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"The main thing is that they were able to make decisions": Finnish MEPs' assess EU's budget deal

The Finns Party did not like the recovery fund, but other MPs were annoyed that climate spending was reduced. 

Eero Heinäluoma, Ville Niinistö och Pirpa Pietikäinen
From left: MEPs Eero Heinäluoma (SDP), Ville Niinistö (Green) and Sirpa Pietikäinen (NCP).

A clear majority of Finnish members of the European parliament will show the green light to the deal agreed last week to establish a 750 billion euro stimulus fund, along with the bloc's 1.1 trillion euro budget for the 2021-2027 period.

The EU will spend 390 billion euros on grants to help member states recover from the pandemic and the recession, and offer loans totalling some 360 billion euros for the same purpose.

In the European Parliament's response to the package, legislators approved a resolution on Thursday that the budget deal was a good thing — but demanded changes as well.

Yle asked all fourteen Finnish MEPs how they feel about the deal. Eleven said they are favourable to the package, and three are deeply sceptical of the recovery fund.

Finns Party legislators Teuvo Hakkarainen and Laura Huhtasaari complained that they thought the fund would simply support countries who have not been balancing the books.

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11 of 14 MEPS support the EU budget and stimulus package.

Huhtasaari said that EU leaders should not be concerned about keeping Italy and other southern states in the common European currency, the euro.

"The euro is a flop that should be dismantled as soon as possible anyway," said Huhtasaari. "The 'Roman emperor' decided to tax the fools so that their own rich can continue their comfortable lives. Finland is left with the bill in the EU."

The two populists were outliers among the Finnish contingent of MEPs, however. Elsi Katainen (Cen) was favourable to the deal negotiated by Sanna Marin (SDP), while the other Centre Party MEP, Mauri Pekkarinen, is concerned that the recovery fund is just too big.

He would have preferred a total of some 500-600 billion euros.

"I don't support 390 billion euros of grants because of the legal problems and the risk of moral hazard," said Pekkarinen. "A smaller grant component would have sufficed."

Pekkarinen said that the package could not really be viewed as a coronavirus package as such, as the aid will be distributed based on economic figures gathered before the pandemic hit.

"Those who have broken the rules are supported and countries like Finland pay," said Pekkarinen.

Direct grants criticised

Many of those MEPs who support the package have criticised the amount of grants it contains, however.

Henna Virkkunen of the National Coalition party says that the recovery fund is a good thing, as stimulus of the European economy also benefits Finland, but she would have preferred the loan component to be larger in relation to the grants.

She also said it's a concern that a concrete decision on expanding the EU's so-called 'own resources' — tax-raising powers — was not reached.

If the additional tax-raising powers are not implemented as planned, that will leave a hole in the budget in future years as the EU struggles with debt. The EU Parliament resolution affirmed that MEPs would not give the budget the green light if the bloc's 'own resources' were not expanded.

"It's especially difficult to digest the reduced investment in research," said Virkkunen. "The fight against coronavirus has shown how important a role science and research are in responding to the big challenges facing humanity."

Compromises weaken the stimulus package overall

"The main thing is that they were able to make decisions on the recovery fund and budget," said Green Party MEP VIlle Niinistö, adding that the compromises necessary for the deal weakened the package overall.

"The focus on loans over grants led to reduced investments in the future, for example in research," said Niinistö. "That's a short-sighted choice."

His Green colleague Heidi Hautala was enthusiastic about the green investments and the statement on commitments to the rule of law contained in the package.

"It is historic that for the first time, the union is taking joint debt to achieve common goals and wants to fund this through its own resources such as single-use plastics, transaction taxes and a carbon tax," said Hautala.

Miapetra Kumupla-Natri (SDP) said that a deal reached by so many different negotiators could not be called perfect. She felt however that it was vital to create another significant source of stimulus alongside the European Central Bank and member states' own measures.

"When the worst is over, the success of the big economic blocs will be measured in jobs: is the EU growing, or is it China or the EU," said Kumpula-Natri.

Left Alliance MEP Silvia Modig said that the stimulus helps an export-orientated country like Finland.

"It's really unfortunate that the decisions reached at the summit weakened the package especially with regard to climate and research," said Modig.

Support for expanded EU role in future pandemics

Yle also asked the Finnish MEPs if they wanted the EU to have a bigger role in preventing and fighting future pandemics. Over the spring, member states took the lead and the EU's role remained something of a grey area.

The responses adhered to the usual split: the Finns Party representatives resist an expansion of EU responsibilities, while MEPs from the other parties support European co-operation.

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Most MPs support an expanded role for the EU in fighting pandemics.

Petri Sarvamaa (NCP) says that cooperation also has economic benefits.

"The more the EU coordinates member states' reactions to the next pandemic, the quicker and more flexibly member states' economies are able to respond," said Sarvamaa.

Elsi Katainen says that healthcare and social policy should remain the responsibility of member states, but the EU's role could be expanded in coordination of tasks and finding a common voice.

Eero Heinäluoma (SDP) said that the crisis revealed flaws in common preparedness and that everyone suffered as a result.

"We need a joint pandemic plan and also preparedness," said Heinäluoma. "Medical supplies and healthcare supplies should in future be stockpiled centrally as well, so that we can quickly send help to the first place the virus hits."

Sirpa Pietikäinen (NCP) said that member states' fragmented and contradictory response to the pandemic showed that the EU should have a stronger role and a joint infectious diseases regulation.

Laura Huhtasaari (Finns) meanwhile said that the pandemic showed that the EU had to be quicker to close its external borders in future.

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