
Honourable Members of the Euro­pean Parlia­ment, 
Fellow Euro­peans,

I am happy to be here at the Euro­pean Parlia­ment – a build­ing I have visited numer­ous times previ­ously as Minis­ter of Agri­cul­ture and Forestry, Minis­ter of the Inte­rior and Minis­ter of Finance.

Today, I stand before you not just as the Prime Minis­ter of Finland but also as a commit­ted Euro­pean, eager to share Finland’s vision for a resilient, compet­i­tive, and secure Europe. 

We now find ourselves at a key moment in history, one that calls for our courage, unity, and deter­mi­na­tion. 

We have returned to the very funda­ments of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion: promot­ing peace, and defend­ing our values. The ongo­ing war in Ukraine is not just a conflict on our continent’s borders; it is a stark reminder of the fragility of our peace. It threat­ens the very prin­ci­ples on which our Union was built. 

As Euro­peans, it is high time for us to wake up and smell the coffee. This is the defin­ing chal­lenge of our gener­a­tion and our conti­nent.

Finland, which shares a long border – more than 1,300 kilo­me­tres – with Russia, under­stands the signif­i­cance of this moment. Finland has never dropped the ball when it comes to secu­rity and defence. After the cold war, we remained commit­ted to main­tain­ing a cred­i­ble and inde­pen­dent defence capa­bil­ity. Our deci­sion to join NATO is not one we took lightly; it was a clear signal of our commit­ment to Euro­pean secu­rity. Now we are happy to finally welcome our close neigh­bour Sweden to the alliance.

The war in Ukraine has been a wake-up call for all of us. We must never again be so reliant on others for our energy and secu­rity. We must take care of our own defence. Ramp­ing up our defence indus­try, improv­ing our prepared­ness and strength­en­ing our borders are crit­i­cal pillars of our shared secu­rity archi­tec­ture. We are living in a time where prac­ti­cally all policy fields are linked to our secu­rity, and with­out secu­rity, we cannot ensure a pros­per­ous future for Europe.

For us in Finland, the EU is the most impor­tant polit­i­cal and economic frame of refer­ence and commu­nity of values. My Govern­ment is commit­ted to a strong Euro­pean Union – an EU that acts, not only reacts. We want to build a Union that takes care of our common secu­rity and works for our econ­omy. Uphold­ing the rule of law in Europe must remain our core prin­ci­ple.

I have three main points for the future of Europe and the next mandate.

First, we have to strengthen Europe’s Strate­gic Compet­i­tive­ness.

The reason our economic compet­i­tive­ness is so crucial is simple. Europe is falling behind in produc­tiv­ity. Our stan­dard of living is dimin­ish­ing compared to others. The United States and China are expe­ri­enc­ing faster growth and attract­ing invest­ments. Should this trend persist, we will no longer be able to stand on our own feet.

We must build our compet­i­tive­ness by devel­op­ing our strengths and through market-based solu­tions, with a fully func­tion­ing inter­nal market at the core. This foun­da­tion will enable us to thrive in an increas­ingly compet­i­tive global land­scape. 

We need to cut the bureau­cratic red tape, imple­ment sustain­able fiscal poli­cies, reform labour market regu­la­tion, and conclude new trade deals.

We must foster inno­va­tion and skills, strengthen our inter­nal market, and ensure signif­i­cant fund­ing for inno­va­tion and research. 

These initia­tives are the bedrock of long-term compet­i­tive­ness. There is an immense need to finance our defence and the green tran­si­tion, as well as broader compet­i­tive­ness-enhanc­ing policy areas like research and inno­va­tion. 

We must also utilise exist­ing instru­ments more effec­tively. This means reform­ing the next MFF and seek­ing more finan­cial resources from the markets, for exam­ple through the EIB and by devel­op­ing the Capi­tal Markets Union. We need a true Euro­pean Invest­ment Union. It is essen­tial that we make invest­ing in Europe attrac­tive again.

The urgency of revert­ing the state aid rules to their normal frame­work has become increas­ingly appar­ent. The esca­la­tion of state aid compe­ti­tion threat­ens the very core of our single market. Such compe­ti­tion can lead to a race to the bottom, where coun­tries with deeper pock­ets can unfairly support their domes­tic indus­tries. 

The prin­ci­ple of a single market is founded on equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for all, not a frag­mented land­scape where walls are built and finan­cial muscle over­shad­ows market dynam­ics. It is crucial that we restore the normal state aid rules. A healthy single market bene­fits all Euro­pean citi­zens and busi­ness – today and in the long term.

Jacques Delors, father of the Euro­pean single market, would indeed be deeply concerned by the current prac­tices regard­ing the relax­ation of state aid rules. The dilu­tion of these rules risks under­min­ing the level play­ing field Delors worked so tire­lessly to estab­lish.

