A review of transport and communications during Finland’s Presidency

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU will end at the turn of the year and we will hand over the baton to Croatia. Our presidency has been successful in the transport and communications sector, both in terms of taking forward the legislative issues on table and making a longer-term strategic impact.

The Finnish Presidency took place in the beginning of new legislative cycle and Finland was the first country to introduce the new Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 into the Council’s work. The European Parliament, which was elected in the spring, began its work in July and a new Commission was appointed at the beginning of December. Shortly after their appointment, the new transport and internal market commissioners took part in the Transport and Telecommunications Council meeting on 2‒3 December 2019.

The institutional transition in the EU’s legislative work offered Finland the opportunity to raise awareness of issues that we consider important in the long term. Within the transport and communications sector, we identified four key themes for promoting wellbeing and sustainable growth. These include the promotion of carbon-free transport, digital transport services, transport automation and the data economy. We highlighted these issues in the Transport and Telecommunications Council meetings, and they were in a pivotal role in all of our events.

Key themes of climate change and digitalisation

Responding to climate change became a focus of the Presidency after the European Council asked the Council of Europe and the Commission to promote a transition to a climate neutral European Union in its June meeting. The partiesto the Paris Agreement are obliged to draft long-term climate plans and to submit them to the UN by 2020. At the European Council meeting in December, the EU countries made a commitment to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050.

Transport plays a significant role in reducing emissions and responding to climate change is one of the major transformations facing the transport sector. It was therefore important that, following Finland’s initiative, the transport ministers held a comprehensive discussion on emission reduction measures for all modes of transport for the first time at the Transport Council meeting in September. Until now, such discussions have only taken place among the ministers of the environment.

We were able to promote the topical issue of digitalisation and the opportunities it provides in the European transport and communications sector. In order to make full use of the growth potential of the growing amounts of data and technological development, we held policy discussions on the development of digital transport services and the data economy at the Transport and Telecommunications Council. In addition, the Transport Council discussed the future of the Single European Sky (SES). As a result of the discussion, the Council agreed to reopen the partial general approach on the Single European Sky (SES2+) and invited the Commission to update the proposed act.

We also promoted digitalisation of transport together with the Commission at the popular Digital Transport Days, which brought about 1,000 experts from across Europe to Helsinki in October.

Legislation and international meetings

Finland also advanced legislative issues in the Transport and Telecommunications Council and in trilogue negotiations between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission during the autumn. Under Finland’s Presidency, agreement was reached on the proposal for a regulation on electronic freight transport information and the regulation on energy labelling of tyres.

The Council reached a general approach on the regulation on rail passengers’ rights and obligations and on the administrative procedures of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). The parties to the trilogue negotiations came to a preliminary agreement on the social and market aspects of the mobility package, but a final approval of the Parliament and the Council is still required.  

The Telecommunications Council adopted the Council’s conclusions on the opportunities and cyber security risks of 5G technology. Finland also published the principles of a human-centred data economy following the highly popular data economy conference.

In addition, several international meetings kept the Ministry and Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom busy. The ICAO Assembly reached a global agreement on civil aviation issues and the Universal Postal Union settled on international terminal dues affecting e-commerce in its extraordinary congress in September. In November and December, officials worked on frequency questions at the World Radiocommunication Conference and on maritime issues at the IMO General Assembly.

Open communications and sustainable meeting arrangements

We adhered to a number of key principles throughout the presidency, which reflected Finland’s general objectives for the period. Finland has communicated about the presidency actively, transparently and quickly. Furthermore, the legislative and policy discussions at the Transport and Telecommunications Council were public.

We also put the sustainability perspective into practice by paying particular attention to sustainable meeting arrangements during the Presidency. In addition, Finland did not give out traditional presidency gifts but instead provided the member states with a free AI course in all the official languages of the Council.

The feedback received from the member states, the Commission and the stakeholders has been very positive and encouraging. There has been a marked need to initiate new, forward-looking debates, and consequently the issues we have brought up have been considered important for the entire Europe.

It goes without saying that issues of such complexity cannot be solved during Finland’s Presidency that only lasts six months. The perspectives brought up by Finland and the initiatives made by it will nevertheless contribute to finding common European solutions and provide new tools for future Commission initiatives in the transport and communications sector.

The themes we have stressed are already largely present in the first move of the Commission of Ursula von der Leyen, the Green Deal communication that was released on 11 December 2019. It proposes various actions to reform the EU economy and solve the sustainability crisis. The proposed measures for transport emissions reductions include many solutions highlighted by Finland, such as promoting digital transport services and automation, enhancing distribution networks for alternative fuels and reforming the SES legislative package in the field of aviation.

I truly hope that the Finnish Presidency will be remembered for the fruitful future-oriented discussions it launched in support of sustainable development and people’s wellbeing in Europe. Transport and communications will act as facilitators in these efforts, as the new legislative period of the EU is now heading for a good start.

Taina Pieski
The author is Director of the International Affairs Unit at the Ministry of Transport and Communications

Kirjoittanut: Taina Pieski