The change in Europe was discussed on the first day of Kultaranta Talks: “The most central question is, what do we have in common?”

Photo: Juhani Kandell/Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö and Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the 2019 Kultaranta Talks by discussing the change and future of Europe. In his opening remarks, President Niinistö challenged the audience to think what Europe has in common.

Organised for the seventh time now, the Kultaranta Talks have an interesting timing, said both Presidents in the opening discussion on 16 June. Finland has a new government, and Europeans have new representatives in Brussels. Moreover, Finland is getting ready for the EU Presidency. “This is a good moment to reflect on Europe’s challenges and the major tasks facing our continent and our Union,” President Steinmeier said.

The Presidents agreed that the EU will have many challenges to rise to. “The world’s political and economic centre of gravity is moving away from Europe. Europe has to reassess some of its own fundamental assumptions and to rethink its relations with the world’s major powers,” President Steinmeier said.

“The vision for the future is not very clear. It would be a surprise if we didn’t get any surprises in near future. Those are very difficult to predict, and that’s a demanding task for the European Union. The most central question is, whether we still have something in common. We should remind ourselves why we are together,” President Niinistö said.

Facing financial influence

In his speech, President Steinmeier mentioned superpowers and China, saying that while China is becoming closer to Europe, it is getting politically more distant. “How do we want this relationship to develop within the dynamics between the US, China, Russia, and Europe? Are we able to maintain our cohesion as the European Union?”

President Niinistö continued the thought by also analysing the financial influence of China from the point of view of the rules-based international system.  He said that countries can be seduced by economic elements to forget the rules-based order. “Maintaining the cohesion will not be an easy task for the EU.”

From disintegration to cohesion

In their discussion, the Presidents also mentioned Brexit and the dividing lines it has created in Europe. President Steinmeier believed that the Europeans would be ready to learn the lesson from the Brexit. “If not the Europeans, who else would fight for the European cohesion?”

President Niinistö said that he is happy to see that the discussion on security and defence issues in the EU has started.  “What kind of a union is a union which is based on outside help?”

While the Presidents discussed the challenges of European cooperation at length, they both agreed that there is no reason to be overly pessimistic. “It is our duty as presidents to be optimistic,” President Steinmeier said. President Niinistö agreed: “More and more political leaders are going back to the roots and understand that we do have a lot in common. And what we have in common, is becoming increasingly more important. When we recognise the common nominators, it will be easier to settle arguments.”