When it comes to our trade policy, we must refo­cus on the core prin­ci­ples of trade policy itself. 

Our setbacks have often stemmed from pursu­ing broad-rang­ing agree­ments with noble inten­tions, and expect­ing our nego­ti­at­ing part­ners to commit to them.

If we want to be glob­ally rele­vant, we need a better abil­ity to conclude, ratify and imple­ment trade deals, not a better abil­ity to bring them down. 

The Euro­pean Union’s trade policy is not only a vital instru­ment for boost­ing compet­i­tive­ness; it has become crucial in build­ing part­ner­ships in today’s global land­scape. 

Secondly, we have to improve Euro­pean compre­hen­sive secu­rity. 

This includes defence and border secu­rity, but also prepared­ness more broadly.

Firstly, ramp­ing up our defence indus­try is prior­ity number one. The Euro­pean Union has the regu­la­tion and the resources, and we need to use those tools. Even as a member of NATO, we think that Europe can do a lot. NATO and the EU do not exclude each other – they comple­ment each other.

Next on border secu­rity.

Russia has weaponised migra­tion to put pres­sure on Finland and the entire EU. Russia is push­ing third coun­try nation­als towards our east­ern land border. This is not accept­able. The numbers are still rela­tively low, but the phenom­e­non is worri­some. If we can’t stop this phenom­e­non now, it will also become a ques­tion of numbers and a greater threat to national and Euro­pean secu­rity.

Secu­rity at the EU’s exter­nal borders is at the core of the EU’s exis­tence. Safe­guard­ing our exter­nal front­lines against any form of hybrid attacks is crucial. 

This is why our response has been deci­sive. We have closed our east­ern land border and are in the process of prepar­ing new legis­la­tion. We are doing this to protect the entire Euro­pean Union. A hybrid attack on our border is a hybrid attack against the whole of Europe. There­fore, we need to eval­u­ate our exist­ing Euro­pean legis­la­tion, to see whether it is strong enough to tackle these chal­lenges in its current state. If not, then we must consider updat­ing it to better suit the time we are living in. We must send a clear message: Europe is resolute in its defence, agile in its response, and firm in its commit­ment to the safety of its borders.

In address­ing the secu­rity of our borders, we must also focus on the people who live in these crit­i­cal areas. Tourism and all cross-border trade has stopped indef­i­nitely. 

The vital­ity of the EU’s exter­nal border regions is crucial, not just for national secu­rity but for the cohe­sion of our soci­ety. The war has caused the economic base in these border areas to decline. This trend, if unchanged, will lead to depop­u­la­tion and pose a grave risk to the secu­rity and stabil­ity of our Union.

It is neces­sary that we imple­ment EU-level poli­cies aimed at revi­tal­is­ing these areas and making them more secure against exter­nal threats. 

On prepared­ness.

Prepared­ness for crises is one of the corner­stones of secu­rity. The EU and its Member States must be better prepared for a grow­ing number of increas­ingly complex crises, as we have learned from the COVID-19 crisis, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis. It is in everyone’s inter­est to improve the level of prepared­ness of all Member States and the EU as a whole.

In this context of prepared­ness, Finland stands ready to share our expe­ri­ences of resilience and readi­ness. Our nation has long been recog­nised as a super­power in prepared­ness. It is a status born out of neces­sity and rein­forced by our history and geograph­i­cal posi­tion.

We have devel­oped compre­hen­sive strate­gies that cover all sectors of soci­ety, from public to private. Our approach to prepared­ness includes not only phys­i­cal defences but also soci­etal resilience, which is crit­i­cal in facing both conven­tional and hybrid threats. 

I believe Finland’s model of prepared­ness could offer valu­able lessons for the Euro­pean Union. By adopt­ing simi­lar compre­hen­sive and forward-think­ing strate­gies, we can enhance the resilience of the entire Union.

This is why we ask the Commis­sion to develop and publish the first EU Strat­egy for a Prepared­ness Union. This should be based on a whole-of-soci­ety approach, where the needs and contri­bu­tions of all policy sectors are taken into account. 

We are not suggest­ing another policy docu­ment; we are call­ing for an inno­v­a­tive blue­print that ensures the Euro­pean Union’s resilience in the face of complex chal­lenges. 

Our third prior­ity has to do with the envi­ron­ment and climate. With the right kind of climate policy, we can strengthen our secu­rity of supply, boost our economies, and improve the supply of Euro­pean raw mate­ri­als. The Govern­ment of Finland is commit­ted to reach­ing the climate goals. We think that while tack­ling climate change, we can also create jobs and phase out fossil fuels. We have the tech­nol­ogy and know-how for this here in Europe. 

