H.E. Paivi Blinnikka: Being united, it will be much easier to meet modern challenges

One of the most important EU goals is cohesion, to enhance the poorer regions of the Union to get closer to the average

Photo: Boyko Kichukov

During its Council Presidency Finland is trying to follow the same policy that Bulgaria so skilfully followed in 2018 - to be a Presidency that is an ''honest broker'' and tries to find best solutions and compromises for all the Member States. For Finland, as part of the Nordic family, promoting equality and fairness is a key priority, says Paivi Blinnikka, Ambassador of Finland to Bulgaria in an interview to Europost.

Your Excellency, your country is about to assume the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU during a crucial period for the Union. What are the problems that the bloc should focus on solving first, in order to make sure it has a future?

The world is constantly developing and changing, as always, and it seems that the calmer times we enjoyed for many years have become more turbulent. The European Union consists of democratic and rather prosperous countries, whose citizens and leaders understand that “united we are strong”, just like the Bulgarian EU Council Presidency motto stated. Being united, it will be much easier to meet the modern challenges.

It is not only nationalists and right-wing populists who believe that the EU needs an overhaul, but pro-European citizens as well. The question is what aspects should that fundamental change affect, and that debate has been raging over the past few years?

I think the European Union is a real success story. It has brought lots of benefits to its members, and even to many third countries. Single market and improved economics, freedom of movement, student exchange, more security, EU funds, just to mention some elements. It is often said that the biggest problem of the EU is that people do not even realise how many good things in their daily life exist because of the Union. I can remember very well what it was to live in a country outside the EU - Finland joined 1995 - and how big and positive the change was to be inside. Naturally, it is important to develop the Union - already the information technology changes many things - but I would not speak of the need for a fundamental change. After all, the EU is much about common European values and principles.

The new European Parliament's configuration sets up a challenging decision-making process and even stalemates, analysts say. Can this “shake” the bloc, as is the hope of Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini?

In many European countries, the traditional political party map is reforming itself. People are voting more individually, traditional parties get smaller and others grow. This also happened in the European Parliament. This means, of course, the need to make more compromises to be able to proceed in decision-making. It may slow down some of the decision-making. However, this is also a result of democracy. If the voters are unhappy with the result, they will vote differently on the next occasion.

The Council of Ministers is the main legislative actor in the EU. So if anyone is at the helm of the EU, it is the national governments. Can and should the EU become a more democratic organisation?

The European Union's structures and its way of working have developed a lot. The role of the Parliament is nowadays much stronger than it used to be. There are different opinions how to develop the decision making further, but I think this kind of changes take time. It depends on what the member countries are ready for.

In the run-up to the EP elections, France's President Emmanuel Macron unveiled something of a plan for European Renaissance. In Finland's view, what elements of it are sensible and what not so much?

It is important that there are great European ideas presented, like there was “Project Renaissance” just before the European elections. These ideas are looked into and discussed in Finland, as I believe also in other EU Member States, in order to inspire and help us to plan how to best develop our common Union. During its Council Presidency, however, Finland is trying to follow the same policy that Bulgaria so skilfully followed in 2018 - to be a Presidency that is an “honest broker” and tries to find best solutions and compromises for all the Member States.

In the wake of the shocking British exit, what are the most urgent steps that the European leadership needs to take? Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to succeed Theresa May as Britain's PM, has said he would withhold an already agreed €44 billion Brexit payment until the EU gives Britain better withdrawal terms.

Brexit is very regrettable, but it seems to be the will of the majority of British people. I think for the European Union and for Great Britain it is important and even highly necessary to preserve very good relations and as intensive co-operation as possible. We are all in Europe, we are close and we need each other. Brexit has consumed a lot of time and resources, so let's hope the process can soon be accomplished and we can start planning the future forms of co-operation together.

What areas should the EU's money be targeting so that the European project could once again become appealing to its citizens? Many EU citizens are in favour of enhanced support for culture and education.

I have understood that the EU is enjoying a large support, maybe larger than ever, by the citizens. The Union means many different things to its citizens. Security, free movement, single market, a variety of chances, belonging to a family of Europeans. The EU is currently planning the next multiannual financial framework, and it is important to agree on the common financing priorities. One of the important goals of the EU is cohesion, to enhance the poorer regions of the Union to get closer to the average.

Finland is among the best countries in the EU in terms of quality of life. To what does the country owe this accomplishment?

I would say it is due to two e-words: equality and education. It is important to give equal opportunities to everybody in the society. Moreover, access to education for everybody is most important. That is how the potential of all people in the society can come to full use.

We like to think that there is a good word in the Finnish language symbolising largely the idea of equality and that is the third-person pronoun “hän”. Both he and she translate to hän. Everybody is referred to as hän. Han is known to have appeared in the Finnish language already in 1543.

For Finland, as part of the Nordic family, promoting equality and fairness is a key priority. We have built our society based on trust and on the principles of equality, step by step, generation after generation.

Finland's achievements in the fields of education and technologies stand out. Which of them would you like to share with the rest of the European countries?

- A most useful tradition in Finland is something that can be seen both as a technological innovation and as a result of education. I mean recycling. Environmental issues are very important for Finns, and we have been recycling for example bottles and paper for a long time. Bottle recycling for refilling was started with glass bottles in the 1950's, and plastic bottles and cans followed later. You put your empty bottles and cans in a machine at your food shop, and the machine gives you money for them. Paper, metal and plastic, etc., are collected and recycled, and there are second hand shops and recycling centres where you can bring your old things, furniture and clothes. Practical, and saves a lot, both the nature and your purse. Recycling takes place not only in Finland but in many countries, and will hopefully increase everywhere.

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Her Excellency Paivi Blinnikka is Ambassador of Finland to Bulgaria since September 2016. She holds a Master of Law from Helsinki University (1980) and has taken Studies on Human Rights, Abo Akademi in Finland (1992), and Studies on Law and languages, Uppsala University in Sweden (1976-77). Her diplomatic career began in 1981 as Attache at the Consular Services and Legal department in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Helsinki. She held various positions in the structural departments of the institution: Advisor for OSCE (1990-93) and Helsinki Conference (1992); Director, Central European and Western Balkan Countries Department (1997-01), and Director of Passport and Visa Department (2009-16). She has been working on various diplomatic posts in Finnish missions abroad: Second Secretary in the Embassy in Moscow (1983-86), Counsellor to the Embassy in Vienna and Permanent Mission to United Nations (1987- 90), Minister-Counsellor, Embassy of Finland in Budapest (1993-97), Minister-Counsellor in Paris (2002- 05) and Consul General in Hamburg, Germany, (2005-09). Ms Blinnikka speaks Finnish (mother tongue), Swedish, English, German, French.

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