One of the key themes of President Martti Ahtisaari's New Year address was European economic and monetary union, EMU, and Finland's possible participation in it. The President spoke of EMU as a pillar of European economic stability. He pointed out that Finland's decision to take part or not would be made by parliament which would have to weigh the consequences of remaining outside EMU. President Ahtisaari regarded the strengthening of the EU as justified in international political terms. He spoke of the need for the EU to shoulder responsibility when the strength of a member state needed a boost. The President reiterated the remarks on security policy that he made in a speech in Keuruu (central Finland) in December. He emphasised that the Finnish government adhered to the view that the key to European security lay in economic and political integration. He regarded an enlarging and strengthening EU as the best partner for Russia and for other major players in the international community.
In a radio interview in Sweden, former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, contrary to Sweden's official position, urged Sweden to join the "new" NATO. He argued that it was wrong to shut the door to membership. In his view, membership should be discussed in Sweden and in Finland. The director of the Finnish Institute for International Relations, Tapani Vaahtoranta, said in an interview with the (Swedish-language, Helsinki) newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet that Bildt's overture had not sparked off discussion of Finland's possible membership of NATO among politicians. He believed that Finland would wait for Russia's reaction when NATO announced its enlargement plans in the summer. According to Vaahtoranta, there were big differences between the Finnish and Swedish starting points. Finland is a frontier country, whereas Sweden has Finland and the Baltic republics as a buffer between itself and Russia.
Taloustutkimus Oy (economic research organisation), commissioned by Eurooppalainen Suomi, (European Finland organisation) surveyed the level of support for EMU in late November and early December 1996. The survey revealed that 36% of Finns supported EMU, while 45% were opposed to it. One person in five was uncertain. Most sympathetic to EMU were conservative party supporters. The strongest opposition came from Left Wing Alliance supporters, 75% of whom were against EMU.
Defence minister Anneli Taina said at the opening of a national defence course in Helsinki that European economic and monetary union should not be assessed only from an economic standpoint. In her opinion, adoption of a common currency would strengthen Finland's international position. Ms Taina also commented on former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt's view that Sweden should make preparations to join NATO. In Taina's view, it was natural to discuss the matter in Finland, too.
Foreign minister Tarja Halonen said at a seminar in Seinäjoki (western Finland) that change had become a natural part of international politics. She advised Finns to get used to that situation because specifically our continent had changed dramatically. Echoing President Ahtisaari, Ms Halonen stated that geographical location alone no longer determined Finland's position in the international community. She still regarded the maintenance of good relations with its neighbours as the foundation stone of Finnish foreign policy. She recalled (the late President) Urho Kekkonen's reference to "the ability of small states to exert influence." A decisive difference between the present and the past was, she said, that we need less than before to simply adapt to developments around us. In her view, Finland will, in consequence, have a greater right and responsibility than before to exeret influence.
Hans van Mierlo, foreign minister of the Netherlands, which held the presidency of the EU, visited Finland. He stated that the Netherlands firmly believed that the agreement on reform of EU procedures, being prepared in the intergovernmental conference, would be ready on schedule at the summit meeting in Amsterdam in June. (Finnish foreign minister Tarja) Halonen expressed Finland's support for Holland's efforts to finalise the agreement and for its efforts to "create a strong Europe." Finland did not, however, support the idea of a federal Europe. Ms Halonen said Finland hoped that the Baltic states, particularly Estonia, would be taken into account in the first round of EU enlargement eastward.
In an interview with the newspaper Aamulehti, the minister of European affairs, Ole Norrback, said that the government should openly consider the possibility of NATO membership. He said it was odd that in Finland the possibility of membership was not even analysed when, at the same time, former communist countries were joining the organisation. Mr Norrback hoped that the government's forthcoming white paper on defence and security would evaluate various security policy options, including the possibility of joining (NATO). He said the main thing was for Finland not be left like a bystander, suddenly realising that it had been excluded from security arrangements. In Norrback's view, Finland and Sweden should walk in step on the NATO issue because the two countries' starting points in security policy were now considerably closer than during the Cold War. For her part, defence minister Taina told MTV 3 (Finnish commercial television) news that nothing had occurred that would give a reason to change (Finland's) policy of (military) non-alignment.
The Nordic countries delivered to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan a proposal for increasing the efficiency of the world organisation's economic and social sectors. The Nordic proposal complements similar suggestions put forward in EU circles. The Nordic countries proposed that the UN should unify, in an appropriate way, the operations and administration of UN agencies. In addition, the links between the UN's regulatory and executive branches should be strengthened.
Foreign minister Halonen took part in a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. At the meeting, the German and French foreign ministers, Klaus Kinkel and Hervé de Charette, confirmed that their countries stood shoulder to shoulder on EU integration. Kinkel regarded flexibility as the solution to the controversy between enlarging and deepening the EU. Flexibility had the backing of all member countries, including Finland. Foreign minister Halonen proposed the compilation of a list of areas in which flexibility would be permissible. Correspondingly, there should be a list of areas where flexibility was not permissible.
At the Geneva disarmament conference, the Finnish representative expressed Finland 's wish that the conference would discuss the prohibition of anti-personnel mines. The aim would be a world-wide and legally binding agreement that could be effectively monitored.
Speaking to reporters prior to a visit to the province of Uusimaa, President Martti Ahtisaari supported defence minister Taina's view that any future decision on EMU would have security policy implications. The President stated that on the issue of EMU Finland ought to be able to make independent decisions. He was not willing to get involved in the ongoing NATO debate, stating only that Finland was not seeking membership of the organisation.
The Grand Committee of Parliament, contrary to the view of finance minister (Sauli) Niinistö, decided that parliament could not adopt a position on EMU this spring. In the Committee's view, members of parliament could not make a decision on Finland's involvement in EMU until 1998, shortly before the EU summit that would decide which countries were eligible for monetary union. This was because the 1997 economic statistics determining the readiness of EU countries for EMU had to be examined by members of parliament before they could make a final decision.
Hans van den Broek, the EU commissioner responsible for matters relating to enlargement, speaking in the Netherlands at a seminar on the EU intergovernmental conference, said that he was prepared to significantly reduce the ability of small countries to exert influence within the Union. Then, the power of the three big countries - Germany, France and Britain - would increase. Another important issue was flexibility, in other words the ability of certain member countries to go forward on some matter more quickly than others, without the more cautious ones being allowed to use their veto to halt progress. Van den Broek linked the new division of power with flexibility. The commissioner proposed a system in which the right of veto would be granted only to Germany, France and Britain and only in cases where two of the three would use their vetoes together. Van den Broek said he was speaking as a private person and that his views did not reflect those of the EU Commission.
In an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera a day before his state visit to Italy, President Ahtisaari applied the brakes to speculation about Finland joining NATO. The President said that for Finland NATO membership was not a goal, nor was it every western country's "duty." In his view, for the time being it was sufficient for Finland to be European even though the Finns were aware that the EU was not a military alliance. The President added that the situation could change and Finland was keeping the NATO option open.
Foreign minister Halonen, who is also chairperson of the Council of Europe's committee of ministers, said at a Council meeting of parliamentarians in Strasbourg that enlargement of the EU did not inevitably mean that the Union's influence would be lessened. She said that a good example was the Council of Europe which, despite its enlargement, had gained influence on human rights issues.
President and Mrs Martti Ahtisaari paid an official visit to Italy at the invitation of President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. During the visit, President Ahtisaari had meetings with President Scalfaro and with Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The Finnish President also delivered a lecture at the institute of international relations mostly on matters concerning the European Union. He expressed opposition to the view of the EU commissioner for external affairs according to whom power in the EU should be concentrated in the big three members; Germany, France and Britain. President Ahtisaari also spoke about NATO membership. He saw no reason to change (Finland's) relationship with NATO and rejected the view that Finland should seek NATO membership.
The minister of defence, Ms Anneli Taina, said in an interview with the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that in the future the security of the whole of Europe would rest on NATO. Closer collaboration through NATO enlargement or through the partnership for peace programme would draw in all the countries of Europe either as members or via various types of partnership agreement. The minister stated that Finland was ready for an extended partnership for peace. Finland should also seek membership of the new partnership entity, the APC. She estimated that an extended partnership would offer Finland the possibility to act "more resolutely" in the NATO alliance. She also argued that participation in an expanded partnership for peace would have a positive influence on Finland's own security, in other words it would "improve Finland's military capability to act in its own crises in cooperation with NATO."
At the intergovernmental conference in Brussels delegates disagreed over which rules would be governed by flexibility. Member countries agreed unanimously that EU rules should permit some members to advance more quickly and further than others. Earlier in the week, Finland's EU ambassador, Antti Satuli, presented Finland's position to the institutional committee of (the European) parliament. Finland's ten-point programme includes a proposal that flexibility should be permitted to all member countries wishing to apply the principle. Special arrangements would not be adopted unless they were supported by a minimum number of countries, later to be decided. No new arrangements would be accepted in the basic regulations of the internal market; they should apply to all member countries in the same way. A small group of countries could advance more quickly than others, only temporarily, and only if it were absolutely essential to do so. Basic treaties could only be altered by unanimous decision and the Commission should be given the right to monitor, in the name of flexibility, the actions of countries that hurried ahead of the others.
Prime minister Paavo Lipponen took a stand on Finland's membership of NATO. He said that Finland still adhered to military non-alignment and independent defence. He saw no cause to re-examine Finland's chosen line. Most important, the prime minister stated, was for Finland's security policy choices to be in its own hands. It was also important that parliament and the public supported government policy. Finland intended to continue to work with NATO in order to strengthen stability in Europe and would carefully follow the negotiations between Russia and NATO on NATO enlargement. Mr Lipponen emphasised that Finland had long-standing relations with Russia, for which reason Finland could have confidence in itself on the issue of NATO enlargement.
Minister of finance and leader of the National Coalition (conservative) Party, Sauli Niinistö, said in an interview with the newspaper Pohjalainen that he did not see the need for a national referendum to determine whether Finland should enter the third phase of European economic and monetary union. He stated that a decision by parliament was sufficient to resolve the issue. He also believed that Finland would fulfil the criteria for monetary union on time. Niinistö pointed out that Finland - like Denmark and Britain - did not have any real reservations about taking part in monetary union. In his view, a country takes part if it fulfils the convergence criteria.
Centre Party chairman (i.e. leader) Esko Aho said in an interview with the newspaper Ilkka that membership of NATO would be a much bigger issue for Finland than membership of the European Union. In Aho's view, any decision on the matter would ultimately be for parliament to make. He added that it was too early to consider submitting the matter to a national referendum. In the interview he warned prime minister Lipponen against binding Finland too tightly to the mainstream of European policies. The idea of binding Finland to the hard core of the EU was alien to Aho.
Speaking to a meeting of newspaper editors-in-chief, president Ahtisaari expressed the view that the negotiations between NATO and Russia were likely to produce a new situation in Europe that would mean a reinforcement of peace. For its part, Finland would do its utmost to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines. For that reason, Finland plays an active part in partnership for peace cooperation. The president pointed out that EMU was not merely an economic issue, it also involved aspects of security policy. In Ahtisaari's view it was good to bring up security policy in discussing EMU, as long as this dimension was not over-emphasised. In an interview in Stockholm with the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the British foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said he did not understand how a common European currency could increase political security. Rifkind surmised that NATO would not have a problem in accepting Finland as a member.
Speaking at the opening of parliament, president Ahtisaari said that Finland was seeking to meet the criteria for the third stage of European economic and monetary union so that the country could, if it so wished, join the first group to adopt a common currency. He said that the EMU decision would probably be the most important issue to be decided by the present parliament. In his speech, the President restated Finland's position on NATO. Following the opening up of NATO, cooperation with the alliance had offered Finland the possibility to take part in building a common security architecture. He said he hoped that the Baltic republics would become members of the European Union. He also spoke of the importance of strengthening the EU's effectiveness. This, he said, would create the conditions for closer relations between the EU and Russia, one of the key factors in the stable development of this continent.
The Nordic foreign ministers met at Holmenkollen, Norway. They called for NATO membership to be available to all seeking it. In addition, they emphasised that the process of NATO enlargement now under way should remain open to all interested countries even after the first round of enlargement. The foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland, Lena Hjelm-Wallén and Tarja Halonen, gave an assurance that their countries were not at that time planning to join NATO. The Nordic ministers also stated that talks on enlarging the European Union should be started simultaneously with all applicants. Other topics discussed by the ministers included human rights, particularly in Turkey.
The parliamentary foreign affairs committee completed their written response to a Council of State (government) white paper on the future. The committee estimated that cooperation in the Baltic Sea region would alleviate possible negative effects associated with NATO enlargement. Enlargement of the EU was noted as another alleviating factor. In the committee's view, the defensive dimension of the Western European Union (WEU) was developing very slowly. The committee expressed strong reservations about the suggestion that a limited number of EU members would advance more quickly than others in the process of integration, for example, in entering the third stage of EMU. The committee also saw the Union probably developing along the lines set out by Germany and France. The committee regarded enlargement as justified economically and in terms of security policy.
The U.S. and Russian presidents, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, decided to meet in Helsinki on March 20-21. Finland was apparently chosen because of Mr Yeltsin's poor health. On January 26, president Ahtisaari had offered Finland's services to the United States as a venue for the meeting.
NATO opened talks in Brussels with its partners to determine what form the alliance's new cooperation arm, the APC, should take. A representative of the NATO secretariat said that the APC would incorporate the functions of the present partnership for peace programme (PfP) and of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC). During the talks, Finland emphasised that all the countries present should be free to decide in which types of operation they would take part. Finland wished all functions to be open, bilateral and transparent. It was also important from Finland's standpoint to make its own views sufficiently heard right at the planning stage of peacekeeping operations. Finland also suggested that the NATO secretariat take into account the need for cooperation with the EU, the OSCE, the WEU and the Council of Europe.
An opinion poll conducted by Taloustutkimus (economic research consultancy) for Eurooppalainen Suomi (European Finland society) in January and February indicated that support for EMU had increased slightly. 41% of respondents were opposed to and 38% were in favour of Finland's participation in the third phase of EMU. In a poll carried out at the end of last year the corresponding figures were 45% and 36%.
