Finland is suddenly in the middle of a lively debate about the country's relations with its neighbours and its role in the European Union. This is thanks to ex-President Mauno Koivisto, who, in the words of one leader writer, is now the nation's leading dissident.
In his new book, Venäjän idea (The idea of Russia), Koivisto warns that the government's over-enthusiastic EU policy is putting relations with its neighbours and especially with Russia in the shade. This thesis has received much opposition among commentators. The main accusation is that Koivisto remains in a bygone era and has not understood the changes which have occured in Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In a leading article, the national daily Helsingin Sanomat (12 April 2001) denies that Finland's attempt to penetrate the EU nucleus puts the country's relations with Russia in the shade. On the contrary, it increases Finland's importance in Russian eyes, both politically and economically.
"Whilst the United States seems to be less interested in developing its relations with Russia, this only strengthens Putin's enthusiasm for co-operation with the EU countries."
The Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet (12 April 2001) writes that in some respects Koivisto is right when he writes about an over-enthusiastic EU policy.
"For instance, statements by leading politicians saying that we no longer have a special relationship with Russia and that instead our relations are a part of the EU's relations with Russia, have not received the kind of critical evaluation which they deserve.
"It is indeed clear that a country which has an thousand-kilometre-plus border with Russia the EU's only one, until Estonia and Latvia become members has a different kind of relationship with this country than the EU as a whole, not to speak of, for instance, Portugal and Ireland."
Hufvudstadsbladet also considers Koivisto's criticism, according to which Finland, in its enthusiasm to be in the forefront of the EU has become the most "federalist" member.
"The latter claim is true with some modification but is also a reminder that there are those who think that [Prime Minister] Lipponen has become blind to the speed of some developments, especially in security policy. These people also think that President Halonen should keep her foot away from the accelerator in summit meetings.
Mauno Kovisto is one of this group. In this case, however, he himself is on thin ice when he expresses the fear that Finland's participation in the EU's crisis management would leave a gap in our national defence. Finland's contribution is limited to the number of troops which already are serving for the UN."
As to the wall which Koivisto fears will appear between Finland and other Nordic states, Helsingin Sanomat agrees that Finland, Sweden and Denmark have on some issues parted company.
"On the other hand, on most issues for instance in developing crisis management Finland and Sweden have been co-operating closely and have had an influence on the EU policies. They also share a similar attitude towards co-operation with NATO and towards the Baltic countries. It would be wrong to claim that co-operation is working less well than during Koivisto's Presidency."
The left-wing Kansan Uutiset (12 April 2001) writes that Koivisto's views on European security policy prove that he has not been able to keep up with the changes that have occurred. The paper emphasises that whilst Koivisto has no faith in outside assistance in security issues, the fact is that co-operation has become the basis of security.
Kansan Uutiset agrees with Koivisto in saying that EU development is hopelessly confused and that no clear rules have been created for the enlargement process.
18 May 2000
31 August 1999
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