It is a great honour and a personal pleasure to address the committee today and I thank members very much for inviting me. It is an important part of my representation of the Presidency in Ireland. The European Union's future success depends on the support of its people. The Members of the European Parliament are taking care of the oversight of the European Union in Brussels but the national parliaments and their members play a huge role in two respects, in my opinion: first, Deputies and Senators, in the case of Ireland, have an important role in scrutinising the Government's policies before and after the Council sessions; and, second, they are the people who are actually connecting to the people of Ireland in their constituencies to explain to them what is the role of the EU, what the EU is doing and what the EU stands for and does not stand for. They are also the ones who can listen to the people and hear their demands on what the EU should be doing. I understand that Ireland is doing a very avant-garde job with the alliance building work that this committee is doing, and I commend it for that.
A question frequently asked by taxpayers in Finland is, "How much does EU membership cost me?" In the case of Ireland, I understand that, according to the statistics, it is around €36 and, in the case of Finland, it is around €50, which, in my opinion, is not too big a sum of money for the benefits we get from the EU. However, this also has to be explained to the people, given the social media environment in this country and in mine. Support for the EU is very strong in Ireland and in Finland, where over 80% of the people identify themselves as EU citizens. This is a good position in which to be.
The human capital in Europe and the well-functioning Single Market are key to EU success. However, what really makes us the EU are our common values. Finland, as President, wants to strengthen these values and the rule of law during our Presidency.
We also want to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive, as only in this way can we achieve our third goal, which is to strengthen the EU's position as a global leader in climate action.
Perhaps the most important thing that people demand of leaders here and in other countries is security. Finland, therefore, intends to promote the protection of our citizens comprehensively. Finland also aims to be an active and pragmatic broker. The keywords for our Presidency are: solution-driven, concrete results, sustainability and a rules-based system. Our Presidency slogan, as members may be aware, is "Sustainable Europe, Sustainable Future". However, unlike many other slogans, we intend to put this slogan into practice.
We will all have an exciting time with the new European Parliament, new European Commission, rule of law, human rights, the next multi-annual financial framework, MFF, and of course, there is Brexit, which Ireland knows the best and is perhaps expecting the hardest hits in economic terms. Yesterday we learned the new contingency plan from the Irish Government and how it is preparing for the now even likelier outcome of a no-deal Brexit.
I will say a few words now about the priorities of the Finnish EU Presidency. Finland believes that we need to strengthen our common values and the rule of law if we wish the EU to preserve its founding principles. We should not forget that the European success stories have always been anchored in democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law. Our values have not been and should never be for sale. Europe is at a crossroads and things are getting tough. We know that our unity makes us stronger and is the key to success but we have difficulties in agreeing on this in practice and how to act together. We know that by acting together and defending our shared values, the EU can tackle the major challenges facing us.
Finland also wishes to make the EU more competitive and socially inclusive. The key elements to achieving this are: the Single Market, ambitious, open and rules-based free trade; well-being and skills as a foundation for inclusive and sustainable growth; and economic union. The special focus should be on youth employment and the inclusion of young people because we cannot afford to lose a generation.
On climate change, the EU has a unique opportunity but also a responsibility to show leadership. Finland therefore wants to strengthen the EU's position as a global leader in climate action. This means many commitments and committing to making the EU carbon-neutral by 2050. Finland in its Presidency will facilitate the process in order to define the key elements of the EU's long-term climate strategy in the European Council by the end of this year. Generating sustainable growth and boosting employment is possible with the help of bioeconomy and circular economy.
A further priority is to protect our citizens comprehensively. To deliver on this is of utmost importance if we wish to maintain the trust of our people in the European institutions. The EU needs to strengthen its security and defence co-operation to protect its citizens. We, as chair, will underline a comprehensive approach to security. We also will be working to countering hybrid and cyber threats, which we believe is also an important topic here in Ireland, given the numerous multinationals that have their headquarters here.
We Finns are known to be quite straightforward people. We mean what we say and sometimes we say what we mean and that is not always wise. Therefore, as we have signed up to climate action in our Presidency programme, we aim to follow this up also in the organising of EU meetings. We intend to organise and arrange these meetings with the smallest possible carbon footprint. In addition, we will offset some of the carbon emissions caused by the air travel to many meetings in Brussels and Helsinki, by not handing out gifts. We are sorry for the individuals who will receive no ties or scarves but it is for the benefit of the Earth.
We will be funding four projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, that is, in Honduras, Laos, Uganda and Vietnam, to produce clean energy and reduce deforestation. We also will aim to reduce energy consumption by serving only tap water in meetings, serving more vegetarian dishes and cutting down on food waste. Since we here in Dublin are part of the Presidency team, we have made our own list in our residence for the Presidency as to how we can better serve the cause of sustainable development and we encourage other embassies to do the same, and why not the Dáil? Small steps lead to bigger steps but only if all join in. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste.