Minna Karhunen 3 Jan 2022

2022 is a year of celebration

The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA) is a national lobbying organisation with expertise in almost all areas of life. We protect the interests of Finnish cities and municipalities, and an important part of that work is EU lobbying. Whenever I have a chance, I wish to point out that most of the matters decided by local authorities somehow stem from Brussels.

This year marks 30 years since the AFLRA opened an office in Brussels. We led the way already before Finland joined the EU in 1995. With our own office there, we can influence matters early on when there is the best chance of impact. Our goal is to ensure that the legislation affecting Finnish local authorities is effective and sensible and takes account of the different circumstances of cities and municipalities.

The wide differences across the Member States, for example in culture, the economy, competitiveness and geography, make it challenging to pursue common interests and goals. Often the confrontation is between the south and the north or the east and the west. The interests and ambitions vary across the Union. The AFLRA can more easily find like-minded partners in the Baltic Sea region than in the Mediterranean countries.

The AFLRA takes an active role in EU lobbying

Many factors contribute to the success of our lobbying efforts. A daily presence in Brussels helps us to establish and maintain cooperation networks. Cooperation gives us a louder voice to champion issues, making success easier to achieve. Direct and often more informal interaction is a good way to build trust — the cornerstone of effective advocacy.

We use multiple lobbying channels to make an impact. Direct contacts are important because interaction between people is at the core of the Union's work. We cooperate with our umbrella organisation the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and other local government associations. We also coordinate the work of the Finnish delegation of the Committee of the Regions (CoR).

The CoR brings local views to legislative drafting in the EU, as it must be consulted on all matters that concern municipalities and regions. The CoR’s Finnish delegation works actively and has representatives in prominent positions. A member of the Finnish delegation served as the CoR’s President some years ago, and we are also currently holding the chairmanship of one of the committees. Finnish representatives have been given the opportunity to draft several opinions. Among the most recent ones I would like to mention the opinions concerning homelessness and the rights of the child.

A strong, well-functioning EU listens to citizens

For the credibility and future of the EU, the Union needs to have the support of the citizens of its member states. We should therefore bear in mind the principle of subsidiarity — the idea that matters that are close to the people should be handled and decided as close to the people as possible, even if the objectives have been agreed on at the EU level. This way the citizens could have a sense of being a part of decision-making and belonging in a wider community. Changes in the division of powers between the EU and the Member States must be carefully considered so as not to put a weapon in the hands of the Union’s opponents. A well-functioning European Union ensures many benefits to Finland and our cities and municipalities; something we would not have without a membership. 

We all have an interest in supporting the Union so that it can justify its existence in the future. The Conference on the Future of Europe is one of the opportunities that the Commission has given us for raising important issues in support of decision-making. We will learn more about the results in the spring.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Brussels Office, we will host a series of seminars around different themes. The year will culminate in a reception for our stakeholders in Brussels.

 

Author

Minna Karhunen is CEO of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities.