Yes to ENP, a more qualified attitude towards enlargements

Because of geographical proximity and historical background, Finns are always eager to discuss issues related to Russia and the case was even more so during and after ‘Georgia’. NATO is the other international issue debated intensively on a regular basis. Moreover, Finland held the OSCE-Presidency in 2008, its own politicians were “out there” during the conflict, and all these reasons heightened interest in the issue. Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, went as far as to call ‘Georgia’ as “one of the big turning points of history after the end of cold war”[1] – a statement that was slightly modified later in autumn.

European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)

The importance for there to be a neighbourhood policy was widely acknowledged, as well as the need to develop it further. As one researcher pointed out, “Finland has taken a strong interest in the Union’s several neighbourhood policies, supporting their balanced enhancement in all directions. When it comes to the East, Finland has supported the initiative for an Eastern Partnership.”[2] Even when the ENP was criticized, critics were rarely against ENP. Heidi Hautala, MP of the green parliamentary group, pointed out that the crisis could have been avoided, had the EU been cooperating more intensively with its Eastern neighbours, thus reducing the need for Georgia to rely solely on the US.[3]

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen concluded after the extraordinary summit that “Finland has an unambiguous aim: it does not want the connection between Russia and the EU to be cut off”.[4] Along the same lines, Minister of Defence, Jyri Häkämies, said that faith in the stabilising effect of the economic cooperation between the EU and Russia remains, even if it has been seriously tested.[5]

Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb noted that there is a need for two Eastern policies: one towards Russia and the other towards Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. The latter group should not be treated only as remains of the Soviet Union, because their political stability, democracy, economic development and energy issues are important for the EU.[6] The next challenge for the Union is the credibility of its Eastern policy, which should “offer the Eastern European countries a solid direction for development without forgetting the option of enlargement”. The Georgian crisis has shown that the Union lacks a comprehensive approach towards the Southern Caucasus, Stubb said.[7]

In August, Foreign Minister Stubb gave an assignment to each Finnish ambassador to write a two-page analysis of the current international situation. The newspaper, “Helsingin Sanomat”, received a third of these and summarized them in an article. According to the newspaper, the ambassadors were unanimous in saying that Russia has gained strength and new means to further its goals. Cooperation with Russia has changed, too: instead of being based on common values, it is now based on common interests.[8]

On the academic front, the role of the EU was seen as very central. Tommi Koivula, senior researcher at the strategy department of the National Defence University, reminded that the sharpening of Russia-politics would be of great benefit, especially to the small member states.[9]

Markku Kivinen, director of the “Aleksanteri Institute”, the “Finnish Centre for Russian and Eastern European Studies” within Helsinki University, said that the EU should base its policy on the security of the “everyday” and by that show to the Russians that there is no need to try to establish order by means of power political huffing and puffing. Martti Koskenniemi, academy professor and international lawyer, recommended ‘finladisation’ to Georgia: it has to get its relations with Russia into working order. He also had a message to the EU: “As its first step, the Union should withdraw its Baltic representatives from negotiations with Georgia. I believe that they gave Saakašvili the impression that he can do anything.”[10] Arkady Moshes, director of the Russia programme at the FIIA, was more pessimistic. He emphasised that even though the situation was in no way comparable to the Cold War, the distance between the EU and Russia had grown: “we are even further from genuine partnership than before. The last remains of mutual trust burned in the flames of Tskhinvali and Gori. The next thing to collapse may well be the cooperation between the governments on the level of officials.”[11]

Enlargement

Shortly after the crisis, Minister Stubb stressed how the crisis highlighted the fact that the EU’s Eastern enlargement had been the right decision: “Where would we be now if the Baltic countries had been outside the integration framework?” This applies equally to the enlargement of NATO, he said.[12] Of future EU enlargements, he said that enlargement is very much both the EU’s present and future. He stressed that the union should keep the door open to all European countries: “The rules are simple. The applicant has to fill all the conditions for membership and the EU has to keep its promises”. All applicants must be treated equally.[13] The foreign minister was supported by his ambassadors – if mentioned, EU enlargement was mainly supported in their analyses. Nobody suggested that Georgia should become a member.[14]

However, there were also more sceptical voices. According to the analysis of Markku Kivinen, Russia has now shown unambiguously, for the first time, that it “has had enough”. This affects the Ukranian ambitions to become an EU member.[15] Hiski Haukkala, researcher, concluded that Finland has not excluded the enlargement of the Union entirely in the East, but has repeatedly stressed that the open nature of EU membership should be preserved also in the future.[16]

As Hiski Haukkala points out, because Finland is not a member of NATO, the issue of extending the alliance’s membership in the East has not really surfaced in the country. On the level of principle, Finland does however view that all countries should freely be allowed to choose their own foreign and security policies, including possible military alliances.[17] The few instances when the question was handled were mainly by academics, with, for example, Martti Koskenniemi pointing out that “all talk about the Georgian NATO membership should cease. Old NATO members are at risk of becoming prisoners of these unstable countries.”[18]