In his regular radio interview, prime minister Lipponen stated that if Russia, in its negotiations with NATO, gained the right to influence the alliance's decisions, Finland would have to ensure for itself at least a corresponding position and influence in its relations with NATO. In the prime minister's view, Finland must not allow itself to be outflanked or be in a position where issues are decided above its head. He reiterated, as on previous occasions, that Finland was not seeking NATO membership because if it did certain factors would emerge, military cooperation would ensue, of a type that might alter the position and threaten the stability of our region. Mr Lipponen added that he did not understand people who give the impression that we have some fundamental security problem that would send us running to NATO. Such a picture puts us on a par with former Warsaw Pact countries or the Baltic states. In his view, EU membership has consolidated Finland's position in the post-Cold War situation. He saw a security dividend in EMU.
In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, prime minister Lipponen stated that in the context of security policy Finland is more dependent on Sweden's position than it is on Sweden's position in the context of EMU. In his opinion, Finland and Sweden should collaborate over security policy in order to maintain credibility. Lipponen stated that we (Finland and Sweden) bear responsibility for the security of our whole area. In contrast, Sweden's position on EMU is not a signpost for Finland. Sweden's stance on EMU interests Finland to the same extent as the attitudes of other EU members seeking participation in economic and monetary union.
In early February, the Bureau for Economic Information commissioned the Finnish Gallup organisation to survey opinions about the joint European currency, the euro. People were asked if Finland should be involved by 1999, at the latest, in the third stage of economic and monetary union, when EU countries are due to start using a common currency, the euro. 45% of respondents supported the change to the euro. 42% were opposed while 13% were unable to express an opinion. In a survey carried out last October, 56% opposed and 33% supported the euro.
Speaking to political journalists, foreign minister Tarja Halonen repeated Finland's wish that small countries would not be treated like pawns when the United States and Russia discussed NATO enlargement. In her opinion, no one has the right to create new spheres of interest, dividing lines or grey zones. Each country has the right to choose its own security model. No one's right to decide their own affairs should be curtailed, nor should there be any attempts to pursue security at another's expense. According to Halonen, Finland has no particular cause for concern with regard to security policy. She added that Finland should behave actively and make its own views known.
In an interview with the Finnish News Agency, the United States ambassador to Finland, Derek Shearer, said that Finland need not hurry to join NATO because the country already cooperates closely with the alliance. He gave an assurance that NATO's door would remain open after the first round of enlargement. According to ambassador Shearer, formal membership of NATO, on the level of the present cooperation, was not a particularly important issue for Finland. In his view, Finland does not have a security deficit.
The commander of Finland's defence forces, General Gustav Hägglund, paid an official visit to the United States where he met the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili and the Assistant Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot. Speaking on February 25, General Hägglund said that Finland would need to reconsider NATO membership if the political situation in Russia became threatening. At the present time, said General Hägglund, Russia was not a military threat to Finland and Finland had no need to apply for NATO membership. He added that the biggest cause for concern in NATO enlargement would be if Europe were divided again, in the manner of World War II.
Foreign minister Halonen visited Germany at the invitation of foreign minister Klaus Kinkel. The two ministers discussed current EU topics, European security issues and relations between Finland and Germany. The ministers stressed that the Baltic republics should be included in negotiations on enlargement of the EU. Ms Halonen stated that Finland was ready to begin talks with all eleven applicant countries simultaneously. She thought that Germany possibly considered the case of Estonian membership of the EU as separate from that of the other Baltic states.
According to a survey carried out between November 1996 and January 1997 for the Centre for Finnish Business and Policy Studies (Finnish: EVA), Finnish attitudes to the European Union have become more pragmatic than earlier now that there is a wish to derive benefits from the EU instead of pondering the advantages of merely being a member. In the opinion of the majority of Finns, Finland should participate in the development of the EU, protect national self-determination, resolutely pursue the national interest and derive benefit from the Union. There was continued opposition to a federal EU. Attitudes to economic and monetary union were unchanged or slightly more negative: 42% supported EMU provided that several EU countries go for it. If they did not, only 21% wanted quick participation in EMU. Only 17% wanted Finland to join NATO. The line of approach to NATO adopted by the government and the President was supported by 50% of respondents and opposed by 17%.
EU environment ministers reached an agreement in Brussels on ways in which member countries can voluntarily reduce emissions of greenhouse gases within the EU area by the year 2010. Finland made a commitment to bring emissions back down to the level of 1990, which would mean a reduction of 8.5% from the present level. The ministers also decided that in international negotiations the EU will pursue the target of reducing emissions by 15% from the 1990 level the year 2010.
In Brussels, the EU Commission presented a report on limiting the size of the Commission after the year 2000. Steps to limit the size of the Commission would be taken after the number of EU members and the number of Commissioners exceed 20. There would be from 10 to 12 Commissioners who would have a consultative brief and take part in project-type assignments. Portfolios would rotate throughout the Commission's term of office. The Commission would have three deputy chairpersons: one responsible for foreign policy, one for economic policy and the third for integration policy and citizens' interests within the Union. The report was compiled for presentation to the intergovernmental conference on structural reforms in the EU.
Ministers responsible for Nordic cooperation agreed at a meeting with Baltic foreign ministers in Brussels that the Nordic Council would provide concrete support for the Baltic republics' bid to join the EU.
Turkish foreign minister Tansu Ciller visited Finland and had talks with President Ahtisaari and foreign minister Halonen. Ms Ciller hoped that Finland would support Turkey's efforts to join the EU. She emphasised that Turkey was economically ready for EU membership and that it was trying to bring its human rights record up to the European level. During Ms Ciller's visit, foreign minister Halonen urged Turkey to further improve its human rights situation and commit itself to international human rights agreements.
Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers Halonen and Hjelm-Wallén published an article in Helsingin Sanomat and other newspapers about the aims of countries left outside NATO. They underlined the importance to Europe of NATO and the UN, at the same time emphasising the importance of the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe as partners in Europe on a par with NATO. They stressed the importance of the three organisations' aim of preventing conflict. Sweden and Finland are both pursuing broad cooperation with the new NATO, with the proviso that NATO enlargement does not weaken the two countries' security. The foreign ministers remarked that the Baltic republics should not be forgotten in the enlargement process. The ministers welcomed the establishment of the APC. They called for NATO enlargement to take place in parallel with the redefinition of relations between NATO and Russia. Finland and Sweden emphasise the strengthening of the position of the Baltic Sea area and stress the indivisibility of European security. The ministers expressed doubt that Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO would increase the two countries' security. The best security policy model for the foreseeable future is offered by participation in European cooperation on the basis of independent and credible defence.
In an interview with the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he took a negative view of Finland's possible membership of NATO. He did not regard the spread of NATO's military structures towards Russia as acceptable. (NATO) enlargement would weaken Russia's geopolitical and geostrategic position and force the country to take counter measures. Foreign minister Halonen stated that it was not surprising that Russia opposed Finnish membership of NATO. Presenting the government's white paper on security and defence policy to parliament, prime minister Paavo Lipponen said that Finland was not seeking NATO membership but that Finland was carefully following the effects of enlargement on the Baltic Sea area and on relations between NATO and Russia.
Prime minister Lipponen presented the government's white paper on security and defence to parliament. According to the document, Finland will remain a non-aligned country with a credible defence. Finland will also increase its capacity to take part in NATO and Western European Union (WEU) crisis control. The white paper also took a stance on the the position of the defence forces in times of peace and war. The prime minister emphasised repeatedly that even though Finland was not now joining any alliance it was following developments. In other words, Finland was assessing the operability of its policy of non-alignment within the changing European security architecture.
The Finnish and Swedish foreign ministers issued a joint statement emphasising their countries' cooperation with the Baltic republics. The Baltic republics are being supported in particular through (Estonian) language teaching in the Narva area of Estonia and by enhancing the efficiency of frontier guard working methods on the border between Latvia and Lithuania. The foreign ministers' joint declaration was intended as a signal in Russia's direction that their countries truly support the creation of stability in the vicinity of the Baltic republics. Assistance and money was being directed to targets that could be problematic from the point of view of the Baltic republics' membership of the EU: namely, the issues of minorities and border controls.
Foreign minister Halonen told parliament on the second day of the debate on the government's security policy review that all other EU countries had announced their wish to see the WEU linked to EU structures in such a way that the WEU would undertake peace enforcement operations. Sweden and Finland had earlier presented a joint initiative to the intergovernmental conference calling for crisis control operations to be adopted as an official assignment of the EU but excluding armed peace enforcement. Ms Halonen stressed that even if peace enforcement were established as one of the tasks of the WEU, Finland would not need to take part in enforcement operations against its will if the operation were seen as being counter to present (Finnish) legislation on peacekeeping.
Defence minister Anneli Taina told a meeting of the Paasikivi Society that the peacemaking planned for the EU, in accordance with the Petersberg commitments, conformed to the concept of broader peacekeeping, as defined by parliament.
President Bill Clinton of the United States and the Russian President Boris Yeltsin held a summit meeting in Helsinki, the main theme of which was NATO's expansion eastwards. The negotiations produced five joint documents. (In addition, the two sides announced that they would conclude an agreement on appropriate and mutually interesting security policy issues. Away from the summit meeting, President Ahtisaari held bilateral talks with President Clinton on support for the Baltic republics and economic issues. 22.3. President Yeltsin met President Ahtisaari. The two leaders discussed the outcome of the summit meeting, Baltic regional cooperation, the situation in the Baltic republics and bilateral topics. Mr Yeltsin spoke of Russia's desire to join the European Union. On the subject of Finland's relations with NATO, Mr Yeltsin stated that it was Finland's own business to decide what form its relations with NATO should take.
President Ahtisaari signed a decree establishing a Finnish embassy in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, to be headed by a full ambassador. Croatia was thus the first of the former Yugoslav republics in which Finland opened an embassy. Relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Macedonian republic are handled by a roving ambassador.
Foreign ministers and parliamentary speakers from 15 European countries took part in the 40th anniversary celebrations of the EU in Rome. Finland was represented by foreign minister Tarja Halonen and parliamentary speaker Riitta Uosukainen. The main issue discussed at the gathering was joint foreign and security policy. The Netherlands proposed the gradual unification of the EU and its defence arm, the WEU. This would give EU countries complete security guarantees in accordance with the WEU's charter. The guarantees would, in practice, be the responsibility of NATO, membership of which was one of the terms of the proposal. Sweden and Britain opposed the merger on the grounds that it could hinder EU enlargement. Foreign minister Halonen said it was difficult for Finland to accept the proposal because Finland wanted to remain non-aligned. The Netherlands also called for more efficacy in foreign policy decision-making by switching from the existing requirement of unanimity to the widespread adoption of qualified majority voting. The EU decided to send humanitarian aid to Albania. Safe delivery of the aid would be the responsibility of the OSCE.
Defence minister Taina visited NATO headquarters in Brussels where she met the organisation's secretary-general Javier Solana. Ms Taina reported NATO representatives as saying that they looked forward to Finnish activeness and initiative on the subject of the development of the APC and what Finland expected of it. Defence minister Taina saw NATO enlargement and especially the foundation of the APC as requiring Finland to establish its own mission to NATO. This would become possible once Belgium had granted diplomatic recognition to all the countries taking part in the partnership for peace programme.
The foreign ministers of Finland and Estonia signed an agreement in Tallinn abolishing the reciprocal visa requirement previously applied to the citizens of both countries. The agreement took effect on May 1.
Researchers Heikki Patomäki and Petri Minkkinen of the Finnish Institute of International Relations stated at the publication of the report "The Politics of the (sic) Economic and Monetary Union" that EMU was favoured more by the international financial markets than by the EU's citizens or its member countries. The neo-liberalism at the roots of EMU clashed with the European welfare state and its values. To counter this, the Union had been completely unable to create any kind of common social policy. In addition, EMU threatened to further deepen the crisis of confidence already prevalent in the EU.
Following a joint Finnish-Swedish initiative, Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Blomberg of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ulf Hjertonsson, head of the political section of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Gebhard von Moltke, NATO assistant secretary general for political affairs, met in Brussels. The meeting was a follow-up to an article published by the countries' foreign ministers in Helsingin Sanomat on March 15. Finland and Sweden expressed their concern about the division in Europe that would result from expansion of NATO, and also emphasized the sovereign right of every country to make decisions regarding its own national security. During the talks, von Moltke noted that the first stage in NATO expansion enlargement would not be the last, something of importance to the Baltic countries, for example. Finland and Sweden also stressed that the security interests of these countries should also be considered when the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty is revised.
According to an EMU opinion poll conducted by Taloustutkimus in February-March, Finns are still sceptical about Finnish participation in European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). EMU membership was opposed by 46% of the respondents and supported by 36%; 17% did not have an opinion.
The Cabinet Foreign and Security Policy Committee decided that the Finnish Government will persist in the WEU initiative made jointly with Sweden. In other words, Finland does not support integration of the WEU, the Western European military alliance, with the EU, as has been proposed in EU circles.
ECOFIN, the Council of EU finance ministers, held an unofficial meeting in Noordwijk, The Netherlands. The ministers agreed on certain adjustments to the political agreement reached at the Dublin Summit in December on the Stability and Growth Pact. They also agreed on next spring's timetable for the final decisions on monetary union. Finnish Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö was of the opinion that Finland would meet all the EMU criteria. According to Niinistö, a problematic situation will arise if Finland meets the criteria but decides not to take part in EMU.
Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen attended the IGC meeting of foreign ministers in Noordwijk, where the European Union's institutions were the main topic discussed. The ministers were unable to agree on the number of Commission members in the expanding Union. In the name of efficiency, France insisted on reducing the number of Commissioners to 10-12, while the Commission itself proposed limiting the number to 20. The small Member States, such as Finland, vehemently opposed cuts in the number of Commission members. The distribution of votes in the EU Council of Ministers was also a major theme.
At a luncheon for editors-in-chief that he hosted in Helsinki, Prime Minister Lipponen stated that the coming EMU decision involves only whether Finland will be among the first countries to join or whether it will join at some later date. Lipponen reminded his audience that EMU is part of the Maastricht Treaty, to which Finland is committed. He criticized the Centre Party and its Chairman Esko Aho for giving the impression that Finland need not join EMU.
Prime Minister Lipponen visited Bonn, where he met with Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl. At the press conference following the meeting, Lipponen stated that under no circumstances would Finland abandon its seat on the Commission at the IGC ending in June. Lipponen placed special stress on the significance of the Baltic region in an address given during his visit. He was of the opinion that when new countries are admitted, the Baltic countries would meet the conditions for EU membership. Other topics of discussion during the visit were relations between Russia and the Baltic countries, enlargement of the EU and NATO, and prospects for the implementation of EMU.
