At the beginning of this week I had my first official visit to Finland. I was particularly happy for the opportunity to visit and discuss several interesting projects in Finland funded by the European Structural and Investment Funds and to see what results Cohesion Policy has brought to lives of the Finnish people.
During the first day of my visit, I had the pleasure to meet and talk to the people from Rovaniemi, Lapland, but also with the stakeholders and with the regional authorities. I started my day with the Citizens Dialogue event, the first one that ever took place in Lapland, in the beautiful building Arktikum. It was a fascinating experience for me to listen to their views, concerns and ideas about the European integration. I also found out about all their ideas to prepare and implement in their region successful projects with EU Funds. I was impressed mostly by the smart way they have succeeded to turn all the challenges and obstacles of the arctic region into strengths.
As a Commissioner for Regional Policy, how could I not be proud of the good results of the implementation of the European Structural Investment Funds in Lapland for period 2007-2013: the programme contributed to create 14.500 new jobs and 2.000 new SMEs.
Lapland is also a good example of using European Regional Development Fund for innovation. During the meeting I had with the regional authorities, I congratulated them for their determination and their efforts in developing the Arctic Smart Specialisation Strategy: a sustainable tourism strategy building on the unique environment of the region. I truly think this strategy is a unique and special way to improve the attractiveness of the Lapland region, creating new opportunities, growth and economic development.
At the same time, being tourism a key element in Lapland, Smart Specialisation Strategy is really a strong point for the region and for the country. Benefiting from the EU funds, Lapland developed a Smart Tourism framework based on its local attractions and opportunities. Santa Claus has many places where he lives, but Rovaniemi has managed to become his hometown in an innovative way. And after meeting Santa Claus, I have to admit that indeed, the North of Finland is not an ordinary destination!
But Lapland is a rich region also because of the Sami people living here. I am particularly glad that ESI Funds contribute and promote Sámi culture, language and traditions. This is one of the reasons I encouraged the Sami to dedicate their effort to fully utilise the 2014-2020 programme.
The second day of my visit to Finland was dedicated to discussions with the members of the Finnish Parliament and meetings with the national authorities in Helsinki. The main topics during the discussions: how Cohesion Policy is supporting investment in the knowledge economy, the state of play regarding the implementation of the 2014-2020 programming period and Cohesion Policy post 2020. Given Finland's leading role in innovation, I talked with Olli Rehn, Minister of Economy about the possibility for Finland to host a high-level conference on innovation in the Baltic Sea region this autumn, with the focus on closer cooperation in business, research, administration and civil society.
My first visit to Finland gave me the opportunity to see for myself how European Funds are delivering results on the ground, to the benefit of Finnish citizens. I am impressed of the excellent work of Finnish authorities in implementing ESI Funds and hope they will keep up the good work. More than this, I count on them to join me in my efforts of preparing Cohesion Policy post 2020.