Foreign Affairs

Finnish Role in EU


Around 13 years back, Finland became a European Union state. Located at Northern Europe, Finland is a small Nordic country known for its high standard of living and governance. Since its entry into EU, Finland has asserted its position on the European platform and has been an important player in key European decisions.

While discussing European Union with officials at Finland Embassy in New Delhi, one realises that smaller nations like Finland live in constant concern of being ignored or undermined in the presence of bigger countries like France and Germany.

France and Germany, of course, are among the founding members of the Union along with Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Officially, the European Union was founded in 1951 with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Finland came in much later in 1995. As Matti Mörttinen, a reporter with the Finnish newspaper Aamulehti says, “(It) was a small part of an enormous geo-political change that affected all of Europe.”

Benefits and the Responsibilities

Anna-Kaisa Heikkinen, second secretary, Finland Embassy in India, however feels that the small countries like Finland stand more to profit than to lose in the EU in terms of economic policies and geopolitics. She says, “We are now part of a larger economic area and a common currency zone, which reduces the risks and the volatility of our national economies. Although, our hands are of course tied in terms of certain fine-tuning.”

Finland has been playing a key role in expanding the Union. “Finland is an active member of the EU and sees great advantages in the further consolidation of the Union. Finland’s vision, however, is not a federal Europe but an active Union consisting of independent member states,” says Heikkinen.

It was during the Helsinki European Council of December 1999, it was agreed Turkey could be officially named as candidate for EU membership. Finland held the Presidency of the EU for the first time from July to December 1999. It was also during the Helsinki European Council of December 1999 when the Millennium Declaration was adopted.

Heikkinen adds, “We emphasise the need to make the Union more transparent and understandable for the people, and the need to reform the institutional structures to correspond with today’s realities.”

Finland’s second Presidency was the six-month period from July to December 2006. Some of the highlights during this period were the search for a common strategy concerning the crisis in the Middle East, establishing a united voice on relations with Russia, and placing Turkey’s membership negotiations partially on hold, because of Turkey’s persistent refusal to allow Cypriot vessels into its ports.[1] The date for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria was confirmed during the Finnish EU Presidency

Speaking on Finland’s growing influence in geopolitics, Heikkinen says, “In terms of geopolitics, we are parts of a larger political entity which, although still low on hard power, has lots and lots of soft and smart power. Geopolitics and security are in today’s world about so much more than only guns and armies.”

How it happened?

Historically, Finland was an unallied Nordic country with strong ties with other Nordic nations. Mörttinen, in his article Finland as a Member of the European Union

Success, Setbacks and Changing Moods points out until late 1980s Finland’s foremost trade policy framework was the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The Nordic countries had already created a joint labour market and passport union in the 1960s. However, Finland also had eastward links in the shape of the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. Finland became a member of the Council of Europe in 1989.

It was the surprise move of Finland’s neighbour Sweden to apply for EU membership in 1991 that led the leadership of the country to think seriously about entering the Union. The issues that were debated within the country were the future of neutrality and military non-alliance. Finland was also worried about the future of Finnish agriculture. Another obvious scepticism was about the clash in legislature of Finnish parliament and the EU parliament.

However those in favour of the membership felt that “it was important for Finland to be seated at the table where the decisions affecting Finland would be made with or without the country’s presence.”[2] Market and business was another factor in the minds of the pro EU advocates. The fall of Soviet Russia hit Finland’s economic growth hard. The severe economic recession of the early 1990s and the number of unemployed had rocketed from under 200,000 to nearly half a million in a population of about five million.[3]

A referendum was held in October 1994 in which 57 per cent of the Finnish supported the idea of joined the European Union. Observers feel it was the issue of national security that played in the voter’s mind during the polls. Mörttinen says, “At least, this was the interpretation put forward by President Mauno Koivisto, who was in office from 1982 to 1994 and had considerable influence over Finland’s choices vis-à-vis Europe.”

[1] Finland as a Member of the European Union

Success, Setbacks and Changing Moods by Matti Mörttinen

[2] Finland as a Member of the European Union

Success, Setbacks and Changing Moods by Matti Mörttinen

[3] Finland as a Member of the European Union

Success, Setbacks and Changing Moods by Matti Mörttinen

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