The newspaper Turun Sanomat commissioned an opinion survey on support for NATO membership. This showed that support had declined further. Finnish membership of the alliance was opposed by 64% of the respondents, against 56% in February. The survey showed that opponents of membership were a majority in all age groups and among all parties, though the most supporters were found in the ranks of the National Coalition (Conservative) Party.
In his opening address to a session of the Swedish Assembly of Finland held in Jyväskylä, former President Mauno Koivisto proposed closer ties between Finland and Sweden. According to Koivisto, Finland cannot afford to join a military alliance, nor can the ultimate consequences of the changes going on in Russia be known with any certainty. Koivisto believes that joint security arrangements with Sweden would be extremely useful. Both Sweden and Finland would benefit. Koivisto cited an article written jointly by the foreign ministers of the two countries and published by Helsingin Sanomat and Svenska Dagbladet on March 15. In this article, the ministers state that neither country will be seeking NATO membership in the foreseeable future. He expressed a wish for further action of this kind and added that the two countries might also have a need for co-operation in the area of military security.
Samak, the joint Nordic organization of Social Democratic parties, convened in Mariehamn. The meeting dealt with prospects for the Baltic region, security policy, enlargement of NATO and the EU, and unemployment. Prime Minister Lipponen and Swedish Defence Minister Björn von Sydow supported President Koivisto's idea of co-operation between Finland and Sweden in the area of security policy. Von Sydow was of the opinion that military supplies, joint peacekeeping forces, research, training, exchanges and coastguard operations would be future areas for further co-operation. Both Lipponen and von Sydow rejected the idea of a joint defence alliance as an alternative to NATO membership. They also stressed that Finland and Sweden cannot guarantee the security of other countries in the Baltic region. The meeting gave its support to EU membership for the Baltic countries and Poland. The participants also supported the right of those wishing to apply for NATO membership to do so. Prime Minister Lipponen stated that co-operation in northern regions of the EU should be "developed in a more systematic direction", in the manner of co-operation in the Mediterranean region.
President Martti Ahtisaari and Mrs Eeva Ahtisaari paid a State visit to Poland, accompanied by a high-level business delegation. In Poland, President Ahtisaari met President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Mr Lech Walesa, former President of the country. Ahtisaari stressed the importance of co-operation between countries in the Baltic region. He expressed Finland's support for the efforts of both Poland and the Baltic countries to join the EU, pointing out that each applicant would receive fair treatment on the basis of the criteria agreed on within the EU. The President also expressed his respect for Poland's decision to seek NATO membership, and stated that each country determines its own security policy. Walesa and Ahtisaari agreed that new divisions in Europe must be avoided and that Russia must not be isolated in the new Europe. Ahtisaari argued that the EU enlargement process will increase security and stability.
The NATO Military Committee met in Brussels to consider integration of crisis management operations related to NATO's expanded Partnership for Peace programme with the alliance's changing organization. Gustav Hägglund, Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces, who represented Finland in Brussels, pointed out that Finland seeks to participate on a permanent basis in the planning phase of NATO-led crisis management operations. Finland would like to assign 2-3 officers to the staff in charge of planning and organizing crisis management.
Mr Karl Lamers, who represents the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU), proposed in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat that Finland and Sweden, which are remaining outside NATO, should take part in the military integration of Europe by establishing permanent co-operation with the Baltic countries. Lamers was of the opinion that the Baltic countries would not be invited to become NATO members during the first phase of the alliance's eastward enlargement. He stated that the position of these countries should be strengthened by "positive measures, so that they do not remain a vague area between NATO and Russia". In an interview with the Estonian newspaper Sönumileht on April 25, Prime Minister Lipponen rejected the idea of a separate security zone comprising the Baltic and Nordic countries. Lipponen contended that a community of this kind would not increase security, arguing that the Baltic countries must not be divided into security zones of differing status. Co-operation between all the organizations concerned will be required to improve security. In an interview with Eesti Päevaleht, President Ahtisaari stressed that the main goal of integration is an undivided Europe. According to Ahtisaari, co-operation with the EU will promote the integration of Russia with the international economic system.
During question time in Parliament, Prime Minister Lipponen and Finance Minister Niinistö confirmed that the Government will place its statement on prospective EMU membership before Parliament for approval. A vote on Parliament's confidence in the Government will be held at the conclusion of debate. A simple majority of votes will be sufficient to demonstrate confidence and also Finland's commitment to EMU. The decision may be taken in May 1998, before the representatives of the EU countries meet to decide which countries will be included in Economic and Monetary Union.
At a meeting of the Council of the Centre Party (the main opposition party) in Kokkola, Party Chairman Esko Aho stated that Finland cannot join EMU unless employment improves and regional policy problems are solved. In Aho's opinion, countries that meet the EMU criteria do not necessarily have to join. Aho also insisted that the Government explain in its EMU report to Parliament in May how the negative effects of the single currency will be overcome and economic shocks handled. He repeated the stand of the Centre Party, according to which Finland's position on EMU cannot be resolved by a vote on the Government's statement. The Centre Party insisted that Parliament rule on the political decision regarding membership in EMU and the necessary legislative amendments at one and the same time. The Centre gave its full support to co-operation between Finland and Sweden in security policy. The Party considers co-operation at least as important to our security policy as EU membership.
In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat given in The Hague, Prime Minister Lipponen stated that Finland does not intend to bring down the joint German-French initiative proposing gradual integration of the WEU, its defence component. According to Lipponen, the initiative will provide an opportunity for development of a common European arms industry and joint arms procurement. The Prime Minister also values efforts to develop the European defence community in preparation for eventual withdrawal by the United States. Finland should, however, have the opportunity to remain outside the resulting organization. Finland will not, however, abandon its seat on the Commission. The Prime Minister was of the opinion that Finland would rather exercise its veto right to defeat the proposed new Treaty for Europe. He criticized Centre Party Chairman Esko Aho for demanding postponement of both EMU and EU enlargement. Lipponen considers postponement inconsistent. He is personally convinced that EMU will become a reality and that the IGC will be brought to a successful conclusion.
The Netherlands, which currently holds the EU Presidency, attempted to limit the size of the EU Commission at the IGC ministerial session in Luxembourg. It proposed that the Commission should consist of a maximum of 20 members as the EU expands, regardless of the number of EU countries. Not all Member States would have their own representatives on the Commission. Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen stated that this provision in the Dutch proposal did not conform with what had been discussed at earlier meetings. According to Halonen, it would be most realistic at this stage, in terms of both security and defence policy, to seek progress in crisis management and possibly in defence supplies. She expressed satisfaction that, with respect to the aims of defence policy and operations, the text of the Maastricht Treaty effectively serves the Union's purposes in Finland's opinion, and that there is no need to amend it at the IGC. She was also of the opinion that the joint initiative of Finland and Sweden concerning the role of the EU in crisis management would become a key issue. In the foreign and security policy sector, Finland supported the Dutch proposal to make decision-making more effective. The European Council would accordingly determine the principles and guidelines for this policy sector. Flexibility in decision-making with qualified majorities would be allowed when a country's national interests were at stake.
In the final report of its fifth term the international human rights committee stated that Finland's human rights policy is inconsistent and vague. The report focused attention on trade policy, which violates human rights in Sudan and Indonesia, for example. Moreover, according to the Commission, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has not shown any particular initiative in the human rights field. The Commission was also of the opinion that the Government should prepare a report on human rights policy which would provide foreign policy with continuity.
On May 1, Prime Minister Lipponen stated in speeches made in Kuusankoski and Kotka that the Government was prepared to discuss preparations for EMU with the opposition. The Prime Minister suggested that tentative discussions could begin in the spring, with negotiations continuing in the autumn. Centre Party Chairman Esko Aho stated in Raahe that his party was ready for talks. He did, however, set some conditions. He considered it necessary for the discussions to resolve both the conditions for the EMU decision and the policy to be pursued once the single currency is operative.
Prime Minister Lipponen met EMU Commissioner Thibault de Silguy in Brussels. The talks revealed that the Commission is developing a system of preliminary qualification for EU countries seeking participation in EMU. Since leaving the final selection to the summit in May 1998 might be difficult. According to Lipponen, de Silguy operates on the assumption that Finland will have no problems in meeting the EMU criteria. The Commission has already stated that Finland and The Netherlands do not have an excessive deficit in their public finances. Finnish legislation governing the country's central bank does not meet the EMU requirements, and the bill before Parliament has encountered opposition. The Prime Minister, however, does not view the issue as a problem.
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann paid a working visit to Finland, where he met President Ahtisaari and Prime Minister Lipponen. The frontier treaty under consideration by Estonia and Russia was discussed by the prime ministers. Earlier in the spring, Finland had promised to act as a cautious intermediary in assessing the prospects for a solution. A second topic of discussion was Estonia's relationship with the EU. Expanded visa exemptions between Estonia and the Nordic countries also contribute to Estonia's efforts to join the EU. He considered visa exemptions recognition of the trust Estonia's neighbours have in its border control and passport system.
Prime Minister Lipponen visited Moscow, where he met Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. During his visit, Lipponen stressed the EU's northern dimension and Russia's essential contribution to the way the EU's northern region develops.
The ECOFIN Council of EU finance ministers decided, in accordance with the Commission proposal, that Finland and the Netherlands no longer have excessive deficits in their public finances. Finland's government deficit last year was 2.6% of GDP and its total debt 57.8 per cent; the EMU criteria are 3 per cent and 60 per cent of GDP. Finland and the Netherlands were therefore added to the small group of model EU countries which also includes Luxembourg, Denmark and Ireland. These countries are the most obvious candidates for Economic and Monetary Union.
President Ahtisaari and Mrs Eeva Ahtisaari paid a State visit to South Africa and Tanzania. The President was accompanied by Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, Transport Minister Matti Aura and a large delegation of business leaders. In South Africa President Ahtisaari met President Nelson Mandela, Vice President Thabo Mbeki and former president Pik Botha. Presidents Ahtisaari and Mandela signed an agreement that will provide a framework for development co-operation. Ahtisaari offered his services in promoting not only South Africa but the entire continent. He promised Finnish support for efforts by the EU and South Africa to establish a reciprocal free trade agreement. Foreign Minister Halonen discussed Finland's prospects for providing support for South Africa in reforming its legal system, and for the country's efforts to become a member of the UN Security Council. In Tanzania, Ahtisaari met President Benjamin Mkapa and opposition leaders.
Prime Minister Lipponen informed Parliament of Finland's support for negotiations between Russia and Estonia concerning their relations. He emphasized that Finland is in no way a mediator and seeks only to bring the two parties together. Talks between Russian and Estonian officials will begin in June. The two main issues are the status of Russians in Estonia and a frontier agreement between the countries.
President Ahtisaari commented, in conjunction with his State visit to South Africa, on the recent document signed between NATO and Russia outlining relations between them following enlargement of the alliance. He considered the agreement extremely important. He was not surprised about the conclusion of an agreement, and pointed out that there had been good reason to expect it. President Ahtisaari emphasized the significance of the process preceding the agreement, which he felt had eliminated some misconceptions. The President did not believe that concord between NATO and Russia would have any real effect on Finland's security position.
The Government submitted to Parliament its report on Finnish participation in the third stage of European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The report conformed in its conclusions with the findings of the group of experts headed by Professor Jukka Pekkarinen, although it took a more favourable stance on EMU. The Government was of the opinion that the best alternative for Finland would be inclusion among the first 'wave' in stage three. According to the Government, EMU will make it possible for Finland to have a continuous say in future development of the European Union. In its report, the Government expressed the wish that Parliament would respond to its earlier statement by the beginning of 1998.
Parliament began discussion of the EMU report by debating whether a decision on participating in Economic and Monetary Union should be made on the basis of a Government announcement or a legislative bill. With the exception of the National Coalition Party, the parties in the Government asked whether the report had taken into account the legality of decision-making regarding EMU and considered the right procedure for a political decision. The Government's intention to seek approval from Parliament on the basis of its statement did not satisfy all groups in the Government. Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö was of the opinion that Finland had nothing to gain by postponing EMU membership and that it would jeopardize its credibility in economic policy by remaining on the outside.
In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat, Mr Wim Duisenberg, Governor of the Dutch central bank, who, as of July, will head the EMI (European Monetary Policy Institute), which is preparing EMU, stated that Finland and Sweden cannot actually decline to take part in Economic and Monetary Union, regardless of the content of their Treaties of Accession and national laws. In joining the European Union, Finland has committed itself to an international treaty which takes precedence even over the national constitution.
The heads of state and governments of the 15 EU Member States, including Prime Minister Lipponen, convened at Noordwijk, the Netherlands for a mini-summit aimed at speeding up the work of the IGC. The main themes at the session were the Union and the citizen, internal and legal affairs (that is the projected EU area of freedom, security and justice), foreign and security policy, the Union's institutions, and flexibility in EU operations. The small countries, including Finland, repeated their insistence on retaining their Commissioners. Lipponen stated Finland's opposition to an alternative in which the Commission President would be able to choose the members. In contrast, Finland is prepared to give the President the right to allocate the Commission's portfolios.
In conjunction with a Government report to Parliament on security and defence policy, Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen expressed her position on the treaty signed by NATO and Russia that day.
She considered the Founding Act evidence that Russia seeks involvement rather than isolation. She was of the opinion that the understanding reached by NATO and Russia would increase international stability on the eve of the NATO enlargement scheduled to be agreed on in Madrid. She mentioned that Finland would continue to co-operate actively with NATO and Russia, and noted that the IGC process was coming to an end. The objectives of that process have been to strengthen the role and capacity of the Union in security policy. Crisis management conducted in accordance with the joint Finnish-Swedish initiative would not alter Finland's policy of military non-alignment. In the final analysis, the placement of Finnish troops under international command would be Finland's own decision, based on careful assessment of the missions concerned.
On a visit to the North Kymi Valley in south-eastern Finland, President Ahtisaari stated that EMU membership would no longer require the referendum demanded by the Centre Party, and some of the Greens and Left Wing Alliance members. Ahtisaari considers the referendum held on EU membership sufficient.
