Finland

1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Russia as a difficult, but indispensable partner

As Finland’s direct neigh­bour, third-biggest export mar­ket and main ener­gy importer, Rus­sia occu­pies a cen­tral posi­tion in Finnish exter­nal pol­i­cy. As far as the future of the rela­tions with Rus­sia is con­cerned, the dom­i­nant view in Fin­land can be described as a mix­ture of pes­simism and prag­ma­tism; Rus­sia is seen as an increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult coun­try to work with, but coop­er­a­tion is con­sid­ered a necessity.

The Finnish per­spec­tive on Rus­sia is exem­pli­fied by the results of a sur­vey con­duct­ed by the Finnish Busi­ness and Pol­i­cy Forum EVA in Jan­u­ary 2015.11M. Apunen, I. Haav­is­to, J. Sipo­la and S. Toivo­nen, Ken on maas­sa jämäkin? EVAn Arvo- ja asen­netutkimus 2015 (Helsin­ki: Talousti­eto Oy, 2015), pp. 76–77. 83 per­cent of the survey’s respon­dents agreed or strong­ly agreed that Rus­sia is an unsta­ble and unpre­dictable coun­try, 50 per­cent described Rus­sia as a con­sid­er­able mil­i­tary threat. How­ev­er, 87 per­cent of the respon­dents also con­sid­ered Rus­sia as an impor­tant trad­ing part­ner for Finland.

Pes­simism and prag­ma­tism guide offi­cial Finnish poli­cies vis-à-vis Rus­sia as well. Finnish politi­cians across the polit­i­cal spec­trum agree that Russia’s actions in Ukraine chal­lenge the Euro­pean secu­ri­ty order and thus neg­a­tive­ly affect Finland’s secu­ri­ty. Accord­ing­ly, Fin­land has strict­ly con­demned Russia’s actions in Ukraine and sub­scribed to the EU’s sanc­tions regime. More­over, as a reac­tion to Russia’s increas­ing mil­i­tary activ­i­ty in the Baltic region, Fin­land has hiked up its nation­al defence spend­ing, deep­ened its defence coop­er­a­tion with Swe­den, strength­ened its part­ner­ship with NATO and called for a stronger EU secu­ri­ty and defence policy.

These steps notwith­stand­ing, Finland’s medi­um-term objec­tive is to restore good work­ing rela­tions with Rus­sia. This is clear­ly expressed in the gov­ern­ment pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s new­ly-elect­ed cen­tre-right coali­tion, which argues that bet­ter rela­tions with Rus­sia would ben­e­fit Europe both eco­nom­i­cal­ly and in terms of secu­ri­ty.22Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 37. Accord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, the rela­tion­ship must, how­ev­er, be based on respect for inter­na­tion­al law and agreements.

Finnish prag­ma­tism towards Rus­sia is par­tic­u­lar­ly vis­i­ble on the eco­nom­ic front. A high­ly con­tro­ver­sial exam­ple is Finland’s plan to build its sixth nuclear pow­er plant in close coop­er­a­tion with the Rosatom group, a Russ­ian state-owned ener­gy com­pa­ny. The project, approved by the Finnish gov­ern­ment in Sep­tem­ber 2014, sharply con­trasts with the EU’s aim to decrease Europe’s ener­gy depen­den­cy from Rus­sia. It also prompt­ed the Green League to leave the gov­ern­ment coali­tion, which it accused of sub­servience to Russia.

Final­ly, there has been some debate in Fin­land about how to han­dle its rela­tions with Rus­sia, with indi­vid­ual polit­i­cal fig­ures sug­gest­ing that Fin­land should put a stronger empha­sis on bilat­er­al rela­tions as opposed to adher­ing to the EU’s col­lec­tive Rus­sia pol­i­cy. How­ev­er, the new gov­ern­ment has stressed that Fin­land com­plies with the EU’s com­mon posi­tions on Rus­sia, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly main­tain­ing diverse bilat­er­al rela­tions with the coun­try.33Prime Minister’s Office (2015), p. 37.

Limited attention to the Eastern Partnership countries

Suc­ces­sive Finnish gov­ern­ments have been in prin­ci­pal sup­port­ive of the East­ern Part­ner­ship44See e. g. Ulkoasi­ain­min­is­ter­iö, Suomen EU:n itäisiä kump­panei­ta sekä Kes­ki-Aasia koske­va poli­ti­ikkalin­jaus (Helsin­ki: Ulkoasi­ain­min­is­ter­iö, 2015)., but in prac­tice EU rela­tions with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries are not a polit­i­cal pri­or­i­ty for Fin­land. The events in Ukraine have not fun­da­men­tal­ly altered the Finnish posi­tion despite receiv­ing con­sid­er­able atten­tion in the Finnish media.

