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Finland absent from EU countries' call to fast-track climate measures

Nine countries announced they want the whole EU to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Saksan liittokansleri Angela Merkel keskusteli pääministeri Juha Sipilän (kesk.) kanssa EU-huippukokouksessa Romanian Sibiussa.
German chancellor Angela Merkel with Juha Sipilä. The countries of both leaders skipped the EU climate letter. Image: Ludovic Marin / EPA

Finland will not be signing a declaration by nine other EU countries calling for the rapid reduction of greenhouse gases across the union.

The letter's signatories propose that the European Union commit to becoming carbon neutral by the year 2050 and direct a quarter of its next seven-year budget to combat global warming.

The joint letter was released at a summit in Sibiu, Romania, on Wednesday. The climate stance was signed by the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Latvia, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Germany, the EU's largest member state, and all of Eastern Europe are also not among the signers.

Outgoing caretaker prime minister Juha Sipilä said he refused to sign the letter because of Finland's upcoming EU presidency, which begins in July.

"We're so close to Finland taking up the chair that we have to avoid joining in letters like these," he said. "We must make compromises. This is the only reason we are not involved."

No discussion

Despite not signing the climate demands, Sipilä still claimed that Finland is committed in principle to more ambitious climate policies.

Parliament's Grand Committee did not discuss the letter while preparing for the Sibiu summit, nor have there been any inter-party talks on the matter since the parliamentary elections. Yle sources said that both the Social Democratic Party and the Green League consider the prime minister's avoidance of the climate letter problematic. The two parties are now engaged in government formation talks with Sipilä's Centre Party.

Sipilä said he believes that as EU president, Finland could promote some sort of compromise, but he went on to call the attitudes of many member countries "very uncooperative".

"Finland has some aces up its sleeve," Sipilä said.

The outgoing premier said his personal goal is to see a carbon-neutral EU by 2050, as the letter insists.

Last December every Finnish political party except for the Finns Party promised to pursue stricter European emissions targets. However, Finland was also one of the few EU countries where emissions actually rose last year (+1.9%), according to Eurostat.

Environment Minister: Refusal won't affect Finland's policies

Kimmo Tiilikainen, Environment Minister for the interim government, said on Friday that not signing the climate letter was the correct move for Sipilä and will not affect Finland's climate politics in the EU at all.

"Finland is for carbon neutrality by 2050. That official position is clear to everyone," Tiilikainen said.

The minister said that staying out of the climate missive is in line with good EU presidency practices; the incoming chair ought not join in smaller coalitions of countries, Tiilikainen said, for the sake of streamlining the presidency.

"We have to learn the unwritten rules of EU decision-making and how to serve the union successfully. There's still a ways to go," he added.

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