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Finnish PM: EU "not ready" to re-open withdrawal deal with Britain

Calling the Brexit process a "mess", Antti Rinne says the EU is "not ready to open this agreement we have negotiated".

Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne and European Parliament President David Sassoli in Helsinki on 6 September 2019.
Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne and European Parliament President David Sassoli in Helsinki on 6 September 2019. Image: Lauri Heikkinen/Prime Minister's Office, Finland

At a press conference on Friday, Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne described the current situation regarding Brexit as a "mess" and said that the EU is not prepared to re-open the withdrawal agreement it negotiated with the UK last year.

Speaking alongside European Parliament President David Sassoli at Helsinki's House of the Estates on Friday, Rinne declined to answer directly when asked whether the EU would agree to another extension if Britain asks for one.

"I would say that the situation in Britain is quite [a] mess now. And we don't know what is happening there," he replied.

"It seems very obvious that we are not yet in Brexit with agreement. And we have here in Finland and also in the European Union level done work that we can manage that kind of situation also. And that means that we are ready for that kind of Brexit also. I hope that they can reach a situation where this can be solved so that there is no mess, but it seems not possible now," Rinne said in English.

"Open to discussing any initiative"

Replying in Italian, Sassoli said that "there is a lot of unity between the 27 member states to defend the deal, which we believe is the best deal possible. Of course we're open to discussing any initiative that may come forward."

"It's painful for us if the UK leaves the EU but if they're going to leave without a deal, then someone has to take responsibility for that and for the fact that in Ireland quite naturally a border will have to be put up. There is unity on the deal that we found. However we are open to hearing further proposals that may be put on the table," Sassoli added.

In response, Rinne said: "We're not ready to open this agreement we have negotiated between Britain and European Union."

Climate focus in talks

The two also returned several times to the issue of climate and emissions reductions, which Finland has set as the main theme of its European Council Presidency.

"We have a broad consensus on the need to [have] a strong emphasis on climate actions in the EU budget. I want to highlight the EU global climate leadership course for committing to climate neutrality by 2050," Rinne said.

Sassoli noted that "there are urgencies in that the general public is calling for major change when it comes to climate policy. We're going to do more. And we are going to have to be able to rise to the challenge of the threat that it poses," he said.

"The parliament has indicated a number of very ambitious objectives. A 55-percent cut in CO2 emissions is of course a huge challenge and so we'd very much like to see how the Commission intends to move forward with that...we've put our faith in these objectives and we hope that they will be kept too."

Climate, sustainable growth and the EU budget were the main topics earlier on Friday morning when Rinne and Sassoli met with the chairs of the European Parliament’s political groups and ministers from Rinne's centre-left cabinet.

Sassoli, a centre-left MEP since 2009, was elected as President of the European Parliament in early July, at the same time as Finland took over the six-month rotating presidency.

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