Prime Minister Lipponen reported to the Parliamentary Grand Committee on the talks held at the EU mini-summit in the Netherlands. The Prime Minister felt that agreement could be reached at the IGC on merging the WEU with the EU. He suspected that the joint Finnish-Swedish initiative would be the most extensive reform in security policy now possible within the EU. According to Lipponen, the most difficult issues before the IGC are still unresolved. He stated that Finland would seek to retain its Commissioner and votes in the Council. The Grand Committee also proposed that Finland oppose any joint defence initiative put forward by the Netherlands.
In October-November of last year, the EU Commission published its Eurobarometer in Brussels. According to the poll, there was less support in Finland for EMU than in any other EU country. Only 29% of those polled supported the single European currency, despite their Government's efforts to make Finland one of the countries in the first 'wave'. Only 5% of those polled expected the single currency to take effect. The Eurobarometer showed that Finns expect their country to be among the first countries to take part in EMU. 29% of Finns considered EU membership a good thing and 23% a bad thing. The remainder did not express an opinion. The semi-annual Eurobarometer polled 31,800 citizens. The sample in Finland comprised 4,017.
Members of the North Atlantic Co-operation Council (NACC) and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP), meeting in Sintra, Portugal, decided to found a new body, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, EAPC, to replace the NACC and serve as a consultative organ for the partnership programme. The Council will work on the basis of a document drafted and approved at ministerial level by NATO together with its partnership countries. Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Blomberg confirmed Finland's acceptance of EAPC membership. The announcement was based on a decision made by the Cabinet Foreign and Security Policy Committee on the same day. Blomberg cited the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a key factor in European security. The EAPC and the more effective partnership for peace will strengthen the OSCE. Finland believes that the new Council will be useful in promoting the stability and security of northern Europe and the Baltic region, for example. He considered the new NATO-Russian Council a historic achievement and expressed Finland's satisfaction that NATO and Russia have announced that the Council will be transparent. He was of the opinion that issues of overall European security should be brought before the EAPC, where all the partnership countries are represented.
The Netherlands - which currently holds the EU Presidency - released its 140-page proposal for the final paper of the IGC. For Finland, the main issues concerned foreign and security policy and institutions. The Netherlands proposes reducing the votes of the small Member States in the Council of Ministers. At present, Finland's votes relative to the big members' are on a ratio of three to ten. According to the second model proposed by the Netherlands, the ratio would be six to twenty-five. Finland also rejects this solution. No stand was taken in the proposal on the number of Commissioners, which is a key issue for Finland. The paper does not contain the proposal regarding partial integration of the WEU with the EU made by Finland and Sweden in its original form. Instead, the Netherlands approved gradual merging of the WEU and the EU as the goal. The Dutch proposal also makes common defence a much clearer goal of the Union than does the Maastricht Treaty. Finland's proposal on transparency was included in the paper in its desired form.
Prime Minister Lipponen contended that France will not alter the key tenets of its policy, despite the socialists' election victory. He stated that the Finnish Government will stick to its position that all countries must meet the convergence criteria. Only then can there be discussion about which countries will participate in stage three of EMU.
Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen headed the Finnish delegation at the IGC in Luxembourg, which dealt with common foreign and security policy, institutional issues, flexibility, employment and the environment. Minister Halonen contends that the extent of the reform of decision-making structures acceptable to the Member States has still not been established. In foreign and security policy, it was considered important for Member States to retain the right to demand complete unanimity when national interest so requires. The key issues that remain open concern expansion of the area in which decisions by qualified majority are possible, redistribution of votes in the Council of Ministers, a common defence policy and defence, co-operation in justice and home affairs and in making the Schengen Convention, which ensures free movement of people, part of the Union.
At a lunch for political journalists, Prime Minister Lipponen stated that a decision by Sweden not to be among the first countries to take part in EMU will not affect Finland's stance. He expects Sweden to participate in EMU later on. In his speech at the lunch Lipponen strongly defended EMU and Finland's desire to be in the first 'wave'. He argued that this is consistent with Finland's position on the EU and that failure to join would represent a considerable change of course. The single European currency is consistent with Finland's policy. The Prime Minister also stressed the potential of the single currency in curtailing the power of foreign exchange speculators. Lipponen considers EMU particularly advantageous to the small EU countries and was dismayed by the hesitation shown by the big members of the Union. He expressed his apprehension that protectionism might be raising its head in Europe.
The Government discussed Finland's participation in EMU with the opposition, without result. The Centre Party met both Prime Minister Lipponen and Finance Minister Niinistö. After the talks, the Centre continued to demand a legislative basis for the decision on EMU participation. It had also wanted to discuss alternatives other than being one of the first countries to take part in EMU.
President Ahtisaari visited the WEU conference of parliamentarians in Paris. In a speech on Finnish security policy, he underscored Finland's right to make its own security policy decisions. He cited historical reasons for the differences between the positions of Finland and the Baltic countries regarding NATO. At a press conference, Ahtisaari confirmed his belief that the joint Finnish-Swedish initiative concerning a strong role for the WEU in crisis management and peacekeeping has a good chance of succeeding at the EU IGC.
The European Finland association published an EMU poll conducted for it by Taloustutkimus Oy. This shows that Finns consider Finnish participation in the third stage of EMU fairly certain. Of those polled, 78% expected Finland to take part in EMU from the beginning of 1999 if EMU is implemented, 12% took the opposite view, and 10% were unable to answer. Of those supporting the parties in the Government, 86% believed that Finland would join EMU; 73% of the supporters of the opposition parties felt implementation of EMU was fairly certain.
Prime Minister Lipponen paid a visit to the United States, where he met Secretary of Defence William Cohen, Vice-President Al Gore, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. During discussions in Washington, Talbott confirmed that enlargement of NATO would continue even after the decisions taken on the first new members in Madrid in July. Talbott also considers the Baltic countries to be potential candidates for membership. Lipponen took the view that the situation after Madrid will be quite new. He stressed development of co-operation with Russia and said that Finland has a sense of responsibility for security in the Baltic. The Prime Minister also suggested that now was perhaps the time to discuss the form this security co-operation might take.
The National Coalition Party conference in Rovaniemi approved a motion favouring possible Finnish NATO membership. The party nevertheless stressed that though it did not intend to bind the hands of the political leadership, security policy had to be constantly re-assessed. Although the most reasonable approach at the moment was to continue a policy of non-alignment, development of defence co-operation in a number of different directions provided Finland with "the preconditions for accepting military aid in the event of a crisis affecting our country". The Youth League of the party, which had proposed Finnish NATO membership to the conference, contended that the party had adopted a position favouring preparation for membership. According to the conference, the Coalition Party supports the inclusion of crisis management within the EU's common foreign and security policy. The party took the view that Finland should take a constructive attitude to future development of the defence dimension of the EU. It does not see any reason for Finland to promote integration of the WEU with the EU, although the indirect benefits for Finland were recognized. The Coalition Party would also like to see further military co-operation with Sweden.
Parliament's Committee for Constitutional law completed its report on the procedure for approval of Finnish participation in Economic and Monetary Union, EMU. The Committee took the view that Finland can adopt EMU via either a written announcement or a legislative bill and was of the opinion that both paths are equally valid and also the least problematic of the alternatives. It is up to the Government to decide how it wishes to proceed. The Committee also rejected the Centre Party's view that all the legislative changes required for EMU should be introduced in the same package as the decision on participation. The Committee took the view that it is up to the Council of State to decide how Finland will be represented at the summit meeting deciding on monetary union. It was considered natural that Finland would be represented by the Prime Minister.
In a speech to foreign journalists, President Ahtisaari stressed the importance of projects aimed at reforming the EU. He considered it important for the community to be strong and prosperous and for it to take advantage of the opportunity to admit new members and to develop both its foreign and its security policy. He saw this year as a turning-point in the evolution of a security system for post-Cold War Europe. Ahtisaari thought Helsinki had played a significant role in this process, as the city had hosted both the first Conference on European Security and Co-operation and the summit meeting between the leaders of the superpowers in March of this year.
In the most recent draft treaty for the Amsterdam summit, the Netherlands proposed a new type of solution to the dispute over the distribution of power within the EU. Prime Minister Lipponen commented on the Dutch draft at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference consultative committee of representatives of NGOs. He expressed the opinion that the summit would not draw Finland any closer to the military alliances, even if the views of the Netherlands, as current EU President, on the desirability of a common defence policy and integration of the WEU with the EU were accepted. In his view "there are many rivers to cross before Finland enters into any alliances". He considered that the new draft treaty — like the Maastricht Treaty — envisages a common defence policy as a long-term goal. The new "formulation does not commit us to anything not already contained in the Maastricht Treaty". Finland nevertheless wants to stick to the wording of Maastricht. On the gradual integration of the WEU into the EU, he commented that this relates only to crisis management. The Prime Minister took the view that Finland can remain outside any co-operation arrangement in which it does not wish to participate. Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen did not believe any significant progress towards a common defence would be made at Amsterdam. Having recently clarified the views of the other Member States, she did not believe Finland would be alone in taking a cautious attitude.
The Grand Committee of Parliament, which specializes in EU matters, delivered its response to the Government's report on EMU. The Committee said it would have studied Economic and Monetary Union more closely and more critically than the Government had. It did not approve of the Government's outright rejection of the alternative of floating the markka. It took the view that there were two possible alternatives: immediate participation, or the 'waiting room' of ERM 2. The Committee hoped that, when Member States' readiness for participation in EMU is assessed, Finland will seek to have more attention paid to the government debt than the budget deficit. The Committee also took issue with the procedure for imposing fines on EMU countries failing to keep within the EMU criteria. According to the Committee, Finland ought to suggest that fines should not be imposed before conditions within the country and the needs of social policy had been considered. In addition to the option of floating, the effects of EMU on regional policy and social policy should also be clarified. The Committee would also have preferred to see a more thoroughgoing approach to the question of how many countries Finland would like to see adopting EMU, what the consequences of different combinations would be, and what Finland would do in the event that postponement became a real possibility. On the other hand, the Committee did not express a view on whether participation in EMU should be decided by a written announcement or a legislative bill. It expressed the hope that the matter would be discussed extensively, and in such a way that the procedural method found wide acceptance.
Minister of Defence Anneli Taina took part in a meeting of NATO's new Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), which discussed the workings of the new Council and the future operations of the Partnership for Peace. Taina's assessment was that the formation of the new EAPC would enable Finland to expand its role in NATO-led crisis management operations. Amongst other benefits, the Euro-Atlantic partners will gain admittance to NATO operations at the planning stage. She was also of the opinion that Finland's NATO mission would be operating before the autumn with a staff strength of as many as ten. Finland is also planning to send military personnel to the various NATO staffs open to member countries of the EAPC.
Centre Party Chairman Esko Aho said in Lahti that the Grand Committee's EMU response creates a new framework for Finnish debate on Economic and Monetary Union. His interpretation was that the Committee had clearly broken with the Lipponen Government's uncritical, single-option doctrine and was calling for all options to be kept open. If Parliament were to adopt the line taken by the Grand Committee, this would, in Aho's view, force the Government to review its policy on EMU. Aho once again repeated the Centre Party's view that the decision to participate in monetary union should be subjected to the legislative process.
Helsingin Sanomat published the results of an opinion poll conducted by Taloustutkimus for the association Eurooppalainen Suomi (European Finland) between May 23 and June 12. The poll sought the views of Finns on whether Parliament should support participation in Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Of those questioned, 40% took the view that Parliament should support participation, 38% were opposed, and 22% were unable to say. Between May 16 and June 3, Taloustutkimus surveyed public opinion in general on participation in EMU. According to the survey, 37% supported participation, 41% were opposed, and 21% were unable to decide. Views have remained almost unchanged since last November and December, when Taloustutkimus began to chart public opinion on EMU. The distribution of opinion across the political parties has also remained more or less the same. For example, only one fifth of the supporters of the main opposition party, the Centre Party, support participation.
The EU summit was held in Amsterdam where Finland was represented by President Ahtisaari and Prime Minister Lipponen. Unanimity was reached on a paper postponing plans for integration of the WEU with the EU. Finland succeeded in inserting an addition to the text to the effect that decisions aimed at developing common defence must be separately approved by the national parliaments where this is required by the national constitution. A precautionary measure for those countries wary of common defence was the inclusion in the text of a clause requiring all decisions in principle with a bearing on defence to be approved at EU summits where decisions require unanimity. The heads of government approved the joint proposal of Finland and Sweden that the WEU be used as the military arm of the EU in crisis management operations. At the request of the EU, the WEU will carry out an itemized list of peacekeeping functions, using where necessary the military strength of NATO. The summit failed to resolve the two main questions in the institutional dispute: the size of the Commission and the weighting of votes. The intention is to return to these questions in connection with the next enlargement of the Union. The summit gave final approval to the EMU Stability and Growth Pact. It also reached agreement on the inclusion of a chapter on employment in the new Treaty for Europe and on greater transparency in EU administration. The Amsterdam summit failed in its basic aim of reforming the decision-making structures and institutions of the Union in preparation for possible enlargement. The failure to make progress with institutional reform postponed far into the future any threat of Finland losing its own Commissioner. Prime Minister Lipponen was satisfied that issues related to the development of a common EU defence policy were also postponed into the dim and distant future. It was nevertheless a great disappointment to Lipponen that "no real progress was made in European co-operation". A clear indication of this was the omission from the Treaty of any extension in the powers of the Commission in the area of trade.
Parliament began a wide-ranging debate on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Central to the discussion were the method to be used in deciding on EMU, and the demand for further clarification of monetary union. The chairman of the Grand Committee, Erkki Tuomioja, noted that the Committee's unanimous response to the Government report represented neither the view of the parties in Government nor those of the opposition, and no more reflected the views of supporters of EMU than those of its opponents. He took the view that the mechanics of the decision-making process on participation in EMU has been over-emphasized in the discussion on the report. He drew attention to the Committee's view that use of a legislative bill would make the decision more acceptable to the general public. Tuomioja believes that additional clarification of the effects of EMU and on alternatives to it constitute a responsible and wise preparation for decision-making, and are not the evasion of responsibility ascribed to them by Prime Minister Lipponen. Minister of Finance Niinistö indicated that the Government would be launching additional clarification work before the end of the week.
