On 1 July 2019, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) officially passed from Romania to Finland. Finland will now lead discussions in the Council until 31 December 2019. As part of their ‘Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future’ programme, Finland aims to strengthen common values and the rule of law, to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, to strengthen the EU’s position as a global leader in climate action and to protect the security of citizens comprehensively.
The UK Law Societies Joint Brussels Office together with the Finnish Bar Association hosted a seminar on the priorities of the Finnish Presidency in the field of justice which took place on the 26 June. The presidency outlined its aims to continue developing the regulatory framework in the field of EU criminal law by assessing and analysing the current regulatory instruments and their application. The presidency wishes to focus more on the interpretation of the existing legislation instead of creating new one. Another important priority is promoting alternatives to imprisonment and raising awareness of best practice models among Member States.
European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) and fight against corruption were also identified as other relevant themes. The presidency also discussed the upcoming negotiations on the EU-US agreement on the facilitation of e-evidence for judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It explained that sharing of e-evidence was to further facilitate access to e-evidence on the cloud to be used in criminal proceedings. This is to address concerns over the procedures under the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) in relation to requesting access to electronic evidence.
The presidency stresses the importance of the rule of law in international politics and the importance of rules-based order. In its programme, the Presidency committed to protect the core European values - human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights - as essential in ensuring the continued credibility and trust of the European project. The rule of law is especially important and described as being indispensable for the proper functioning of the justice systems in the EU. The Presidency will discuss it at the upcoming meeting of the conference of President of the European Parliament with the Finnish Government in September 2019.
Climate crisis is another of the central priorities of the Finnish Presidency. In his recently published column, the Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne acknowledged the importance of tackling climate crisis voiced by young people and promised that his country’s presidency will aim to answer these concerns by pulling together bold and forward-looking policies. Finland also plans to offset emissions from air travel during the next semester by providing €500,000 euros to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the most recent EU summit, the Finnish Prime Minister shared his goal of overcoming resistance to ensure carbon neutrality by 2050. One anticipated means of addressing climate change is to discuss the existing issues during EU budget 2021-2027 negotiations. Finland expects to close by December at the latest and plans to use a quarter of the fund for environmental policies.
Marking the start of its mandate, the Finnish Presidency will publish the Council agendas for every Council configuration until the end of December 2019. With regards to Brexit, the Finnish Presidency also published the draft agenda for the General Affairs Council (Art.50) to be held on 15 October 2019 in preparation for the European Council (Art.50) taking place on either 17 or 18 October 2019.