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Environmental protection
Fridays for Finland

When Finland takes over the presidency of the EU this summer, climate policy will be at the top of the agenda. What if the country didn’t have this influence?

By Eric Bonse, Brussels

Fridays for Finland Illustration: Nina Haiko It is the big surprise of the 2019 European elections: not migration or social problems but the environmental and climate policy are the dominant themes. The Greens have even called the election the “climate vote”. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the “Fridays for Future” movement have left their mark.
Even after the election, the climate crisis should be high on the Brussels agenda. Finland, which will take over the biannually changing EU Presidency on 1 July, wants to see to that. By 2050, the EU should be climate-neutral, and by 2030 it should have cut emissions by 55 percent compared with 1990 levels. Helsinki means to stand behind these goals.
“We Finns are considered credible; we’re trusted”, says Environment Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen. “We can make a difference in Europe as a driving force.” And, in fact, Finland is one of the pioneers of environmental and climate policy in Europe. In ecological rankings, the densely wooded northern European country regularly takes top positions.

We can make a difference in Europe as a driving force

But what would Finland’s impact on environmental and climate policy be without the EU? Certainly not so good as now. Through the Presidency in Brussels, Helsinki can shape the European agenda. Without the EU, Finland could continue to set a good example, but it would make little difference. It would have no access to the levers of power.
These levers are important, as the climate debate in the EU shows. Two camps have formed. On one side are France, Finland and other northerners, who are campaigning for more ambitious climate protection; on the other side are Germany and Poland, who are resisting new mandatory goals.
Finland belongs to the camp of the “willing”, and it can try to strengthen this position with the help of the EU Presidency. At the same time, the climate savers and environmentalists in Helsinki will get backing from the EU Commission in Brussels, which monitors compliance with the agreed ecological standards. Without the EU, Finland would be on its own.