The subjects of the briefing given by President Ahtisaari at his summer residence, Kultaranta, on the occasion of his 60th birthday on June 23, included the results of the Amsterdam summit. According to the President, the decision on foreign and security policy reached at the summit could not have been better from Finland's point of view. He commended the summit's approval of the joint proposal by Finland and Sweden for the inclusion of crisis management within the remit of the WEU. At the same time, integration of the WEU into the EU - something of which Finland had been wary - remained unrealized. Indeed, Ahtisaari stressed that even if the goal remains in place, it will certainly not be realized during his own term as President. He said the decision represented a realism in which "Nordicness and Finnishness could be seen at their best". In his own estimation, he had himself contributed to the making of the decision. President Ahtisaari was not worried by the inability of the summit to resolve the question of the size of the Commission in conjunction with Union enlargement. He would be quite happy with as many as 26 Commissioners. He also believed Finland's chosen policy of military non-alignment attracted a great deal of respect.
115 countries and several NGOs gathered in Brussels at an international conference on land mines, hosted by Belgium. Finland attended the conference as an observer. Of the EU Member States, Finland and Greece are opposed to a ban on land mines. Finland would prefer to reach agreement on a ban on land mines at the UN disarmament conference in Geneva, attended by the most important producers and exporters of land mines, Russia and China. Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen said in an interview earlier in June that Finland could not just unilaterally give up its land mines. According to her, it is a question of the credibility of Finland's defences. In Luxembourg, on June 26, Halonen said that the Brussels meeting will build up pressures on Finland to consider the question of land mines. Foreign Minister Halonen is setting up a working group to clarify Finland's policy on mines, which she stressed had been expressed in a report on security policy presented earlier to Parliament. Finland has participated in the Ottawa process, but is unable to reach decisions as rapidly as the process requires.
EU foreign ministers gathered in Luxembourg decided to press on with the formal aspects of enlargement, despite the decision of the Amsterdam summit to postpone reforming decision-making structures to a later date. According to Foreign Minister Halonen, the EU is endeavouring to push ahead simultaneously on the three fronts of institutional reform, enlargement and EMU. Ms Halonen expressed the hope that an attempt could be made at some future summit to resolve the question of the distribution of power and decision-making structures within the EU. In her opinion, the debate on institutional structures should not be abandoned when so much progress had already been made.
The constitutional reform committee chaired by Member of Parliament Paavo Nikula delivered its report to Minister of Justice Kari Häkämies. In the report the Committee suggested that the President's powers ought to be reduced and the power of Parliament and the Government increased. The Committee would transfer the choice of Prime Minister to Parliament. Foreign policy leadership would be shared by the President and the Government. Presidential decision-making would be more tightly bound than at present to drafts and proposals made by the Government. The suggested changes are based on the argument that they would strengthen the parliamentary features of the Finnish political system. Justice minister Häkämies indicated that the proposal could be accepted as it stands, but would undergo changes during further drafting at the Ministry of Justice. Mr Häkämies is unwilling to interfere with the President's powers, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Prime Minister Lipponen expressed his views on the Committee's report in a radio interview on June 29. In his opinion, the Committee did not propose any fundamental changes to the President's powers in the area of foreign policy. In Mr Lipponen's opinion the President would still have the final say in matters of foreign policy. His interpretation is that the President would consult the Council of State.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in an interview in Brussels with the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that there was no intention of providing any kind of short cut to NATO for neutral European countries such as Austria and Finland, possibly interested in membership of the military alliance. He went on to state that NATO was an open organisation and would remain so. According to Mr Solana, the first enlargement phase would not be the last. The Secretary-General expressed his opinion of the rejection in Amsterdam of the proposed merger between the EU and the WEU. He stated that the unification of the two organisations was not in line with NATO's basic perception that the security of Europe and its defence profile should be built within NATO. Mr Solana also adopted a position on the processes of enlargement in the EU and NATO. In his view the processes are juridically independent of one another but there is, nevertheless, a clear political link between them. He regarded both enlargement processes as very important from the standpoint of European security.
The president of the EU Commission, Jacques Santer, said in Luxembourg that the EU should begin membership talks only with those countries that are regarded as being potentially ready to join the Union within a short period of time. His view was shared by Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, (which had just taken over the presidency of the EU). However, he did not want to exclude the possibility of talks being started with all applicant countries at the same time and being concluded at different times.
A summit conference took place in Madrid within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). Finland was represented at the conference by President Martti Ahtisaari and Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen. The conference was linked to the NATO summit in Madrid on July 8, at which the member countries decided to invite Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join the military alliance. The main theme of the EAPC conference was 'effective, cooperation-based security in the Euro-Atlantic region: risks, challenges and opportunities'. President Ahtisaari was one of the three principal speakers. He said that the new council needed a realistic and practicable work programme. In his view, the organisation should involve itself both in political issues and in strengthening NATO's Partnership for Peace programme. Mr Ahtisaari said that in the light of the NATO summit Finland's international position was very good. He estimated that Finland's chosen line had received international appreciation. In Madrid, the President also commented on the enlargement decision taken at the NATO summit. In his opinion, the decision to invite three new countries to join the alliance did not in any specific way affect Finland's security policy situation. He felt that the enlargement decision would have, to some extent, a calming effect: countries that had for a long time had their hearts set on NATO now knew that membership was in sight and that they could start right away to play a part in NATO's cooperative activities. One of the most important elements of the Madrid summit was that, in the President's view, enlargement had been emphasised as a continuous and open process for democracies prepared to accept NATO's fundamental values and share responsibility for membership. The President welcomed the fact that the summit had confirmed Romania and Slovenia as the next candidates and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the group to follow. He saw this as an indication that the process would continue even though there had been no wish to discuss a timetable. Before the Madrid conference, Foreign Minister Halonen had hoped that NATO would, in the Spanish capital, decide on the continuation of enlargement beyond the first phase. In Ms Halonen's view, a halt to NATO enlargement would not go unnoticed in Finland because, then, one future option would be closed, even if Finland was now satisfied with its status of non-alignment.
In a television interview President Ahtisaari said he thought that an application by Austria to join NATO would lead to a reassessment of membership in Finland, too. In his view the matter would not, however, be raised in the immediate future because Austria was taking its time to consider membership of the alliance. According to the President some new element might enter the discussion next year but there was no panic to alter Finland's position.
In an interview with the newspaper Suomenmaa, Centre Party chairman Esko Aho said he did not support any dilution of the powers of the President. In Mr Aho's view the proposal by Erkki Tuomioja, leader of the social democratic Parliamentary group, to abolish the powers of the President in domestic and foreign policy went too far. Mr Aho supported the approach of the Nikula committee, which was that the President would retain his leadership in foreign policy but the Council of State would be raised to a parallel position. In Mr Aho's opinion this would strengthen the existing practice in foreign policy management. Mr Aho would strengthen the power of MPs by transferring the nomination of Prime Ministers from the President to Parliament.
President and Mrs Ahtisaari visited the Petrozavodsk-Kontupohja area of Russia, at the invitation of President Yeltsin. During the visit, Mr Yeltsin brought up the idea of joint Finnish and Russian border surveillance. Finland's Minister of Home Affairs, Jan-Erik Enestam, said that Finland's underlying principle was that every country has its own border control arrangements. According to Mr Enestam, cooperation could be improved in the exchange of information. President Ahtisaari, too, rejected Mr Yeltsin's idea. Also during the visit the head of the government of Karelia, Viktor Stepanov, reacted negatively to the idea of the return to Finland of areas ceded to the former Soviet Union.
At a meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the EU Commission approved the Agenda 2000 programme, which contains the essential guidelines for the next phase of enlargement of the European Union. The programme was published on July 16 and in it the Commission proposed that membership talks be started early in 1998 with six applicant countries: Poland, Slovenia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia and Cyprus. The Commission did not believe, however, that the project would succeed under the EU's existing rules, but proposed that a new intergovernmental conference be convened immediately after the turn of the century. It would be expected to renew the EU's decision-making system to bring it in line with the requirements of an enlarged Union. The Commission also called on member countries to introduce partial amendments in advance of the conference. There was an appeal for political unanimity over the size of the Commission and over the number of votes allocated to member countries in meetings of the EU Council of Ministers. The Commission also unveiled a clear plan of action for countries excluded from the next round of enlargement talks. This included, among other proposals, significant economic support as well as close political cooperation in annual summit meetings and in the associate partnership council.
At a briefing in Helsinki the EU Commissioner responsible for budgetary affairs, Erkki Liikanen, gave an assurance that the arrival of new members in the EU would not increase the burden of payments on present member countries.
The Financial Times newspaper carried a report on the deficit in Finland's public sector economy, issued by the national statistics bureau, Statistics Finland. The bureau forecast that Finland's public sector deficit for 1996 would not meet the conditions set for participation in the third phase of European economic and monetary union, EMU. In spite of this, Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö was convinced that Finland would meet all the EMU criteria in 1997 and would remain among the better EU countries in the context of public sector debt. In a statement issued on July 29, Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the Commissioner responsible for EMU preparations, praised Finland's efforts to reduce its public sector deficit. The statement pointed out that even though the size of the 1996 deficit would have to be examined because of a statistical error, Finland succeeded in cutting its budget deficit by five percentage points during the years 1993-96. Commissioner de Silguy estimated that in 1997 Finland's budget would remain below three per cent of GNP. In his view this showed that the improvement in Finland's deficit had been significant and credible. In the autumn, the Commission assessed the deficit situation on the basis of data provided by member countries.
Sweden's former Prime Minister and current opposition leader, Carl Bildt, paid a private visit to Finland. In an interview published in the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat on July 31, Mr Bildt said he was very pleased that Finland and Sweden had strengthened their verbal contacts on pan-European issues. One of the aims of cooperation that he cited was ensuring EU membership for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Mr Bildt regretted the differences between the Finnish and Swedish governments over EMU. He criticised Sweden's decision to remain outside the first group of countries to take part in EMU.
Prime Minister Lipponen visited Lithuania. During his visit he signed an agreement abolishing reciprocal visa requirements. Lithuania's attempt to join the EU was a key topic of discussion. He pledged Finland's support for Lithuania's membership bid and said he still hoped that more than one Baltic State would be in the first group of new members, but added that this might be difficult, given the EU's internal situation.
Conservative ministers and leaders of the party's Parliamentary group gave added definition to their position on the work of the constitutional reform committee led by Member of Parliament Paavo Nikula. The Conservative Party's preliminary views on domestic policy go somewhat further than those of the committee. The Party proposed a change to the method of choosing the Prime Minister suggested by the committee. It wanted an alteration to one of the committee's recommendations so that the President's authority to initiate the search for a new Prime Minister would be reduced and the task taken over entirely by Parliament. The Conservative Party would redefine the President's authority in foreign policy, as set out in the Constitution Act of Finland, in order to create two provinces of foreign policy: traditional foreign policy and foreign policy associated with the European Union. The President would be allowed to retain a mandate only over the former.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, paid an official visit to Finland. Key topics in discussions with Finnish leaders were his views on reform of the United Nations and the future of the organisation. Other items were sustainable economic and social development, human rights, peacekeeping and crisis control. During the visit Finland offered the services of senior officials for UN posts. Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen stated that the visit had improved conditions for the conduct of policies towards the UN. She said that Finland was considering a temporary increase of funding to assist UN reforms.
Speaking in the city of Tampere, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said that the public debate going on in Germany and the hesitation of the Social Democratic Party in Sweden did not influence Finland's decision vis-à-vis EMU. Finland would be among the first group to take part in economic and monetary union. The main objective of the Finnish Social Democratic Party leadership would be to gain acceptance during the autumn for decisions that would pilot Finland towards EMU. Mr Lipponen surmised that support for a common currency was still strong among European governments. He emphasised that the European internal market could only be complete if it had a common currency. In Mr Lipponen's view, after the introduction of EMU the issue of a European federal state would not be irrelevant. He said that the emergence of a federal state would be a long process. The question now, he said, was to determine what was sensible in practice.
Centre Party chairman Esko Aho told a meeting of Centre Party MPs in Rovaniemi that the Centre was opposed to Finland being among the first group to participate in EMU in 1999. He justified the party's position by saying that Finland's important trading partners and rivals, Sweden, Great Britain and Denmark, were remaining outside monetary union. He said another wise reason for remaining outside was that Finland had not been successful in its preparations for EMU.
The governing body of the Green League called for resources earmarked for new army helicopters to be dropped from next year's budget. According to the Greens the government had not engaged in a debate about the timetable for possible purchases of helicopters or their effects on the state economy. Neither had the government made a choice between combat and transport helicopters. On August 21, the governing body of the Left Wing Alliance stated that the acquisition of helicopters was unjustified in the present economic situation. The chairman of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, Kalevi Lamminen (Conservative), had stated earlier that the project came at a psychologically awkward time and that Parliament would be facing faits accomplis when asked to approve the first small allocation of helicopter money. For their part, defenders of the helicopter project had taken take the view that Parliament had already given its blessing for the purchase of helicopters when it approved the government's defence policy review in the spring. Minister of Defence Anneli Taina took the view that in seeking authority to order helicopters the government was simply implementing the wishes of Parliament.
The chairman of the Finnish Red Cross, Per Stenbäck, speaking at the organisation's general congress in the town of Vaasa, said that the FRC supported the stance of the International Red Cross and the International Red Crescent on the prohibition of anti-personnel landmines. According to Mr Stenbäck, the FRC was only considering humanitarian factors, not Finland's military priorities.
The Nordic Council arranged a seminar in the Finnish Parliament building on the theme of 'Northern Europe's new security policy challenges'. In his opening address, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said that Finland did not want to join the Ottawa process, which aims at a worldwide ban on anti-personnel landmines. He repeated that Finland wants a ban to be negotiated at the UN disarmament conference in Geneva. Pressure on Finland was increased by the announcement by the United States that it might be prepared to join the Ottawa process if the Korean Peninsula were excluded from the ban. Mr Lipponen expressed the hope that all three Baltic States would become members of the European Union. In his view, this should be a goal for Finland and the other Nordic countries.
Speaking to reporters about foreign policy prospects for the autumn, Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen said that a task force set up by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs would draw up a detailed report on alternatives to landmines in Finnish defence. The task force, concentrating exclusively on the landmine issue, started work in May. It was expected to complete its work in the autumn. Ms Halonen surmised that in Finland there had been an over-optimistic time estimate of the international progress of the mine debate. Therefore, the issue had not been given enough attention in the government's second foreign policy review completed in February. She said she understood the desire to abolish landmines but wanted alternatives to be on a durable footing.
In an opinion survey on EMU conducted by Taloustutkimus Oy for the 'European Finland' association, 1,102 Finns were asked if Parliament should support or oppose European monetary union. 41 per cent of the respondents thought that EMU should be supported, 42 per cent took the opposing line and 17 per cent were unable to express an opinion. In a comparable survey carried out on September 24, the percentages were 38, 42 and 20.
