July 3, 2015

Finland’s difficult, yet impeccable choice

Russia's State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin (L) speaks to the media as Andreas Aebi of Swiss National Council, and Ruedi Lustenberger (R), president of the Swiss National Council, look on at The Mission of Switzerland, in Geneva October 3, 2014.
Russia's State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin (L) speaks to the media as Andreas Aebi of Swiss National Council, and Ruedi Lustenberger (R), president of the Swiss National Council, look on at The Mission of Switzerland, in Geneva October 3, 2014.

Finland faced a difficult choice when a decision had to be made about whether to allow Sergei Naryshkin, the Chairman of the State Duma currently on an EU travel ban list, to enter Finland. Naryshkin had been travelling with other Russian delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) held in Helsinki. Finland adhered to the common position of the European Union and did not allow Naryshkin to enter the country.

This probably was not an easy choice, considering the history of Finland and its foreign policy tradition. Finland has always been proud of its special relations with Russia, having sometimes called itself the country that has the best relations with Moscow among the neighbours of the Russian Federation. Only a few weeks ago Sauli Niinistö, the President of Finland, met Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, in Moscow. Finland has given advice to Estonia on how to sustain good relations with the eastern neighbour. As expected, it has resulted in irritation in Estonia.

However, when Finland acceded to the European Union in 1995, Helsinki tried to preserve its special position in relations with Russia, and to improve its position owing to the influence of the European Union. To succeed in this, Finland had to go to the very centre of Europe, adopt the euro and launch its own initiatives like the Northern Dimension to handle Russia better. The decision of the Finns to join the European Union was greatly fuelled by the fear that the border between Finland and Sweden might also become the external border of the European Union when Sweden would join the EU. In this case, Finland would have been alone up against Russia.

The yesteryear events in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine had a huge influence. The behaviour of Russia forced the European Union to react. Finland had been supporting the sanctions; therefore, it would have been odd to ignore them now. At the same time, Naryshkin was allowed into Strasbourg by France, who likes to talk about the unity of Europe.

According to the Foreign Minister of Finland, Timo Soini, Finland used the so-called notification proceeding before adopting the travel ban, which means that the opinion of other countries was asked beforehand. As most of the countries were against granting the visa, Finland also adhered to the general position of the European Union. We can guess that the principal decision was made by Finland itself.
The decision of not allowing Naryshkin into the country may hurt Finland from another aspect. Finland considers itself at least partially the godfather of the OSCE, as the Helsinki Accords were signed 40 years ago, thus establishing the modern OSCE. Therefore, Finland, who is not a member of NATO, has always felt responsible for the success of the OSCE. Leaving the Russian delegation out of the Helsinki conference will not have a favourable effect on OSCE and Naryshkin has expressed the opinion that the next time they will attend an OSCE conference will be in Mongolia.

Finland may have taken another unfriendly step against Russia. Namely, the Croatian energy company Migrit Solarna Energija has appeared out of the blue and acquired 9% of the shares of the company Fennovoima that is constructing a nuclear reactor for Finland. The company claims to have the approval of the Government of Finland, but it should be kept in mind that the reactor will be supplied by the Russian energy giant Rosatom that owns 34% of the shares of Fennovoima.

The former commissioner of the European Commission, the present Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn has claimed according to the online daily EUObserver that nothing has been approved and he would like to know more about Migrit Solarna Energia. Rehn’s concern may be caused by the fear that the Croatians are Russian figureheads who are attempting to get the project of Fennovoima under Russian control. The figurehead theory is supported by an YLE news article that claims the Croatian government has no information about Migrit Solarna Energija.
So Finland has a lot to think about. However, from the perspective of the unity of the European Union and Estonia, the decisions Finland has made seem impeccable.
The text was aired on the European news of Retro FM on 3 July 2015.

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