Ulla Karvo 3 Dec 2021
Meeting of the Finnish delegations: Factual information is powerful
In early November, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA) organised a remote meeting for the Finnish delegations of the European Committee of the Regions, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and CEMR, the umbrella body of local government associations. The meeting, which is called the International Forum is organised several times each year. The AFLRA’s EU and International Affairs Team coordinates and organises the activities of the Finnish delegations. The delegations consist of elected representatives from across Finland who are interested in European and international affairs.
Ambassador Skrt from Slovenia, the country currently holding the EU Presidency, gave an address at the meeting, explaining how Slovenia has implemented the priorities it has set for its presidency. The Ambassador noted that the arrangements always burden small Member States more than the larger ones. Yet, the level of ambition has not been compromised. The recovery and rebound of the EU economy have been at the top of Slovenia's agenda, not forgetting the rule of law or the European values. These themes were also selected as the focus of our meeting.
The keynote speaker Ms Merja Kyllönen, Member of the Finnish Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Grand Committee, gave an in-depth introduction to the day's themes. All the delegations were represented in the panel discussion that followed.
The voice of citizens must be heard
On the topic of promoting the rule of law in the Member States, the panellists emphasised the opportunities of citizens and the local level to exert influence. Change is possible as long as civic participation and the activities of the opposition have not been suppressed. One important condition for upholding the rule of law is precisely that citizens can question arbitrary decisions and challenge those in power in independent courts.
At the EU level, the means of dealing with the countries that undermine the rule of law are twofold: a suspension of voting rights in accordance with Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union or a suspension of access to EU funding. The first measure requires unanimous agreement, so it is unlikely to pass in the European Council. The suspension of funding is a new instrument, but it has a weakness — it could only be used if misconduct is suspected in the allocation of funding. The instrument does not give a general mandate to intervene in other challenges to the rule of law, such as undemocratic actions of Member States.
The EU Commission is waiting, as Hungary and Poland have appealed to the European Court of Justice over the possible suspension of EU funding. The Commission has been unwilling to take action before the Court's decision, despite the fact that the European Parliament has insisted on measures to protect the rule of law and the common European values.
The lack of unity within the EU does not increase its effectiveness in the outside world. The Commission cannot reinforce the EU’s global role without a unified internal front. Internal discord and external interference in the democratic activities of the Member States will further increase the erosion of the rule of law.
The panellists also highlighted the role of information in the influence exerted internally and from outside the EU as well. Disinformation will spread further as technology advances, making it essential to find the means of countering the power of false information. The EU should improve its communications and marketing so that European citizens would have access to credible information from a reliable source.
The promotion of the rule of law and respect for European values lay the foundation for the confidence that allows the EU to act for the benefit of all the Member States, regions and their citizens. We are the European Union.