Finland took part, as an observer, in the three-week conference in Oslo aimed at a worldwide ban on anti-personnel landmines. Finland's six-member delegation was led by Pasi Patokallio who believed that the Ottawa process and the Oslo conference would accelerate the introduction of a global ban on anti-personnel landmines. Patokallio was of the opinion that the problem at the Oslo conference was the countries that were absent. Finland places its trust in the Geneva disarmament process to produce an effective, global treaty. The Oslo conference produced an agreement banning anti-personnel landmines which was signed by almost 100 countries. Finland did not sign.
The Lipponen government presented its third budget proposal. A total of 3,304 million markkas was proposed for the administrative sector of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In development cooperation the government will continue to increase appropriations in line with its decision in principle of autumn 1996. The target is that development cooperation expenditure would be 0.4 per cent of GNP by the year 2000. A further 1,650 million markkas is proposed for concrete development cooperation, an increase of 11 per cent compared with 1997. Expenditure on development cooperation will total approximately 0.36 per cent of the estimated GNP for 1998. A sum of 181 million markkas is proposed for development cooperation in nearby areas, an increase of 17 per cent compared with the budget for 1997. In its budget proposal the government is requesting authorisation to allocate 7,766 billion markkas to equip three planned new rapid deployment brigades. According to unofficial estimates, 4 billion markkas of the sum are to be used for the acquisition of helicopters. The proposed authorisation would not cover the whole scheme but only the helicopters and the first stage of training, plus supplies, support systems and weapons systems.
Nordic Foreign Ministers met in Bergen, Norway and were joined on 3 September by the Foreign Ministers of the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In the meeting Finland took a different line from the other Nordic countries concerning the start-up of negotiations by the Baltic States on EU membership. The other Nordic countries wanted to see all Baltic states on the same starting line while Finland was inclined to accept the European Commission’s proposal, made in the summer, that Estonia should be the only Baltic State in the first wave of negotiations. Foreign Minister Halonen said that the Nordic countries differed on the details but that no-one wanted to put Estonia’s position at risk either. However, a communiqué issued at the close of the meeting stressed that all applicant countries should participate fully, equally, and from the same starting line in the enlargement process leading to EU accession; the European Council was due to take a decision about this in December 1997. At a press conference Foreign Minister Halonen had to explain Finland's stand on anti-personnel landmines. The Nordic ministers said they understood Finland’s position on the mine issue but believed that Finland would still sign the Ottawa Treaty.
Prime Minister Lipponen said he hoped the schedule for European monetary union would become clear by the end of the year. Mr Lipponen regarded it as highly possible that the autumn would see "the emergence of a factual basis" on which political decisions on the matter could be founded. He noted that Finland already belonged to the group of strong EMU countries. He said he believed the employment conference being held in the autumn would formulate a common European policy on jobs and the economy.
In an interview with Reuters news agency Prime Minister Lipponen repeated that Finland did not intend to join the Ottawa process, whose participants commit themselves to unilateral renunciation of anti-personnel landmines. Lipponen said that anti-personnel mines are but one area of conventional disarmament and that Finland does not want to single out a specific type of weapon for special attention. Finland is in favour of raising the subject of a ban on mines in the Geneva disarmament talks. He said Finland wanted the same kind of exceptional status as the United States is demanding for the Korean Peninsula as a condition for joining the Ottawa process.
Prime Minister Lipponen said he hoped that EU enlargement would go forward in the form recommended by the Commission and that the process would not be complicated by new proposals. Mr Lipponen pointed out that the Commission had used objective criteria in deciding on the model for opening negotiations with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Cyprus and Estonia. He warned against demanding that negotiations be started with all applicants at the same time or that the Baltic States should be treated together as a group. He made it clear that tying Estonia to Latvia and Lithuania could damage Estonia’s chances, too, and said he hoped the matter would be understood in Sweden. Mr Lipponen said Finland was satisfied that the Commission had made room for one Baltic State in the group of six countries chosen. The Prime Minister was critical of ideas, put forward in southern Europe, for re-examining EU enlargement. He also said he hoped that an informal decision could be taken as early as the current year on the countries that would participate in the third stage of EMU. The Prime Minister said that Finland had adopted the objective that the Finnish markka should be converted into euros at its present ERM central rate.
President Ahtisaari gave a luncheon speech in connection with a security conference of heads of state of Eastern and Central Europe, held in Vilnius. He reminded the Baltic States of the responsibilities of EU membership and noted that the moment for accession depends on the readiness of each applicant to fulfil the demands and responsibilities of membership. He said Finland would support accession by all applicant countries that meet the criteria for EU membership.
Defence Minister Taina said in the town of Vaasa that the army needs helicopters because they will improve the operational readiness of its land forces and the mobility of the new rapid deployment units. Ms Taina said that the way for Parliament to commit itself to the whole lengthy acquisition process would be to authorise their purchase. Only in this way, she believed, could major defence purchases be made in a sensible, ordered way from start to finish, within the framework of available resources.
Prime Minister Lipponen, on a Defence Council visit to Parola, said he believed Parliament would approve the start of helicopter purchases by the army in line with the government’s proposal. Postponing the decision would delay training and the timetable required for manufacturing the helicopters on offer. He believed that rapid deployment forces with helicopters would be ready in Kajaani, Säkylä and Vekaranjärvi in 2005. He said that the decision was within the guidelines drawn up by the Defence Council and that the purchase of helicopters was not an anomalous cost item.
Parliament began a preliminary debate on the budget. Many Members of Parliament from governing parties were strongly opposed to including in next year’s budget the authority for ordering helicopters for the Defence Forces. The chairman of the Social Democratic Parliamentary group, Erkki Tuomioja, said his group was opposed to the suggestion that Parliament should approve orders worth billions of markkas at such an early stage and sign an open power of attorney for the purchase of new helicopters. Mr Tuomioja wanted to see more analysis of the costs of the acquisition, the characteristics of the helicopters and the function, funding and impact of defence policy as a whole. Satu Hassi of the Green League commented that the Ministry of Defence was trying to slip helicopters into the budget in the same way as Hornet aircraft had once been. The chairman of the Left Wing Alliance Parliamentary group, Matti Korhonen, stated that groundwork for the helicopter purchase had been inadequate and had focused on a narrow view of security based on weaponry. The group believed that the planners had ignored the broader link with budget resources available
President Ahtisaari gave a presentation in Stockholm at an event arranged by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. In his speech he strongly defended Finland’s decision on EMU which, he said, was the correct one in the light of Finland’s circumstances. The President said it was important "that political decision-makers manage to construct a mechanism that will ensure stability of monetary policy and give protection against currency speculation". He said that EMU was just such a mechanism. The President regarded it as natural that the Nordic countries do not always take the same line. The key point, he said, was that no single Nordic country had said it would never participate in EMU. He also commented on the different attitudes taken by Sweden and Finland towards EU membership negotiations by the Baltic States. The President compared the situation for Latvia and Lithuanian to a European athletics championship: participation is open only to those who have survived the national qualifying rounds in each event. Mr Ahtisaari also took up the debate in Finland over authorising the purchase of helicopters. He said the matter would proceed in a calm fashion with all the alternatives being examined. It was also worth considering joint purchases of helicopters by Finland and Sweden, he remarked.
EU Finance Ministers decided in Mondorf, Luxembourg, that the bilateral, irrevocable exchange rates of the currencies of countries participating in EMU will already be set at the ECOFIN Council of Finance Ministers next spring. The decisions will be taken at the same time as the first countries participating in EMU are chosen. The ministers did not settle what their exchange rate decision, due at the start of May, would be based on. Finance Minister Niinistö repeated his earlier stand that the present central rates of the ERM would suit Finland very well.
EU Foreign Ministers convened in Brussels where the main theme was the expansion of the Union and the Commission’s Agenda 2000 reform proposals. Foreign Minister Halonen said in a speech that Finland had earlier been willing to support the initiative by Belgium, Italy and France for completion of the reform of Union institutions before enlargement. However, she was now of the opinion that the proposal by these three countries could become a threat to enlargement. For Finland the acceptance of new members was such an important objective that the incomplete state of the Union’s internal affairs should not be allowed to threaten it. Finland supports the proposal by the Commission to divide applicant countries into two groups before the start of negotiations. Talks can be started with the six best applicants immediately, while the others undergo a longer period of preparation towards eligibility before negotiations begin. Ms Halonen said she believed that Greece, as well as Sweden and Denmark, support the strategy known as the Regatta model, in which negotiations are commenced with all applicants at the same time. Money matters could also threaten enlargement. Germany and the Netherlands regard their share in the financing of the EU as excessive and the Netherlands has linked the matter to enlargement.
Prime Minister Lipponen took part in a conference in Rovaniemi on the Barents region. He said in his speech that it is in the European Union’s interest, too, that it adds a northern dimension to its policies. This would bring together the Council of Baltic Sea States, the Barents Regional Council and the Council of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region. A stronger EU focus on the Barents area would bring the EU great new opportunities for developing the area’s energy, forest and other natural resources. At the same time the EU would strengthen peace and stability on its northernmost border and smooth out the difference in living standards that prevails there. The Prime Minister said the EU would be wise initially to at least seek observer status on the Council of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region. Finland was currently preparing an action programme to be presented to the EU in Luxembourg in December.
The International Commission charged with overseeing the handover of weapons by Northern Irish paramilitary organisations began its work. At the request of Great Britain and Ireland, Finland has made Brigadier General Tauno Nieminen available to serve as a member of the new commission. The Northern Ireland peace talks are continuing under the leadership of an international working group led by George Mitchell of the United States. Former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri continues to serve as a member of the group.
An EMU working group of the Centre Party, the main opposition party, reported that it does not believe Finland should be among the first wave of participants in EMU because Sweden, Denmark and Britain are not participating. However, if Finland does participate, the Centre Party does not support the idea that it should later withdraw. The Centre Party’s policy on EMU was to be drawn up on the basis of the working group’s views at an extraordinary party conference on 28 September.
The Parliamentary group of the Swedish People’s Party was the first Parliamentary group to issue a statement on the proposals of the Nikula committee on constitutional reform. The group said that in all significant respects it supports proposals for stronger Parliamentarianism while still retaining significant presidential prerogatives. In foreign affairs the Swedish People’s Party wants the constitution to be formulated so that foreign policy is directed by the President and the Council of State together. It also wants a clear distinction made between EU affairs and other foreign affairs so as not to create any greater laxity, at least, in possible interpretations of the President’s authority.
Two newspapers, Savon Sanomat and Turun Sanomat, published an opinion poll they had commissioned concerning Finnish attitudes towards a common currency, the euro. According to its findings, more than half (51%) of the Finns approved of a common European currency if the third stage of EMU gets under way in January 1999. 43% of respondents were opposed to a common currency at a time when the implementation of European monetary union is not yet certain. Politically, those keenest on the euro are supporters of the National Coalition (Conservative) Party while the Left Wing Alliance and the Centre Party like it least.
Foreign Minister Halonen was in the United States heading Finland’s delegation to the 52nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. In her speech to the Assembly she said Finland was one of the countries firmly in favour of UN reform. Ms Halonen stressed Finland’s view that the reform proposals should be considered as a coherent whole and the Secretary-General given the authority to act on them during the autumn session. She also proposed that the UN should establish mission headquarters for its rapid deployment forces as soon as possible. The UN has already decided to establish élite forces for rapid deployment with a strength of some 4,000 men. The troops are currently undergoing training and should be operational in 1999.
President Ahtisaari paid a working visit to Japan. In the same connection he briefly visited China and had a meeting with President Jiang Zemin, where human rights and the rule of law were raised. In Japan President Ahtisaari talked with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Emperor Akihito. The main purpose of the trip was to promote trade prospects for Finnish companies in Japan. On September 25 President Ahtisaari said in Tokyo that he was not worried about the political dichotomy in Finland regarding EMU participation: the situation was not much different elsewhere, he said. Interviewed on a Japanese current events TV programme, President Ahtisaari spoke about EU membership for the Baltic States. He said efforts should now be made to help Latvia and Lithuania so that they, too, would meet the EU’s criteria. At the National Press Club of Japan, Mr Ahtisaari urged financial institutions in the United States, the European Union, Japan and internationally to prepare more decisively for the advent of the euro. Possible irrational reactions on foreign exchange markets should be minimized, he said. Ahtisaari predicted that a common currency would increase monetary stability in Europe and that this in turn would be reflected in greater global stability. The President also took a stand on the make-up of the UN Security Council which, he said, had lagged behind the times. Germany and Japan should be made permanent members even if the Council’s new members were not to be granted the right of veto. Mr Ahtisaari also proposed that Japan and Finland could work together on environmental questions concerning both Russia and China.
Defence Minister Taina defended Finland’s attitude towards the ban on the anti-personnel mines at the start of a defence seminar in Helsinki. Ms Taina said that no Finnish mine would be encountered by a civilian but "only by a soldier of a foreign nation intruding into Finnish territory as part of an armed and hostile force". Finland supports the banning of mines by an international treaty that is comprehensive, binding and verifiable. The Defence Minister emphasized that Finland was not responsible for the world’s anti-personnel mine problem. She also noted Finland had not manufactured anti-personnel mines since 1981 nor exported them to any country. Ms Taina said that anti-personnel mines were a significant part of Finland’s defence strategy. No other weapons system was a complete substitute for them, and the cost of replacing them would run into billions.
Prime Minister Lipponen told a meeting of Social Democratic Party delegates: "Politically, EMU is a logical continuation of Finland’s post-war line. Economically, it will subsequently prove to have been as indisputably right as the earlier integration decisions that were also seriously distrusted in advance." In a vote of party delegates 53 supported early EMU participation and only three wanted to postpone it. In the statement approved by the meeting, EMU was also justified as an effective way of strengthening Finland’s position as active participant in decisions on the future of Europe. In addition, the EMU stand was linked to stronger security.
The Parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party called for early constitutional reform. The group wanted the government to present a proposal on reform of the laws that make up the constitution before the 1998 session of Parliament. The group endorsed reform on the basis of the 'Constitution 2000' Nikula committee report, but wanted to make small amendments to the proposals in negotiations between parliamentary groups. According to the Social Democratic Parliamentary Group the principles and rules governing foreign policy and European policy need further clarification. The Parliamentary Group of the Left Wing Alliance wanted the government to bring the report before Parliament in its present form.
