November 2000

Foreign minister unimpressed by EU vision

Different shades of opinion at the highest governmental level on future visions for the EU came to light when foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja distanced himself from prime minister Paavo Lipponen’s recent statements.

Lipponen has been advocating a constitution for the EU in order to define member countries’ and citizens’ basic rights. But in an interview with two regional newspapers – Aamulehti and Turun Sanomat (15 November 2000) – Tuomioja expressed reluctance to tie Finland’s hands to far-reaching future visions.

“I am trying to approach the EU in a rather pragmatic frame of mind”, Tuomioja said. “The EU has been a success because it has always solved its problems in a pragmatic way. The Union is not necessarily the highest manifestation of human ingenuity.”

Tuomioja said that the Nice summit in December will probably discuss a document for basic rights in the EU. He expressed doubts about the possibility of triggering a debate on Lipponen’s further points.

“Questions of future visions are not on the agenda in Nice and will not be solved in the next few years. We don’t have the possibility or the right to decide what Europe will be like in 10, 20 or 30 years. That is a task for future decision-makers.”

Tuomioja also talked about the relationship between the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Lipponen has complained about the weakening of the Commission. Tuomioja had different ideas.

“It is important to maintain the status of the Council and inter-governmental co-operation if the Commission is given power that does not belong to it. The Commission needs more power to implement decisions which are being made by government representatives accountable to national parliaments.”

Speaking about European defence, Tuomioja doubted that the EU would during the next few years decide to adopt  “a real common defence”. He was not  enthusiastic about defence minister Jan-Erik Enestam’s thoughts on European defence. Enestam has said that some time in the future it would be in Finland’s interests to be a member of NATO or EU’s defence core.

“There is no real reason why this should be our aim. Military non-alignment is good for Finland. There is no reason to be naïve about this. Some people argue for NATO membership saying that we would be sitting around a table where decisions are being made.

“I repeat President Koivisto’s question: Did anyone ask for Norway’s opinion when NATO went and bombed Yugoslavia? The same question applies to even much larger NATO countries”, Tuomioja said.

The foreign minister denied that there are serious differences of opinion inside the government. In a coalition government it is normal, however, that there are different ways of emphasising issues, he added.

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