Good afternoon, I am delighted to be here in Helsinki. Let me start by thanking Prime Minister Juha Sipilä for his great hospitality.
We have just ended a good and fruitful meeting, the first part of our meeting, during which we discussed some of the most pressing issues for both Finland and Europe as a whole.
These are truly testing times for the European Union with many existential threats and challenges confronting us: the massive influx of refugees and migrants, terrorism, an aggressive Russian foreign policy, the continuing global economic challenges, and last but not least, the risk of “brexit”. The European Union is not and cannot be a fair-weather project. It is also made for rainy days, like here today, which we are demonstrating through our concerted efforts to tackle our common problems, one by one, together.
On the migration and refugee crisis we have managed to close the Western Balkan route, by starting to re-apply our common Schengen rules and by cooperating with Turkey. We have moved from almost 7.000 daily arrivals from Turkey to the Greek islands in October last year, to less than 50 per day in the last month. It shows that our strategy delivers. The June European Council will focus on how to return the economic migrants coming from Africa to Europe via the Central Mediterranean. Let me in this context recognise Finland as a front-runner in terms of relocating people. You have already fulfilled around a third of your national commitment and deserve credit for that. Likewise, other Member States need to step up and honour their commitments and follow Finland’s example.
On Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, we have stayed the course, keeping our unity despite systematic attempts to undermine it. Our principle political message has been heard throughout the neighbourhood and beyond. Sanctions on Russia continue to be linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
We are also working to broaden and deepen our security agenda with NATO. In the run-up to the NATO Warsaw summit, we are working to take our EU-NATO cooperation to a new level of ambition, in very practical ways. EU Member States and NATO Allies face the same challenges, and our responses need to be synchronised. I would like to thank Finland for being so forthcoming, even enthusiastic, in these discussions, including on stepped up action to tackle hybrid and cyber threats.
On the economic and financial crisis Europe has responded over the last years by supporting the efforts of the most affected countries to reform their economies. At the same time, institutional changes such as the banking union have made us more resilient. However we need to work harder to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness and growth prospects and thank you for your support in this context . The Single Market, in particular the Digital Single Market, offer huge, still unexploited sources of durable growth. We need swift and determined progress on these issues. Therefore a strong message to this effect should be coming out of the June European Council. I know I have Juha’s full support in this endeavour. I hope it will be effective.
And lastly on the question of the UK referendum. History has taught us that we were always defeated when divided. And that we always won when we stood united. Europe without the United Kingdom will be distinctly weaker. This is obvious. Equally obvious is that the UK outside the EU will be distinctly weaker too. Instead of seven years of political limbo and uncertainty in our relations, which will be the inevitable and direct result of “brexit”, we can have a fast and lasting less than one year implementation of the new settlement for the UK in the EU, negotiated by David Cameron. The UK has achieved a position of a key state in the EU, whose voice is respected. Today more than ever before. Many of the British ideas about the EU are gaining support all over Europe. There are so many things we can do together. Leaving now doesn’t make any sense. Thank you.