The leadership of the Centre Party was presented with the results of a poll commissioned by the "European Finland" Association, in response to the question: "When Finland makes its decision on participating in European monetary union, should it follows Sweden’s example or decide the matter without reference to Sweden?" The overwhelming majority of Finns, 82%, wanted Finland to opt in or out of monetary union regardless of Sweden’s decision on the matter. The survey also asked whether Finland should join EMU at the start in 1999, or later, or not at all. 36% wanted to see Finland in the first wave of participants, 37% preferred later participation, 14% wanted Finland to opt out and 13% were undecided.
The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported that Finland was the only country participating in NATO-led peacekeeping in Bosnia that had refused to participate in operations by NATO’s Sfor forces attempting to silence radio and television stations spreading propaganda against the Dayton Peace Agreement. The other 35 Sfor countries had approved the new operating rules for peacekeeping personnel that allow military force to be used if necessary to silence stations. Finland’s decision is based on its law on peacekeeping that unambiguously forbids participation in measures to impose peace.
An extraordinary party conference of the main opposition Centre Party decided that it did not want Finland to be in the first wave of countries in EMU. The conference did not, however, support the proposal that if the government of Prime Minister Lipponen takes Finland into EMU and the Centre Party later comes to power, it should call for Finland to leave it. The Centre Party said that a referendum should be held on EMU.
Helsingin Sanomat conducted a telephone poll of Members of Parliament over whether Finland should seek a place among the first participants in EMU in 1999. Half of the MPs responding (94 out of 191) said they supported Finnish participation in EMU. 48 Members of Parliament said they were opposed. 37 members said they were still undecided and 12 declined to answer. The National Coalition Party, the Swedish People’s Party and the Social Democratic Party are in favour of participation. There was still uncertainty in the Left Wing Alliance and the Green League while the Centre Party and the Christian League are firmly against it.
Minister Max Jakobson analyzed the difference between Finland's and Sweden's attitude towards EMU in his column in Helsingin Sanomat. He suggested that cooperation between the left and the right is an impossible idea for Sweden's Social Democrats. In Finland, on the other hand, the Social Democrats have cooperated with non-socialists. In his opinion the difference can also be expressed by saying that "Sweden's policy revolves around the left-right axis, while in Finland the dividing line is the attitude towards integration, which unites the Social Democrats and the National Coalition Party". In addition Finland, as a border country, has a need to prove that it is a full-fledged partner in the European Union, while Sweden has a tradition of pride in the superiority of its own social model. Jakobson added that Denmark's and Sweden's decision to remain outside EMU has drawn attention to Finland in the EU.
In 1997 the Ministry for Foreign Affairs spent FIM 15 million out of its humanitarian aid budget for mine-clearing. In the past mine-clearing expertise has been supplied to countries in Africa. At the beginning of 1998 Finland will send a six-man team to Cambodia under the UN flag.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Tarja Halonen signed the European Union's new treaty in Amsterdam. In her opinion restructuring of the EU is more likely to be a consequence of enlargement than a condition for it.
Helsingin Sanomat arranged a seminar on Europe in Helsinki, where EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek spoke on the enlargement of the European Union. He hoped that the countries which are excluded from the first stage of enlargement would stop complaining about discrimination and begin working actively to achieve membership. Prime Minister Lipponen promised Finland's support for enlargement if it is conducted in the manner chosen by the Commission. He considered it right for the Commission to include Estonia in the first wave. Estonia can thus pave the way for the other Baltic countries to join the Union.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen congratulated the international movement to ban anti-personnel landmines and its leader, Jody Williams, for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. In her opinion the international community has taken an important step towards a worldwide ban on landmines.
President Ahtisaari and Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen attended a summit of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where the theme was democratic values, human rights and citizens' security. In his speech President Ahtisaari drew attention to how the Council ensures compliance with members' commitments. He complained that some members show little interest in agreements regarding the rights of minorities. Finland's initiative to establish a Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe received support.
President Ahtisaari visited the United States, where he met with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is in charge of NATO enlargement. He also met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose reform programme he hoped the members would soon begin to implement. In New York, at an occasion arranged by the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce, Ahtisaari stressed that the EU should develop its northern dimension. The Americans could join in exploiting northern Europe's oil and gas resources. At Harvard University Ahtisaari noted that international organizations such as the UN and the WTO should make changes to meet the needs of the modern world. He also cautioned that monetary union may be followed by a period of instability in Europe. To counteract this he suggested cooperation between the EU, the USA and the IMF. He emphasized that the continued participation of the United States in guaranteeing European security is a vital matter. Partnership with the United States requires that Europe keep its own house in order.
In Luxembourg the EU environment ministers approved the Union's goal for the climate conference scheduled to take place in December in Kyoto, Japan. Finland promised to keep its emissions in 2010 at the level recorded in 1990, which means reducing emissions by 8-10% between now and then.
Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas of Lithuania negotiated with Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen in Helsinki concerning Lithuania's possibilities to join the European Union. Finland, unlike Sweden and Denmark, has supported the European Commission model in which Estonia is the only Baltic state among the six countries lined up for the next membership negotiations. Saudargas said that the Commission was dissatisfied mainly with Lithuania's economy and hoped that the country's economy would be reevaluated in Luxembourg in December. Halonen said that eligibility for membership should be evaluated at yearly intervals.
Prime Minister Lipponen visited Britain and met Prime Minister Tony Blair. Lipponen praised Britain's new government for taking a more positive stand on European matters. He hoped that Britain would join EMU as soon as possible.
The EU foreign ministers held an unofficial meeting in Luxembourg at Mondorf-les-Bains, where they discussed enlargement and its basic strategy.
The Centre for Finnish Business and Policy Studies published an opinion poll conducted in September and October to determine the public's views on the EU and its development needs. When asked whether Finland should be among the first countries to join EMU, 59% of respondents said no and 21% yes. When asked if EMU membership should be approved if most of the EU countries joined, 50% said yes and 31% no. Nearly 80% of Finns believed that Finland would join EMU. Respondents feared that membership would reduce Finland's independence, increase inequality, weaken Finns' national spirit and lead towards a federal Europe. Finland's goal of promoting Estonian membership in the EU and the idea of enlarging the EU to the east did not receive support among Finns.
President Ahtisaari made an official visit to Switzerland. Talks focused on Switzerland's negotiations with the EU as well as enlargement of the EU and NATO. At an occasion arranged by the Finnish-Swiss Chamber of Commerce, Ahtisaari noted that Finland has got what it wanted from EU membership: a say in matters which affect the nation and a way to promote Finland's international aspirations. In Ahtisaari's opinion integration and EMU will promote European security.
The Centre Party's parliamentary group submitted a bill calling for a consultative referendum on whether Finland should join EMU. The group said that approval of the EMU solution requires the backing of public opinion.
Prime Minister Lipponen visited Portugal and received support for strengthening the EU's northern dimension. Prime Minister Antonio Guterres viewed the strengthening of the northern dimension as part of the development of the EU's global role. He stressed that the northern dimension is not in conflict with Mediterranean cooperation and considered it important that the EU not forget to strengthen its border regions.
Prime Minister Lipponen visited Luxembourg, which held the presidency of the EU. Prime Minister Juncker promised solid support for the EU's northern dimension. The prime ministers did not view sharp fluctuations in world stock markets as a threat to EMU. Lipponen noted that the economies in the EU countries are stabler and that the forecast is for a period of sound growth. In his opinion Finns' attitudes towards EMU are becoming more positive.
Speaking to a group of Social Democratic students, Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen said that Finland needs a discrimination ombudsman. In her opinion there is a gap between the areas covered by the Ombudsman for Aliens and the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman which a discrimination ombudsman could fill. The European Council's anti-racism commission recently proposed the establishment of an ombudsman in Finland.
The British minister responsible for European affairs, Doug Henderson, visited Helsinki. Lipponen received Britain's support for Finland's initiative to create a joint EU line on its northern regions and neighbouring regions so that support programmes and EU policies can work as effectively as possible. Concrete matters on the agenda included nuclear safety and energy supply in northern regions.
President Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia made a state visit to Finland. Ulmanis and Ahtisaari discussed the enlargement of the EU. Ahtisaari promised Finland's support for Latvian membership. Ulmanis also visited Rovaniemi, where Ahtisaari noted that the EU has reacted favourably to Finland's initiative to include the northern dimension among the Union's main political goals. He hoped that the EU would give Finland's line the same support which Finland has given the Union's focus on its southernmost members.
Defence Force Commander Gustav Hägglund said in Helsinki that a regional defence system based on general conscription is still viable but is not suitable for thwarting new threats, such as military measures taken to place political pressure on the country or conflicts in neighbouring regions. In Hägglund's opinion Finland's defence doctrine should be developed between now and 2005, by which time emergency brigades should be in use. These can be developed to ward off new threats. Hägglund also said that procuring helicopters is indispensable to equip emergency brigades.
In a new opinion poll 57% of respondents did not want Finland to join EMU right away. Only 32% said Finland should be in the first wave.
Finland made its representation in NATO official and established a new delegation to take care of its relations with NATO and the WEU.
The Cabinet European Union Committee discussed a proposal by France and Germany that the EMU countries should create an unofficial EMU council after the creation of monetary union. Finland supports the idea but opposes the French model in which discussion would be given an official framework. Finland also opposes the idea of including the European Commission as a negotiating party. In emphasizing the unofficial nature of the body, Finland wants to make it clear that the forum will not threaten the independent position of the European Central Bank. Finland also opposes the inclusion of countries outside the euro zone in the body, on the grounds that matters in the euro zone are the concern of the EMU countries and not outsiders. Finland also fears that in a mixed group large countries will band together to discuss EMU matters.
In an open letter to Helsingin Sanomat a group of influential Finns appealed to the government to join a convention banning landmines. They advised Finland to take part in the Ottawa conference and to sign a ban on the production, use, storage and sale of anti-personnel landmines. In addition they called on Finland to substantially increase financial aid and expert support for mine-clearing.
The council of the European Union's finance ministers made a political decision to introduce euro bills and coins on the first day of 2002, according to original plans. They also discussed the management of the European Central Bank. Finland supported a proposal by German Chancellor Kohl that one board seat should be left empty for Britain.
Prime Minister Lipponen made a working visit to Estonia. The agenda included Estonia's application for membership of the European Union. Lipponen applauded the Estonian government's strategy to integrate the country's Russian minority. He said that Finland was still prepared to offer help in covering the costs of teaching Estonian, for example. Lipponen also noted that Finland's stance on Estonia's minority question is like that of the other EU countries, but he said that Finns are in a better position to take into consideration the historical background.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen and Defence Minister Taina attended a WEU ministerial conference in Erfurt, Germany. At the conference cooperation between the WEU and the EU was intensified on the basis of a model proposed by Finland and Sweden, as called for in the Amsterdam treaty. The foreign and defence ministers of the WEU approved a more active role for non-aligned countries who are observers in the WEU. This decision means that Finland and Sweden will be treated as full members of the WEU if the EU asks the WEU to carry out military crisis-control operations or humanitarian rescue measures. At the conference Finland also became an observer in the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG). Finland's defence minister can now participate in conferences of the defence ministers of the WEAG countries. Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen noted in Erfurt that Finland has worked hard to show that a non-aligned country can be a significant actor in security policy. In her view Finland has now received the right to take the floor and make proposals in the WEU while deepening cooperation with NATO. She said, however, that Finnish membership of NATO is no closer.
Prime Minister Lipponen headed the Finnish delegation at the EU employment conference in Luxembourg. The conference offered education as a cure for mass unemployment. Lipponen said that the conference was beneficial for Finland because it provided "better support for our employment policy".
According to an opinion poll conducted for a Finnish Broadcasting Company current-affairs programme, two-thirds of Finns want a referendum on EMU. The poll indicated that 45% of Finns are opposed to joining EMU while 36% are in favour.
The EU foreign ministers met in Brussels and strove to reach an agreement on the next stage of enlargement. According to a Commission proposal negotiations will begin with six countries, but four countries wanted a "regatta" model in which talks would start with all eleven applicants at the same time. Denmark proposed a "delayed regatta". Germany proposed the establishment of a working group which would go over major membership problems with all eleven countries at the same time. Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen did not support the Danish or German proposals.
Risto E.J. Penttilä, the chairman of the Young Finns, proposed in Helsingin Sanomat that new helicopters should be purchased for the Defence Forces in cooperation with the Border Guard. Penttilä based his proposal mainly on the operational advantages of combined purchases. He said that the purchasing of helicopters was indispensable if Finland intends to follow its defence-policy line. He also suggested that Finland and Sweden consider making helicopter purchases together.
President Ahtisaari visited London and met Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prime Minister Tony Blair. Speaking at Chatham House, Ahtisaari said that Europe is more united than ever before. He surveyed Finland's experience during its first three years in the European Union and judged that membership has strengthened Finland's independence. In his opinion the way in which Western Europe builds its relation with Russia will be decisive for the development of Europe. This relation is not only a matter of security; it is also about well-being, which will depend to an increasing degree on Russia's energy resources. The EU should have its own northern dimension policy to promote close cooperation with the Baltic Sea region and northwestern Russia. After conferring with Prime Minister Blair, Ahtisaari believed that Britain supported Finland's northern dimension initiative. Ahtisaari said that Britain's decision to remain outside the third stage of EMU will not harm Finland.
The Nordic defence ministers met in Rena, Norway. For the first time this meeting was attended by the Russian defence minister, Igor Sergeyev, who repeated Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement. The ministers discussed the Baltic countries, the development of whose defence forces both the Nordic countries and Russia wish to support. Other topics on the agenda included the situation in ex-Yugoslavia, joint Nordic peacekeeping operations, increasing preparedness and expertise in the area of mine-clearing, and environmental questions. Defence Ministers Taina and Sergeyev also negotiated on bilateral cooperation between their ministries. Sergeyev stressed that security-policy relations between Finland and Russia have never been as deep or strong as they have been since Finland joined the EU.
Defence Minister Taina reported on the current state of helicopter purchases to the Parliamentary Defence Subcommittee. She hoped that Finland and Sweden would cooperate in purchasing helicopters. She also proposed that a management group be appointed to prepare helicopter purchases. This would include representatives of the largest parliamentary groups in addition to experts from the Ministry of Defence.