With the excep­tion of Ukraine, most of the East­ern Part­ner­ship states still remain rather unknown to the Finnish pub­lic. Both the Finnish elec­torate and the polit­i­cal elite are tra­di­tion­al­ly more inter­est­ed in the rela­tion­ship between the EU and Rus­sia that forms one of the focal points of Finnish EU pol­i­cy. Accord­ing­ly, there is a ten­den­cy in Fin­land to look at the East­ern Part­ner­ship large­ly through the prism of EU-Rus­sia relations.

As a con­se­quence of the Russ­ian actions in Ukraine, Fin­land has reaf­firmed its con­vic­tion that Ukraine and the oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries must be free to choose their own insti­tu­tion­al affil­i­a­tions. How­ev­er, at the same time Fin­land is wary of rais­ing unground­ed expec­ta­tions in the East­ern Part­ner­ship states and does not want the EU to grant these states a mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive at this point. Instead, Fin­land has high­light­ed the exist­ing and poten­tial arrange­ments that are avail­able to the East­ern neigh­bours in the con­text of the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Policy.

The gov­ern­ment pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Sipilä’s coali­tion men­tions the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood only in pass­ing, stat­ing some­what ambigu­ous­ly that the devel­op­ment of the East­ern Part­ner­ship is impor­tant for Europe’s sta­bil­i­ty.55Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 35. Fin­land is like­ly to remain prin­ci­pal­ly sup­port­ive of the EU’s activ­i­ties in the East­ern neigh­bour­hood, but the region and the East­ern Part­ner­ship will not fea­ture among Finland’s core for­eign pol­i­cy priorities.

Modest goals and meagre results in Riga

The Finnish government’s goals for the East­ern Part­ner­ship sum­mit in Riga are illus­tra­tive of Finland’s gen­er­al views on the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood. Finland’s pri­ma­ry objec­tive for the sum­mit was to express the EU’s con­tin­u­ing sup­port for the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries with­out rais­ing false hopes. Accord­ing­ly, the gov­ern­ment want­ed the sum­mit to con­cen­trate on ‘real­is­ti­cal­ly attain­able goals’ such as enhanc­ing the mobil­i­ty of the part­ner coun­tries’ cit­i­zens, strength­en­ing the part­ner coun­tries’ civ­il soci­eties and imple­ment­ing pre­vi­ous­ly agreed reforms. In addi­tion, the gov­ern­ment high­light­ed the char­ac­ter of the East­ern Part­ner­ship as sep­a­rate from EU enlarge­ment and stressed the need for stronger dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between the part­ner coun­tries accord­ing to their indi­vid­ual ambi­tions and capac­i­ty to imple­ment reforms.66Ulkoasi­ain­min­is­ter­iö, Itäisen kump­panu­u­den huip­pukok­ous Riias­sa 21.–22.5.2015. Tavoite­muis­tio (18 May 2015).

The joint dec­la­ra­tion of the Riga sum­mit reflects many of these posi­tions, as it omits ref­er­ences to EU enlarge­ment, under­lines the impor­tance of imple­ment­ing the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ments and the Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Areas and recog­nis­es the need for dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between the part­ner coun­tries.77Joint Dec­la­ra­tion of the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit (Riga, 21–22 May 2015). In addi­tion, the dec­la­ra­tion reaf­firms the pos­si­bil­i­ty of visa-free trav­el for Ukraini­ans and Geor­gians with­out defin­ing a con­crete timetable. The results of the sum­mit were thus large­ly in line with the Finnish government’s objectives.

The Finnish media, how­ev­er, were rather crit­i­cal in their assess­ments of the summit’s achieve­ments. Although it was point­ed out that the Riga sum­mit was sym­bol­i­cal­ly impor­tant, its results were described as mea­gre, with the EU refus­ing to com­mit itself to doing any­thing con­crete.88See e.g. Virve Kähkö­nen, ’EU pitää etäisyyt­tä Luhan­skin mum­moon’, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 23 May 2015; Annu Mar­ja­nen and Han­na Antti­la, ’EU:n itäkump­paneille läm­mintä kät­tä’, Suomen­maa, 22 May 2015. The unspec­tac­u­lar out­come was attrib­uted to the mem­ber states, most of which – Fin­land includ­ed – were sim­ply not will­ing to make any sig­nif­i­cant com­mit­ments. Rus­sia was gen­er­al­ly iden­ti­fied as the main rea­son for the cau­tious atti­tudes of many mem­ber states and some part­ner coun­tries alike.