Finland and NATO

In addition to the more general discussion about the enlargement of NATO and the EU, the crisis gave fuel to the discussion about Finland’s own security and whether the country should join NATO. Positions remained largely what they had been before the crisis,[19] with the prime minister, president, and the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, being against NATO membership, and the right-from-centre National Coalition Party supporting it.[20] Following the crisis in Georgia, Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party) reiterated his position that Finland should apply for NATO membership. However, he qualified the statement by saying that “this is not the moment for decisions. Due to the Georgian crisis the issue has been moved lower in the priority list.”[21]

A slight change was seen in the citizens’ position: according to a survey by the Advisory Board for Defence Information (ABDI), uncertainty about Finland’s NATO-membership has increased.[22]

 

 

 

[1] Alexander Stubb, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Opening speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Missions, 25 August 2008, available at:http://www.formin.fi/public/default.aspx?contentid=135322&nodeid=15149&contentlan=2&culture=en-US (last access: 27 January 2009).
[2] Hiski Haukkala, special adviser at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, personal interview, 10 December 2008.
[3] Heidi Hautala, MP: Comment at FIIA seminar ”Aftermath of the Summit”, 15 December 2008.
[4] ”Vanhanen EU:n Venäjä-päätöksestä: Haluttiin tehdä selväksi, että unioni on tosissaan”, Suomen kuvalehi (web edition), 1 September 2008, available at: http://www.suomenkuvalehti.fi/etusivu/uutiset-ja-politiikka/ulkomaat/vanhanen-eun-venaja.aspx (last access: 27 January 2009).
[5] Jyri Häkämies, Minister of Defence: Speech at the opening ceremony of the National Defence Course, 22 September 2008, available at: http://www.defmin.fi/?661_m=3835&s=270 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[6] ”Alexander Stubb, Minister for Foreign Affairs: EU tarvitsee kaksi idänpolitiikkaa”, in: Ulkopolitiikka 4/2008.
[7] Alexander Stubb, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Opening speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Missions, 25 August 2008, available at: http://www.formin.fi/public/default.aspx?contentid=135322&nodeid=15149&contentlan=2&culture=en-US (last access: 27 January 2009).
[8] ”Diplomaattien tunnustukset”, Helsingin sanomat, 5 October 2008.
[9] ”EU:n heikkous näkyi Georgiassa”, Helsingin Sanomat, 25 August 2008.
[10] ”Ahtisaari: Kaukasian tilannetta ja Kosovoa ei voi rinnastaa, kuten Venäjä väittää”, Suomen kuvalehti, 5 September 2008.
[11] ”Kylmän sodan asenteet eivät päde”, Helsingin Sanomat, 2 September 2008.
[12] Alexander Stubb, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Opening speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Missions, 25 August 2008, available at: http://www.formin.fi/public/default.aspx?contentid=135322&nodeid=15149&contentlan=2&culture=en-US (last access: 27 January 2009).
[13] ”EU:n on laajennuttava johdonmukaisella politiikalla”, Helsingin Sanomat, 8 November 2008.
[14] ”Diplomaattien tunnustukset”, Helsingin sanomat, 5 October 2008.
[15] ”Ahtisaari: Kaukasian tilannetta ja Kosovoa ei voi rinnastaa, kuten Venäjä väittää”, Suomen kuvalehti, 5 September 2008.
[16] Hiski Haukkala, special adviser at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, personal interview, 10 December 2008.
[17] Hiski Haukkala, personal interview, 10 December 2008.
[18] ”Ahtisaari: Kaukasian tilannetta ja Kosovoa ei voi rinnastaa, kuten Venäjä väittää”, Suomen kuvaleti, 5 September 2008.
[19] The official position remained fairly unmoved too, which was confirmed in the defence white paper. See ”Suomen turvallisuus- ja puolustuspolitiikka 2009”, 23 January 2009, available at: http://www.valtioneuvosto.fi/tiedostot/julkinen/pdf/2009/turvallisuus-ja-puolustuspoliittinen-selonteko/selonteko.pdf (last access: 29 January 2009).
[20] ”Linja hukassa”, Suomen Kuvalehti, 5 September 2008; Jutta Urpilainen, leader of the Social Democrats: Speech at a meeting of the Social Democrat MP’s, 2/3 September 2008, available at: http://www.sdp.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/puheet/?a=viewItem&itemid=1116 (last access: 25 January 2009).
[21] ”Alexander Stubb: Georgia lykkäsi Nato-fantasioita”, Helsingin Sanomat, 18 September 2008.
[22] ”Suomalaisten mielipiteitä ulko- ja turvallisuuspolitiikasta, maanpuolustuksesta ja turvallisuudesta 2008”, opinion poll by the Finnish Ministry of Defence, 2 December 2008, available at: http://www.defmin.fi/files/1320/raportti_08_nettiversiosuomi.pdf (last access: 25 January 2009). According to the survey, compared to the year 2007, the amount of Finns having a negative stake on Finland’s NATO-membership has clearly decreased, the number of uncertain ones has increased and the number of those who have a positive view of Finland’s NATO-membership has slightly increased. At the moment, 60 percent of the citizens are against the NATO-membership.