President Ahtisaari made an official visit to Russia, where he met President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and took part in the Finland Days in Moscow. President Ahtisaari stressed that Russia's relations to the Baltic countries are important to Finland. He hoped that the countries will be able to strengthen confidence-building measures and that Russia can sign border agreements with Latvia and Estonia as soon as possible. He said that Finland supports the efforts of the Estonian and Latvian governments to integrate their Russian minorities and added that EU membership for the Baltic countries would strengthen this process. In connection with the visit President Yeltsin urged the Finnish media to stop the debate on Karelia. He said Russia has no intention of discussing the return of Karelia. Ahtisaari later pointed out that Finnish citizens have the right to talk about anything they please and hoped that the Russians would understand the historical trauma inflicted on Finns by the Winter War. During the visit the Russian weekly Itogi published an interview in which President Ahtisaari said that Finland would always be ready to discuss Karelia if the Russian leadership so desired. On another occasion he said that he will not allow this issue to become a problem between the two countries. Relations between Finland and Russia were described as problem-free.
According to an opinion poll conducted by the Planning Commission for Information on National Defence, 67% of Finns thought that Finland should remain militarily non-aligned while 25% favoured alignment (20% in 1996). In the poll 32% of respondents believed that NATO enlargement into Eastern Central Europe would increase Finns' security, while 37% did not expect it to make much difference and 21% perceived enlargement as a threat (31% in 1996). With regard to NATO enlargement into the Baltic countries, 28% thought this would increase Finns' security and 26% perceived it as a threat. A majority of respondents (51%) were opposed to purchasing helicopters, while 39% were in favour. Opposition to landmines had grown: 20% of respondents now said that Finland should unilaterally renounce anti-personnel landmines, compared with 15% a year earlier.
According to the European Commission's Eurobarometer survey, only 47% of citizens in the EU supported EMU. The number of supporters had fallen while the number of opponents had risen to a new peak of 40%. The lowest support, 26%, was in Britain. Finland was not far behind, with 29% in favour of EMU and 62% opposed.
Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights Elisabeth Rehn was appointed the Secretary-General's special envoy to Bosnia. Rehn will be in charge of all UN operations in the war-torn country.
Helsingin Sanomat reported that Finnish peacekeepers in Bosnia have received more leeway in the use of force after the Cabinet Foreign and Security Policy Committee issued a new interpretation of the Peacekeeping Act. Finns can in future participate in attack and destroy operations if they are essential to achieve basic tasks. This participation is now interpreted as expanded peacekeeping. The change was based on concern over Finland's possibilities to continue operating in Bosnia. It was thought that NATO may not want countries whose legislation places tight restrictions on operations. Defence Minister Taina addressed the issue in Helsingin Sanomat on 28 November. She said that Finland has not changed its restrictions on Finnish soldiers participating in the Bosnian peacekeeping operation. Finnish troops still do not take part in reactive operations, i.e. those requiring the use of force. Finland has said that it is interested in participating in the Dfor operation scheduled to follow the Sfor operation which will end in June 1998. These troops may be given expanded operating powers.
The EU ministers in charge of development cooperation met in Brussels, where they approved a decision which had been worked out at a lower level concerning cooperation to ban anti-personnel landmines. In contrast with the EU line, Finland will not sign the Ottawa convention, according to which stocks of landmines will be destroyed over the next four years. The timetable is too tight for Finland, which will proceed at its own pace.
The Parliamentary Finance Committee's Security and Defence Subcommittee received a background report on helicopter purchases from the Ministry of Defence. According to the report Parliament should without delay authorize orders to equip emergency brigades.
Representatives of 26 countries and the Palestinian Authority took part in the EU Mediterranean conference in Helsinki. EU members and non-members for the first time approved a comprehensive programme to protect the environment in the Mediterranean. Environment Minister Haavisto, who served as host, presented the results and challenges of environmental cooperation in the Baltic Sea region together with Environment Minister Anna Lindh of Sweden.
In an interview in the newspaper Pohjalainen, Prime Minister Lipponen said that Finland's European policy line will not waver in the future. In his opinion no government in Europe can afford to wait until citizens change their minds about EMU. Centre Party Chairman Esko Aho said that Lipponen is wrong. He pointed out that Sweden and Britain have governments which follow the will of the people in the EMU issue. In his opinion the Lipponen government is on the wrong track if Finland joins EMU despite opposition from the people. Such a solution is dangerous for credibility and also for the future. He asked how Finland will fare in EMU if the people do not support the project.
The UN climate conference was held in Kyoto, Japan. Environment Minister Haavisto proposed that if the coal fund planned in connection with the World Bank is set up, Finland in order to compensate for its own emissions will be interested particularly in projects in Russia. On 11 December the Kyoto conference approved an agreement calling on the EU to reduce its emissions by 8%, the United States by 7% and Japan by 6% from the 1990 level by 2008-2012. In the EU group Finland could keep its emissions unchanged.
A constitutional amendment drafted under the direction of Minister of Justice Kari Häkämies was distributed to the governmental party groups. According to the amendment the constitution would read: "Finland's foreign policy shall be directed by the President of the Republic in cooperation with the Council of State." The wording proposed by a committee headed by MP Paavo Nikula, according to which the President would direct foreign policy "together with the Council of State", would in practice have signified a session of the Council of State. Under the new wording it is sufficient for the President to inform the necessary minister, generally the minister for foreign affairs or the prime minister. In the draft Häkämies did not propose any change in decision-making on EU affairs compared with the Nikula committee. According to the committee's proposal, "The Council of State shall be responsible for the national preparation of decisions taken in the European Union and shall decide on related measures by Finland unless the decision requires the approval of Parliament." The government resolved the last controversies in the reform on 3 December. In the model agreed by the government the President's authority in foreign policy will not be altered.
Finland took part as an observer in a conference in Ottawa, Canada, where over a hundred countries signed the Ottawa convention, which bans the production, use and export of anti-personnel landmines. Finland was the only EU country which refused to sign the convention. In her statement Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen noted that the convention was a decisive step in the process of disarmament. She said that the Finnish government will take a stand on the convention when it has studied ways to replace landmines. Halonen pointed out that a complete ban on anti-personnel landmines can be promoted by the Geneva disarmament conference as well as the Ottawa process.
The defence ministers' conference at the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels discussed the future of the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and measures required by the Partnership for Peace programme. The ministers were interested in NATO's decision to open its headquarters to cooperation partners to plan crisis control. Finland also intends to assign a representative to NATO's military secretariat in Brussels, military headquarters in Mons and European headquarters in Prunsum.
The Constitutional Committee voted 10-7 to reject a Centre Party bill which called for a consultative referendum on EMU. The Centre Party said that a referendum was essential to ensure public approval of EMU.
Shortly before the EU summit, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg visited Finland and met with President Ahtisaari and Prime Minister Lipponen. The two prime ministers discussed enlargement of the EU and the appointment of the director of the European Central Bank. Lipponen said that Finland will nominate Sirkka Hämäläinen, the governor of the Bank of Finland, to the board of the ECB.
Parliament discussed the eastern enlargement of the EU in plenary session before the EU summit. Debate centred around a statement prepared by the Grand Committee regarding the Agenda 2000 document. MPs were satisfied with the Finnish government's Agenda line and were particularly pleased that Finland supports the opening of membership talks in the way proposed by the Commission and also promises solidarity with those countries not included in the first stage. Criticism was voiced that the EU is envisioning the Union's future well into the next millennium without taking into consideration the effects of EMU on overall development. Erkki Tuomioja, the chairman of the Grand Committee, emphasized that enlargement is an opportunity which must not be endangered by sticking to the position that present members' payments must not rise. The Centre Party said that Finland should not give its support to the Agenda programme and enlargement of the EU if a satisfactory solution with regard to Finnish agriculture is not achieved.
Minister Max Jakobson said in Helsingin Sanomat that the constitutional amendment proposed by the government would strengthen the independence of the prime minister in relation to the president and weaken the president's power. He said that the most significant feature in the reform was the model proposed for forming the government, in which the president could only step in if the parliamentary parties cannot reach an understanding. In Jakobson's opinion the reform could also have an effect on the president's most important task, which is the direction of foreign policy. He considered the wording proposed by the government ("in cooperation with the Council of State") better than the wording proposed by the Nikula committee ("together with the Council of State"). Jakobson added that the president's possibilities to direct foreign policy do not depend on a single phrase but on the president's political authority. This in turn depends on his position in forming the government. Jakobson pointed out that if the president and the prime minister disagree on integration, for example, cooperation can be difficult.
In a poll among members of the Left-Wing Alliance, 52% of those casting ballots authorized the party's parliamentary group to vote for membership of EMU. Party Chairman Claes Anderson and Party Secretary Ralf Sund said this meant that the party will stay in the government.
The chairmen of the governmental parliamentary groups agreed that FIM 18 million will be appropriated in the 1998 state budget to plan emergency brigades, according to the government's proposal. They were not prepared to authorize orders until an additional study has been performed to determine ways to avoid risks posed by fluctuations in exchange rates.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen went to Bonn for the annual meeting of the Peace Implementation Council set up under the Dayton agreement. The participants generally agreed to follow up the Sfor operation which will end in June 1998. In her speech Halonen complained about continued infringements of human rights. She stressed the right of war refugees to return to their home regions. She said that representatives of the international war crimes tribunal had applauded Finland for supporting its activities, for example by promising to allow convicted war criminals to serve time in Finnish prisons. Halonen said that Finland will continue to support the tribunal in searching for missing persons and identifying bodies. An important task, in her view, is to develop independent media in Bosnia.
At the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, countries refusing to join the ban on landmines - such as Finland - were brought to task. In the opinion of the Nobel laureates, countries which have not signed the convention have betrayed humanity.
President Ahtisaari, Prime Minister Lipponen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen and Minister of Finance Niinistö attended the EU summit in Luxembourg. The summit decided that the EU will begin membership negotiations next spring with six countries: Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia and Cyprus. "Preparatory negotiations" will begin almost simultaneously with five other applicants: Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. The summit was not able to agree on the financing of enlargement or structural policy. Based on a proposal by Lipponen, the Luxembourg draft was amended to note that the continuation of agriculture is also indispensable in regions which face special difficulties in this area. According to Lipponen Finland can now proceed with negotiations on agricultural support more confidently. Lipponen was pleased that the directors of the EU had requested a report on Finland's northern dimension initiative. The final document mentioned that, "The European Council noted Finland's proposal concerning the northern dimension in the Union's activities and requests that the Commission submit an interim report on this subject at a future meeting of the European Council in 1998."
Helsingin Sanomat published an opinion poll in which 52% of respondents said that Finland should not join EMU, while 39% said it should. Attitudes were more positive when people were asked what Finland should do if over half of the EU countries joined EMU. When it was pointed out that Sweden, Denmark and Britain will remain outside EMU, support fell slightly. Finns' attitudes towards membership of the European Union have remained stable since 1995, when Finland joined the EU. Slightly over half of citizens are satisfied with membership.
A working party appointed in June to study the issue of landmines submitted its report to Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen. In the report experts from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence proposed that Finland begin decommissioning its mines in 2001, join the Ottawa convention in 2006 and destroy its mines by 2010. The working group estimated that replacing landmines with viable alternatives will cost between FIM 4.4 billion and FIM 4.8 billion. The working group also proposed that Finland increase its aid for international mine-clearing work. Halonen expressed satisfaction with the report. In her opinion the preconditions for eliminating landmines are clear on the basis of the report, and now it is possible to talk about time and money rather than the basic issue.
Finland participated in a conference of defence ministers held by NATO and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels. At a pre-conference occasion in which Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary signed an agreement on NATO membership, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said that NATO's doors will remain open.
The European Parliament approved a joint resolution on landmines which thanked fourteen member states for signing the Ottawa convention. The Finnish government was asked to sign the convention as soon as possible. The European Parliament expressed support for the development of the Union's northern dimension.
President Ahtisaari made a working visit to Estonia. President Lennart Meri said that Estonia is grateful to Finland not only for its support in relations with the EU but also because Ahtisaari brought up the question of the border between Estonia and Russia during his visit to Moscow. Meri supported Finland's idea of a northern dimension to the EU. In his opinion this will help turn the Baltic into the Mediterranean of the North.
The OSCE foreign ministers debated a new European security model at their annual conference in Copenhagen. Discord arose over a section of the final document which gives every state the right to seek membership of any alliance without interference from another state. Minister for Foreign Affairs Halonen said that the new document should create a suitable framework for all the OSCE countries regardless of their security-policy solutions. Halonen recalled the old CSCE principle according to which every country has the right to choose its own security system. The foreign ministers of 54 states also decided to reform the financing of large-scale projects and to appoint a media commissioner to the organization.
In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat Prime Minister Lipponen said that Sweden and Denmark are in the European Union "on just one leg", in contrast with Finland, because they have not made a clear and positive decision on EMU. He considered the situation unfortunate since it will affect the Nordic countries' influence in the EU. This could be greatest now, before new member states are added to the EU. Lipponen doubted that Sweden and Denmark would be satisfied with second-class membership. Lipponen was also sorry that Prime Minister Göran Persson of Sweden had criticized Finland's actions at the summit with regard to the enlargement of the EU immediately after the Luxembourg decision. Lipponen rejected the idea that as prime minister he was forcing Finns into EMU without regard for public opinion. He said that public opinion does not consist solely of opinion polls, but includes opinions in the press, organizations and political parties. In his view there is broad public support for joining EMU.
The government agreed to let Parliament decide on whether Finland should join EMU in a communiqué on 24 February 1998. It said that the report on EMU had also considered a communiqué the most natural model for letting Parliament decide on the matter. The government saw no point to the opposition's call for a bill, since Finland has already promised to join EMU when it signed the Maastricht treaty. The government intends to propose in the communiqué that Finland join the third stage of EMU as soon as it starts, at the beginning of 1999.
A petition signed by 46 Finnish researchers calling for a consultative referendum on EMU was published in Helsinki. According to the signees the petition is not a statement against EMU but for a referendum. The researchers said that if a referendum is not held, a significant portion of citizens may consider the decision undemocratic and extrinsic. They noted that membership of EMU will bring clear economic benefits, but also risks. Membership would limit Finland's economic-policy leeway and the creation of the European Central Bank would concentrate power over financial and exchange policy in Western Europe. In the researchers' view the ultimate issue is what kind of social policy Finland can follow and how Finland defines its place in Europe and the world.