Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) was photographed arriving for an EU leaders’ summit on Brexit, migration and eurozone reforms at the EU headquarters in Brussels on 28 June 2018. (Credit: Ludovic Marin – AFP/Lehtikuva)
Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) was photographed arriving for an EU leaders’ summit on Brexit, migration and eurozone reforms at the EU headquarters in Brussels on 28 June 2018. (Credit: Ludovic Marin – AFP/Lehtikuva)


“Finland is a more ordinary member state than it is perhaps willing to concede,” concludes a report on the country’s reputation in the European Union by the European Policy Centre (EPC), an independent not-for-profit think tank based in Brussels.

EPC on Tuesday pointed out that although the country has for years encouraged a narrative of itself as a constructive, unconditionally pro-integration member of the 28-country bloc, the narrative is not necessarily reflective of its domestic efforts to, for example, contribute to and benefit from the single market.

The EU Single Market Scoreboard shows that Finland has reduced its compliance deficit from 0.8 to 0.7 per cent, a level that remains higher than both the EU average of 0.6 per cent and the single market target of 0.5 per cent.

Marco Giuli, Annika Hedberg and Paul Ivan of EPC interpret this as evidence that, in spite of its verbal support for the single market, the country has neither implemented nor enforced EU rules more dutifully than others.

“Finland would benefit from practising at home what it preaches in Brussels,” the authors state.

Do more in terms of recycling

Finland, similarly, has yet to fully live up to its self-promoted reputation as a frontrunner in the circular economy. It currently ranks close to the EU average in terms of waste generation and below the EU average in terms of waste management and recycling.

“A closer look at recycling shows that more remains to be done,” the report reads.

Although Finland has reported the highest recycling rate for paper and cardboard packaging, it has also reported one of the lowest rates for both wooden packaging recycling – 14.4 per cent compared to the union average of 39.8 per cent – and plastic recycling – 25.4 per cent compared to the average of 42.4 per cent.

The country’s approach to bio-based materials is also flawed, according to EPC.

“The current policy framework and incentives in place encourage burning wood for energy and turning valuable bio-based materials – that could be used for other higher-value purposes – into biofuels. This is contradictory to the objectives of the circular economy, which seeks to extend the value of products and resources for as long as possible and use them for energy only as a last resort,” it explains.

The use of biomass for energy production additionally contributes to increasing rather than decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, thus undermining the climate mitigation and air quality objectives of Europe.

Finland, on the other hand, does excel in promoting eco-innovation and has produced clean-technology solutions that help to improve energy efficiency, product and material recycling, waste management, renewable and bio-energy production, and bio-based manufacturing.

“Finland ranks second in the WWF Global Cleantech Innovation Index because it provides favourable economic, social and environmental conditions for innovation,” highlight Giuli, Hedberg and Ivan.

“Meanwhile, challenges remain in getting products and services to the market due to long payback periods and uncertain returns over investment.”

Show more ambition in terms of climate

Finland is also encouraged to adopt a more ambitious and comprehensive approach to reducing emissions and transforming its energy system.

While the country expects renewable energy to account for 50 per cent of final energy consumption and expects to reduce emissions from sectors not covered by the emissions trading scheme by 39 per cent by 2030, the targets are not as ambitious as those adopted elsewhere in the Nordics, according to EPC.

Denmark, for example, has set the target of using renewable energy sources to produce all electricity and heating by 2035 and Sweden the target of using renewable energy sources to produce all electricity by 2040.

“As for emissions, all Nordic countries except Finland envisage carbon neutrality by 2050,” the report reads.

“In areas not covered by the [emissions trading scheme], Finland is expected to miss its 16 per cent reduction target for 2020. This failure is especially unfortunate since the goal was already less ambitious than in other Nordic countries.”

EPC also draws attention to the problems arising from the emphasis placed on the development of advanced biofuels in Finland, warning that the approach may lead to unwanted consequences for the industry, environment and climate.

It points out that introducing incentives for using bio-based materials for fuel can undermine efforts to use such resources for purposes with higher added value. Promoting the use of biofuels in transport, in turn, will also increase the use of diesel and biodiesel, raising harmful nitrogen oxide and fine particle emissions.

Other EU member states, meanwhile, are shifting away from diesel and showing a growing interest in the electrification of transport.

“Finland’s advocacy for biofuels and the incentives it provides for using bio-based materials as a source of energy raise wider economic, societal and environmental concerns. Using valuable resources for energy undermines the objectives of the circular economy. The emissions contribute to climate change as well as air pollution,” says EPC.

The report was partly funded by the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK).

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

Finland in the world press

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