Just 48 hours after taking office, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin spoke to reporters on arrival in Brussels on Thursday afternoon. She will represent European Council president Finland at a series of summit meetings over the next two days. Finnish media representatives were told there would only be time for one or two questions during the brief press conference.
The first question concerned the new government's stance on the possible return of Finnish family members of Isis fighters from the al-Hol camp in northern Syria.
The issue has been the focus of intense debate in Finland over the past week or so. Back in Helsinki, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto of the Greens briefed politicians from Marin's Social Democratic Party and main coalition partners the Centre on Thursday amid accusations of secrecy and confusion regarding repatriation plans. Opposition MPs grilled cabinet ministers about it during parliamentary question time that afternoon ahead of a confidence vote next Tuesday.
When a reporter from business daily Kauppalehti began asking about al-Hol, she was cut off by the Finnish Council of State's long-time Head of Communications for EU Affairs, Anne Sjöholm. She announced that Marin would only answer questions pertaining to the EU meetings.
Carbon neutrality by 2050 "feasible"
Marin did discuss the main topic of the summit, a political commitment for the EU to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. She said that the target was feasible and the overall climate agreement would require compromises from everyone.
Nuclear power, which Marin opposes, has emerged as a divisive issue between member states. On Wednesday, France and seven Eastern European countries blocked a deal struck last week by the Finnish presidency over concerns that nuclear investments would be hindered if atomic power is not classed as “green and sustainable”.
Marin also evaluated the waning six-month Finnish presidency, which began just weeks after a new Finnish government took office in June with her as transport minister and SDP colleague Antti Rinne as premier. On Tuesday Marin succeeded Rinne at the helm of virtually the same cabinet. The presidency term has been overshadowed at home by months of labour unrest which led to Rinne's resignation, and more broadly by the ongoing Brexit turmoil and a handover in power in the European Council.
"We have done good work during a difficult turning point," she said. "I think that Finland has succeeded well as president during this difficult situation."
Finland has come under criticism for its proposal for the EU's multi-annual budget, including for excessive agricultural subsidies in 2021-27.