A welcome debate, an unrealistic idea

As a result of the Ukraine cri­sis and Russia’s increas­ing mil­i­tary activ­i­ty in the Baltic region, there has been much debate in Fin­land about the country’s defence capac­i­ty and defence pol­i­cy. Much of this debate has revolved around Finland’s rela­tion­ship with NATO and the country’s deep­en­ing defence coop­er­a­tion with Swe­den. How­ev­er, the EU’s role as a secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy actor has also been a top­ic in this debate. Con­se­quent­ly, when Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Junck­er sug­gest­ed in March 2015 that the EU should form its own army, the idea received a con­sid­er­able amount of media atten­tion in Finland.

The reac­tions of key for­eign pol­i­cy fig­ures var­ied from sup­port to scep­ti­cism. The first and most wide­ly-cit­ed com­men­ta­tor was Pres­i­dent Sauli Niin­istö, who open­ly endorsed Juncker’s pro­pos­al. Carl Haglund, then Min­is­ter of Defence, also said Fin­land should be open to the idea. Alexan­der Stubb, then Prime Min­is­ter and a keen advo­cate of Finnish NATO mem­ber­ship, and Erk­ki Tuomio­ja, then Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs and a long-stand­ing oppo­nent of Finnish NATO mem­ber­ship, were both more cau­tious in their assess­ments. While both wel­comed the debate and the idea of a stronger EU secu­ri­ty and defence pol­i­cy, they also point­ed out that most mem­ber states would be opposed to the idea. Final­ly, lead­ing fig­ures of the Euroscep­tic Finns Par­ty said there was nei­ther a need nor the will in Europe for build­ing a com­mon EU army.99‘Politi­cians, govt divid­ed over EU joint army pro­pos­al’, Fin­land Times, 11 March 2015; Yle, ‘Finnish politi­cos divid­ed over pro­posed joint EU army’, Yle Uutiset, 9 March 2015.

Although most Finnish politi­cians and experts con­sid­ered the idea of an EU army unre­al­is­tic in the short term, their com­ments demon­strat­ed Finland’s high lev­el of sup­port for the EU’s Com­mon Secu­ri­ty and Defence Pol­i­cy and the country’s strong inter­est in devel­op­ing it fur­ther. This goal is also explic­it­ly men­tioned in the gov­ern­ment pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Sip­ilä.1010Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 35.

2. EU Enlargement

The Eastern Partnership does not equal EU enlargement

When it comes to the insti­tu­tion­al affil­i­a­tions of the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries, the Finnish gov­ern­ments have opt­ed for a two-track approach. In light of the events in Ukraine, Fin­land, along with most EU mem­ber states, has under­lined that Ukraine and the oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries must be free to choose their own path. On the oth­er hand, Fin­land is not will­ing to grant the East­ern neigh­bours a mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive at this point. Instead, Fin­land stress­es that the East­ern Part­ner­ship and EU enlarge­ment remain sep­a­rate process­es and must be more clear­ly devel­oped as such. The main goal of the East­ern Part­ner­ship, accord­ing to Fin­land, remains a close polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic asso­ci­a­tion with the EU, not mem­ber­ship in the Union.

While Fin­land did not advo­cate EU enlarge­ment to the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood pri­or to the Ukraine cri­sis, the events in Ukraine and the con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia have fur­ther strength­ened the view in Fin­land that an EU acces­sion for these coun­tries should not be the objec­tive of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. This view is sel­dom chal­lenged in Fin­land. How­ev­er, after the Riga sum­mit, Helsin­gin Sanomat, Finland’s most influ­en­tial dai­ly, pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al in which it crit­i­cised the sum­mit for fail­ing to pro­vide any incen­tives for the most reform-mind­ed East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries that cur­rent­ly oper­ate under heavy Russ­ian pres­sure.1111’EU:n pitää jät­tää ovi auki uusille jäsen­maille idästä’, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 23 May 2015. Accord­ing to the edi­to­r­i­al, the EU mem­ber states should at least have remind­ed the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries that accord­ing to the Treaty on the Euro­pean Union any Euro­pean coun­try is enti­tled to apply for EU mem­ber­ship as long as it respects the EU’s val­ues. Indeed, such an approach would be more in line with Finland’s gen­er­al pol­i­cy line on EU enlarge­ment, which is based on the view that the ful­fil­ment of the acces­sion cri­te­ria, not polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, should ulti­mate­ly decide whether a coun­try can or can­not join the EU.

It’s all about the accession criteria

Fin­land has tra­di­tion­al­ly been prin­ci­pal­ly sup­port­ive of EU enlarge­ment, argu­ing that the acces­sion process itself already acts as a strong dri­ver for reforms. Both the West­ern Balka­ns and Turkey have in the past been men­tioned by the Finnish gov­ern­ment as places where the acces­sion process has helped to trig­ger nec­es­sary reforms.