We must empha­sise a clean tran­si­tion that lever­ages the bioe­con­omy and circu­lar econ­omy. With clean energy – in the form of nuclear power, wind power, solar power and biomass – we will attract indus­try that can produce and export these clean solu­tions. 

We should combat climate change and support biodi­ver­sity in a way that recog­nises the diverse circum­stances across the Member States. A tech­nol­ogy-neutral, cost-effec­tive clean tran­si­tion will pave the way for sustain­able growth. The bioe­con­omy and renew­able natural resources are our allies in reduc­ing emis­sions and dimin­ish­ing harm­ful depen­den­cies on third coun­tries.

As we look towards the next legisla­tive term, it is impor­tant to admit that our envi­ron­men­tal and climate goals cannot be achieved through more regu­la­tion alone. Regu­la­tion has been neces­sary and will continue to be, but our approach thus far has focused too much on the details, losing sight of the broader picture. We must have proper impact assess­ments. In the upcom­ing term, we must recal­i­brate our climate policy and shift away from overly detailed regu­la­tion to foster­ing inno­va­tion. We need carrots and incen­tives, not sticks and bureau­cracy. 

As I approach the end of my speech, I will turn back to the situ­a­tion in Ukraine. I say it is our job as lead­ers to fight against any pessimism and to show an exam­ple and lead­er­ship. Every­one has to wake up. 

Russia contin­ues to commit war crimes in Ukraine. It has shifted to a war econ­omy. Russia is evidently prepar­ing for a long conflict with the west, and repre­sents a perma­nent and exis­ten­tial mili­tary threat to Europe. If we, as a united Europe, fail to respond suffi­ciently to this chal­lenge, the coming years will be filled with danger and the loom­ing threat of attack.

We must bolster our support for Ukraine now for it to win this war and at the same time enhance our own defence capa­bil­i­ties and the abil­ity to defend ourselves!

It is also essen­tial that we offer a cred­i­ble Euro­pean path forward for Ukraine. Enlarge­ment of the EU is a geopo­lit­i­cal neces­sity and a ques­tion of secu­rity. 

Ukraine has demon­strated its abil­ity to defend itself, and the Ukrain­ian people’s resolve remains high. Their resilience and deter­mi­na­tion pose a signif­i­cant chal­lenge to Russ­ian inter­ests. Support­ing Ukraine is not only a moral imper­a­tive but also a strate­gic neces­sity. The cost of Russ­ian mili­tary success would far exceed the invest­ment required to support Ukraine. Imag­ine what will happen next if Russia succeeds. 

I say that every euro spent on Ukraine today is a low price compared to the alter­na­tive costs if Russia wins.  

We have already taken signif­i­cant steps, but more must be done. Ukraine is fight­ing, and we have the resources to support it. Ukraine deserves a just and last­ing peace on its own terms. Secur­ing the agree­ment on the EU’s Ukraine Facil­ity among all 27 Member States was crucial. 

Next, we need to deliver on ammu­ni­tion produc­tion and agree on addi­tional fund­ing for the Euro­pean Peace Facil­ity and Ukraine Assis­tance Fund as quickly as possi­ble. Finland is doing its share: we have increased our ammu­ni­tion produc­tion, and I urge all Member States to do the same. 

It is crucial to recog­nise that Russia’s mili­tary capa­bil­i­ties are limited, despite its attempts to hide this fact. Russia is not invin­ci­ble. We can over­come this chal­lenge if we pool our resources together. We have the finan­cial means, now we need to demon­strate our polit­i­cal commit­ment.

Self-satis­fac­tion is no longer an option; our collec­tive future hinges on our abil­ity to recog­nise and coun­ter­act the threats posed by an aggres­sive and mili­tarised Russia. Strength­en­ing our defence is not just a matter of national secu­rity – it is a precon­di­tion for preserv­ing the peace and stabil­ity that have long been the hall­marks of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion and pros­per­ity.

In this light, we have to amplify the Euro­pean Invest­ment Bank’s (EIB) engage­ment in secu­rity and defence financ­ing. Recog­nis­ing the EIB’s pivotal role in invest­ment financ­ing and as the EU’s lend­ing arm, there is an urgent call to extend its capa­bil­i­ties beyond dual-use projects, espe­cially in response to the grow­ing demands within the Euro­pean secu­rity and defence sectors. 

More Europe doesn’t and shouldn’t mean less Amer­ica. The United States is and will be our most impor­tant ally, and we must strenghten our transat­lantic links in both defense and trade.

Let us leave this hemi­cy­cle today with a clear resolve: to strengthen our Union, to secure our borders and to support our friends in need with more than just words. Our actions today will define the legacy of our gener­a­tion and shape the course of history. The time for action is now.

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