Finland’s EU Presidency – EU’s Global Influence is Growing

Posted in Europe | 19-Sep-06 | Author: Jukka Aminoff

Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja addresses the European Parliament during a debate on the situation in the Middle East, in Strasbourg, September 6, 2006.

Everyone in Finland thought that when Finland took over the EU Presidency, it would only have to deal with routine topics and everything would go smoothly and silently. Suddenly, everything was turned upside down. The fight between Hezbollah and Israel changed everything. Finland had to lead the European Union by giving solutions to end the crisis. All of a sudden, Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja was in the spotlight of the global media.

EU demanded an immediate end to the hostilities to be followed by sustainable cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah. EU was the only convincing global player in negotiating the demands of both sides. The United States and Russia did not have enough credibility to provide the solutions that would satisfy both parties. Foreign Minister Tuomioja said that the EU dealt with the crisis successfully, thus helping the EU’s global role to grow tremendously. The EU has also played a huge role in this crisis because of Europe’s near proximity to the Middle East.

One of the major political objectives was to receive a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. Tuomioja says that EU foreign and security policy seeks to be effective and multilateral. The EU is also the biggest contributor to the UN`s Lebanon Peacekeeping Operation.

The EU’s performance is working. Member countries are more flexible and capable of seeing beyond their own national interests. This is why the EU’s influence is growing and it is being taken more seriously than ever before, says Tuomioja. EU security strategy seems to be working and receiving positive results.

Tottering European Foreign and Security Policy?

The European Union’s crisis management capabilities have improved in recent years. Coordination processes have been developed and the motivation of membership countries toward crisis management has grown during the years. Especially the new security threats are being given more attention.

Former Prime Minister of Finland, MEP Anneli Jäätteenmäki says that the European Common Foreign and Security Policy is based upon a loose cooperation between the membership countries. She underlines that the EU always needs a mandate from the United Nations Security Council when beginning a EU crisis management operation. Jäätteenmäki is concerned about the UN Security Council’s ability to become paralyzed by vetoes. She hopes that every EU crisis management operation will receive a mandate from the UN; another possibility would be to develop a “George W. Bush doctrine” for the EU.

EU`s Relationship to NATO, the United States and Russia

Former chairman of Finland’s security policy follow-up group and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, MP Aulis Ranta-Muotio wants to have closer relations between the EU and NATO, especially in crisis management operations. The EU and NATO have had positive results in Afghanistan and Kosovo. To achieve better cooperation in the field of crisis management, the main goal is to improve coordination between EU and NATO crisis management groups.

Ranta-Muotio also wants a deeper cooperation between the EU and NATO because European taxpayers do not want to have double defense and security structures. When the US began its war efforts in Iraq, there was the idea to have an independent security structure for the EU. Ranta-Muotio believes that relations between the EU and the US will improve as time passes. NATO is going to be one of the winners when the US and the EU find each other again.

NATO is going to play an important role in transatlantic relations more than ever before. New security threats require active dialog between continents for a more secure world. This is why NATO is an important opinion forum between the US, Russia and European NATO countries.

There is only one problem between the EU and Russia. Ranta-Muotio has heard from Russians that they want to be treated as cooperation partners. At present, the EU is only dictating to Russia how it should improve its democratic structures. Ranta-Muotios’s tip is: More partnership, less dictating.

Development of EU Internal Security Policy is Progressing

Minister of Interior Affairs, Kari Rajamäki, says that better internal security coordination inside the EU improves the security situation for European citizens. Cooperation in fighting against new security threats such as international crime, terrorism and human trafficking is a vital issue inside the EU.

The EU is enlarging. At the same time, we have to make sure that enlargement does not make the EU insecure. An enlarged EU must have the same security level or make it even better when the EU receives new member countries.

One of the key challenges in the EU is to reduce illegal immigration to Europe. Every member country must adopt the same measures for dealing with illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration concerns every member country, because illegal immigration raises the threat of crime and terrorism.

The focus is on the Mediterranean Sea and on the long border with Russia. Minister Rajamäki said that he has planned a meeting between the EU and Russia to develop a strategic partnership between these two players to improve cooperation against new security threats.

Finland has a good police, customs and boarder patrol concept that has increased the effectiveness in combating international crime organizations. Another example from Finland - for other countries to adopt - is the operational progress of authorities working in Finland. The EU has a long road ahead of it in terms of internal security. It needs more coordination, speed and efficiency.

Future of the European Constitutional Treaty?

MEP Dr Alexander Stubb says that ratifying the European Constitutional Treaty will help the integration process of the EU, but the integration process will not stop if the treaty is never ratified in all EU member states. He does not believe that the treaty will be ratified as it is right now. It needs some changes because of the negative referendums of France and the Netherlands.

From an outer point of view, the EU integration process seems to have come to a halt. Stubb says that the integration process is going forward all the time. Especially internal markets, common defense and security policy are going forward rapidly.

EU Enlargement

Chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee, MP Kimmo Sasi, supports the enlargement of the EU. He says that there is no room for another Iron Curtain or a Berlin Wall. But he emphasizes that every country should fulfill the same membership criteria. The EU should be open all the time for every country that can fulfill the membership criteria.

He supports the membership of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Membership of the Balkan countries is also a crucial one. MP Sasi also would welcome Russia to become a member of the EU. The road for Russia’s membership is a long and hard one. Enlargement brings stability, security and peace for whole of Europe. The most important aspect of the enlargement process is that those countries applying for membership want to integrate the principles and ideas of the EU.

Social dimension of the EU

Social, education and employment policies play a significant role when building internal security and stability.

MP Kimmo Kiljunen, former member of the European Convention and Vice-Chairman of the Grand Committee, is a little bit confused with regard to the French and the Dutch, because they said that the Constitutional Treaty does not include social dimensions and that’s why they voted against the treaty. Kiljunen believes they where totally wrong.

The current EU is a market economy-oriented union. So when the Dutch and French said no to the treaty, they said yes to the current EU. The question of a social dimension is important because problems do not respect borders and problems are nowadays supranational.

Europe is facing competition from developing countries such as India, Russia and China. Europe cannot compete with the low costs in these countries. Therefore, Europeans must compete using their know-how and quality. Europe needs growth investments to manage living in a global economy. It also needs a working social system where no individual will fall behind and the potential of every citizen is put to use in the global economy, which is shaking all the old foundations of the labor markets.