How­ev­er, along­side its prin­ci­pal open­ness towards fur­ther EU enlarge­ment, Fin­land has in recent years put a much stronger focus on the ful­fil­ment of the acces­sion cri­te­ria. Accord­ing to the Finnish government’s 2013 report on EU pol­i­cy, it is the acces­sion cri­te­ria that should ulti­mate­ly define the lim­its of EU enlarge­ment: only states that are able to ful­fil the acces­sion cri­te­ria can and should become mem­bers.1212Prime Minister’s Office, Gov­ern­ment Report on EU Pol­i­cy 2013, (Helsin­ki: Prime Minister’s Office Pub­li­ca­tions, 2013), p. 57. In the same vein, the report stressed that speed­ing up the acces­sion process due to polit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions is not accept­able. The same log­ic guides the think­ing of the new cen­tre-right coali­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sip­ilä; the only time EU enlarge­ment is men­tioned in its gov­ern­ment pro­gramme is in a sen­tence that under­lines the impor­tance of strict com­pli­ance with the acces­sion cri­te­ria.1313Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 35.

The Finnish posi­tion is root­ed in a wide­ly-shared view that the EU was not strict enough with Bul­gar­ia and Roma­nia, allow­ing them to join before they were ready to do so. The empha­sis on the acces­sion cri­te­ria is also in line with Finland’s recent empha­sis on the EU as a rule-based enti­ty, expressed most clear­ly in the debates about the euro cri­sis, which Fin­land sees as the result of a gen­er­al dis­re­gard for the com­mon­ly accept­ed rules with­in the Euro­zone. In addi­tion, the Finnish posi­tion reflects the rather cau­tious atti­tude of the Finnish elec­torate towards EU enlarge­ment. Accord­ing to the Euro­barom­e­ter of autumn 2014, 58 per­cent of the Finns were against fur­ther EU enlarge­ment, with only 33 per­cent being in favour.1414Euroopan komis­sio, Stan­dard Euro­barometri 82, Kansalais­mielipi­de Euroopan unionis­sa, Syksy 2014, Kansalli­nen raport­ti – Suo­mi, (Brus­sels: Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, 2014), p. 10.

Final­ly, the progress and mer­its of the indi­vid­ual EU mem­ber­ship can­di­dates are sel­dom assessed in the Finnish media, although Turkey’s recent regres­sion has been tak­en note of in Fin­land as well.

    Footnotes

  • 1M. Apunen, I. Haav­is­to, J. Sipo­la and S. Toivo­nen, Ken on maas­sa jämäkin? EVAn Arvo- ja asen­netutkimus 2015 (Helsin­ki: Talousti­eto Oy, 2015), pp. 76–77.
  • 2Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 37.
  • 3Prime Minister’s Office (2015), p. 37.
  • 4See e. g. Ulkoasi­ain­min­is­ter­iö, Suomen EU:n itäisiä kump­panei­ta sekä Kes­ki-Aasia koske­va poli­ti­ikkalin­jaus (Helsin­ki: Ulkoasi­ain­min­is­ter­iö, 2015).
  • 5Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 35.
  • 6Ulkoasi­ain­min­is­ter­iö, Itäisen kump­panu­u­den huip­pukok­ous Riias­sa 21.–22.5.2015. Tavoite­muis­tio (18 May 2015).
  • 7Joint Dec­la­ra­tion of the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit (Riga, 21–22 May 2015).
  • 8See e.g. Virve Kähkö­nen, ’EU pitää etäisyyt­tä Luhan­skin mum­moon’, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 23 May 2015; Annu Mar­ja­nen and Han­na Antti­la, ’EU:n itäkump­paneille läm­mintä kät­tä’, Suomen­maa, 22 May 2015.
  • 9‘Politi­cians, govt divid­ed over EU joint army pro­pos­al’, Fin­land Times, 11 March 2015; Yle, ‘Finnish politi­cos divid­ed over pro­posed joint EU army’, Yle Uutiset, 9 March 2015.
  • 10Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 35.
  • 11’EU:n pitää jät­tää ovi auki uusille jäsen­maille idästä’, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 23 May 2015.
  • 12Prime Minister’s Office, Gov­ern­ment Report on EU Pol­i­cy 2013, (Helsin­ki: Prime Minister’s Office Pub­li­ca­tions, 2013), p. 57.
  • 13Prime Minister’s Office, Fin­land, a Land of Solu­tions – Strate­gic Pro­gramme of Prime Min­is­ter Juha Sipilä’s Gov­ern­ment (29 May 2015). p. 35.
  • 14Euroopan komis­sio, Stan­dard Euro­barometri 82, Kansalais­mielipi­de Euroopan unionis­sa, Syksy 2014, Kansalli­nen raport­ti – Suo­mi, (Brus­sels: Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, 2014), p. 10.

This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site: www.eu-28watch.org.

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.