Prime Minister Antti Rinne (the SDP) speaking at the EU-Asia Connectivity Forum in Brussels, Germany on September 27. 2019. Picture: Lauri Heikkinen / The Finnish Government

Prime Minister Antti Rinne (the SDP) as a representative of Finland’s presidency of the Council of the EU gave a closing statement at the EU-Asia Connectivity Forum that took place in Brussels, Germany on Friday.

We publish a condensed version of his speech.

Prime Minister Antti Rinne:

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First of all, my government firmly believes in the EU Strategy ‘Connecting Europe and Asia.’

Connectivity. That is what the world needs today. That is where the European Union is strong. We have the technologies and know-how. We can lead by example, the sustainable way.

But one point is very important: the EU needs partnerships.

Today the Prime Minister of Japan Mr. Abe signed the partnership on connectivity with the EU. Connectivity has political value for our partners too.

Connectivity can work only if the EU makes its global role real. EU’s foreign policy must bring better results and have long-term goals. Our instruments need to play together.

Finland believes in a qualified majority voting in common foreign and security policy. If unanimity is needed, constructive abstention would be an option for the member states.

A European strategy on connectivity will help us in addressing the challenges of our times.

A European strategy on connectivity will help us in addressing the challenges of our times.

The first challenge is demographic change. We are aging. Our societies will not invest and spend like today. Our economies are not made for a population, that gets smaller and smaller. Globally, productive capacity will be needed in Africa and Asia.

Digitalization and connectivity can help our services-sector in this new context. Connectivity is one way to get the new kind of services, which we will need.

The second challenge is climate change. Climate change is the greatest threat to sustainable development. The UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit this week was an important milestone in stepping up global climate action. Global challenges need global responses.

EU’s global leadership in climate action is the top priority for Finland’s presidency of the Council of the EU. Progress towards a strong EU long-term climate strategy, especially agreement on the vision on carbon neutrality by 2050 by the end of the year is a key priority during our presidency.

Finland aims to become carbon neutral already by 2035, and soon thereafter shift to carbon negativity. We will phase out coal in energy production by 2029 and fossil oil in heating by 2030. We want to become the world’s first fossil-free welfare state.

Financial flows related to connectivity should fall in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. I invite the private sector finance to participate in this as well. We need to work on carbon pricing and fossil fuel subsidy reform, for example. This requires ambition and efforts by societies as a whole.

I am pleased to see many Asian countries investing and reforming strongly in climate-related areas. The national emissions trading schemes in China and South Korea are good examples.

Some Asian countries are in the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action. We welcome others to join, too. Finance ministers can make things happen!

The third challenge, that the EU Connectivity Strategy can help addressing, relates to the shift of economic power to the east. Asian countries are facing similar issues as we are.

There is room for everyone in developing Asia. For us, this is an exciting economic opportunity. It is a chance to help Asia make more sustainable policies, in energy and transport for example.

Looking at the strategy, it can meet these challenges. The strategy calls for a rules-based multilateral approach. Sustainable development is at the center of the strategy. The Human Dimension of connectivity is important for Finland. We are a leader in education, research and innovation.

The strategy covers transport, energy and digital networks. This is important as an open, transparent and competitive approach to the digital economy should prevail globally. Our partners see our model as attractive. We should defend the European model.

Our connectivity strategy must be global. Partnerships and deepening cooperation with India, the Republic of Korea and for example Central Asia are needed. Closer ties with Southeast Asian nations and regionally with ASEAN are necessary and under construction.

The EU must have a coherent approach to China’s own connectivity initiatives. We should find synergies. We have our own interests and principles. We should also strengthen the EU’s cooperation with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

We should also start looking beyond Asia. The EU should lay out a strategy for connecting Europe and Africa, based on the same idea of partnership, the same principles of sustainable connectivity.

I will talk about the huge importance of the Arctic at the Arctic Circle event in Reykjavik in October. Finland is actively promoting a project connecting Europe and Asia through the Arctic by a fiber-optic cable. The Arctic needs its own regional approach for connectivity. We invite the commission to work in this direction.

I very much hope that we could work more together with the United States on connectivity. Ideally, we could follow the model of partnership with Japan. Transatlantic cooperation on connectivity could signal new momentum with concrete positive steps in our relationship.

Private investment and financing will be needed to make this all happen. But with our instruments, the EU can do its part.

As EU-presidency, Finland pushes for a single external action financing instrument. This will make the EU’s external action more effective, coherent and flexible.

The extended European Fund for Sustainable Development will mobilize up to 500 billion euros of investment from public and private sources. The fund will be a success.

The Member States should discuss how to leverage better the European Fund for Sustainable Development with additional national grants and guarantees.

In emerging markets, the risk is higher and capital is costlier. There, we need public-private partnerships for impact investors and institutional investors. This is what we are doing nationally. Finnfund has announced first such partnership with a bank, OP. We could bring these efforts to the EU level.

Finally, we should ask if our export finance institutions are optimal. We should be able to provide the scale of finance needed in the wider world, with conditions that are competitive, while respecting international norms and a level playing field.

As Europe, we need to have a long-term view of our relationship with Asia for the reasons we all know.

The major global challenges need a rules-based international system that works. Respect for international law, human rights and gender equality, democracy and the rule of law must guide EU foreign policy. For this, we are known around the world.

The multilateral order needs more support than ever after the end of the Cold War. Like-minded countries, such as Japan, are our invaluable partners. Connectivity helps in building these partnerships.

This forum has discussed today the various aspects of connectivity, from norms and standards to leveraging finance for our future projects.

Importantly, Connectivity is all about geopolitics and addressing, as the European Union, the great shifts of global power.

Connectivity is an invaluable example of a more strategic European Union.

In a mix of keynote addresses by high-ranking political leaders and interactive panels, speakers explored connectivity as a global megatrend, and extrapolated what it means for the EU-Asia relationship as well as the wider world. In particular, connectivity was examined through various angles, from geopolitics and economics to standards and finance.

This is also why Finland fully supports it.

The EU-Asia Connectivity Forum is a first concrete manifestation of facilitating much deeper ties between Europe and Asia in promoting shared values and joint interests: from upholding the rules-based, multilateral order and developing high standards for digital and physical infrastructure, to embracing sustainability and clean technologies.