The Past, The Present, and Who Knows What’s Next for The EU

by Violetta Teetor

The sun beams down on Luxembourg Square where Members of the European Parliament, journalists, and visitors spill out of these halls of power to enjoy the simplicity of a warm day. This Monday follows a weekend of celebration in Rome commemorating the founding of the European Union and the signing of the Treaty of Rome sixty years ago. This same day also precedes the imminent triggering of Article 50 by the UK beginning their divorce process from the EU. Stuck in the middle of this love/hate environment, one wonders how sunny the future of this union of 28 countries will turn out to be. The Association of European Journalists in conjunction with the European Parliament Press service tried to find answers to complex questions in a seminar entitled Europe 60 years after the Rome Treaty: What does the future hold for the European Union?

AEJ seminar ‘Future of Europe’

In order to look forward, we have to look back, and it’s the view of Rebecca Haarms, MEP representing The Greens European Free Alliance, that besides the initial mandate of securing peace between neighbouring countries, a lot more has been achieved. Testament to this were the marches for a united Europe held in France and Rome. Singing from the same song sheet were the protests of the people of Minsk and Moscow expressing their distaste for corruption, hoping for more free and just societies. Haarms recognises the challenges of security, refugees, climate change and youth unemployment that lie ahead urging us to face the fact that no one country can face these on their own and that now, more than ever, we need unity and integration.

According to Jozef Weidenholzer, a Social Democrat from Austria and MEP, the EU is not over as success cannot be measured in a linear fashion. There have been many ‘setbacks, sidesteps and stalemates’ and while the single market has achieved gains, now is the time to focus on the citizens, on their satisfaction and on whether they are being fairly treated. Opportunities need to be created and digitalisation should be seen as an opportunity leading to a single digital market without roaming fees.

The EU has not always been a beacon of equality and the member states have come to the realisation that some are more equal than others. Liberalism and illiberalism exist within the framework and, while the EU strives to cover everyone under one umbrella, the West cannot try to educate its eastern neighbours. György Schöplin, Hungarian MEP for the European People’s Party, maintains that the narrative working for Western Europe does not work for Eastern Europe and the voices of the latter are weaker even though they share the same problems; those of xenophobia and populism. There will never be a conflict-free world but we need to find a compromise in which everybody gains.

Euro-skepticism has grown out of this very inequality and, while strides have been made to improve the lives of people, it has lost sight of the citizens it serves. To restore this, the European Citizens Initiative was launched in which one million EU citizens can make proposals for changes to EU policies through the European Commission. Sadly however, out of 58 proposals, not a single one has produced a change in legislation. Eduard Kukan, European People’s Party MEP, sees the need for closer communication with the person in the street and how positively influential the EU can be in their daily lives. He is optimistic about the future and proclaims the message of peace the founding fathers and mothers propagated which, he adds, is not easy or cheap. In spite of this, it has been maintained.

It was clear after World War II that ‘nationalism never brought any good’ to Europe nor beyond. Security, equal opportunity, economic growth, and the protection of minorities are goals which most of us would promulgate, including Sirpa Pietikäinen, MEP from Finland. It is a social pillar for human rights which makes Europe a haven for refugees from war torn countries.

A ‘more and better Europe’ is the proclamation from many of the speakers at this seminar, but it will take political will to come out of this ‘cronified tunnel’, the words of Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D Spain). EU bashing by the members themselves has to stop and the huge challenge ahead is the testing and the advocating of stated goals. It is simply too easy to point a finger when the troubles are often embedded in societies themselves. In the grand scheme of things, the EU is only a small part of the big world out there and sticking together is what will ultimately be our saving grace. The willingness and conviction to stand up for the principles and rules of the Treaty of Lisbon, the reform treaty of the European Union, is going to take energy, passion, and most of all, an optimistic outlook to reinvent itself.

Juan Fernando López Aguilar

Posted in Articles | Leave a comment

A Visit To Altia

by Violetta Teetor

It took the best part of an hour to get from Helsinki to Altia’s Rajamäki bottling and manufacturing plant but it was well worth the trek. We were greeted by the following, “You are very special”. It came from the mouth of Juha Kahima who had a broad smile, even more than usual since it was his last day of work. After 29 years as a chemist and quality controller, he could finally stop setting the alarm clock.

All dressed up and ready to enter the plant at Altia

We were given a lecture on what Altia does at this factory where they not only bottle wine from all over the world but also put it in bag-in-box. The wine arrives at the harbour in 26 000 litre plastic bags and is then transported to Rajamäki. They also produce their own liquor using Finnish barley and ground water protected by Altia who owns the land from whence it comes. The famous Koskenkorva, clear Finnish-type hooch, is made in the eponymous town where Martti Koskenkorva’s family and others first started distilling it. The land for the Altia distillery was bought from Martti but today it is bottled at this plant. Several other alcohol products are made from scratch on the premises including Scandinavia’s version of mulled wine called Blossa, a surprise to many since most people think it’s made in Sweden. They may have a point since the recipe and brand come from across the waters and the Master Blender is in the employ of Altia Sweden but in effect it’s blended and bottled at the Rajamäki plant.

Wine for bag-in-box arrive at Altia plant in 26 000 litre plastic bags

Boxed, bagged and waiting for delivery

Lunch was served at Altia’s headquarters in Ruoholahti where we were treated to a tasting of their Finland 100 Years products including champagne, white and red wine and a special version of Jaloviina, a cut brandy which has been aged in Finnish oak for six months, and cumin-flavoured Koskenkorva. We were assured of the fact that no trees were cut to manufacture the casks. On departing, we were each given a bottle of True Colours Cava, a great way to end this sunny spring day.

Altia’s Finland 100 selection

Posted in Articles | Leave a comment