Only 55.8 per cent of the electorate turned out for last Sunday's election. It was the first time that the figure fell below 60 per cent. The biggest opposition party, Keskusta (Centre Party), can be considered the winner. Its candidates received 23.9 per cent of the votes cast throughout the country, which was two per cent more than what they received in the last local elections four years ago.
Four out of five coalition government parties lost support, compared to the municipal elections in 1996. The Social Democrats (SDP) scored 23 per cent, down 1.5 per cent from four years earlier. Kokoomus (Coalition Party) scored 20.8 per cent, down 0.8 per cent from 1996. Vasemmistoliitto (Left Alliance) scored 9.9 per cent, which was 0.5 per cent down from 1996, and RKP (Swedish Party) scored five per cent, 0.4 per cent down. The only ruling coalition party to improve its share of the popular vote was Vihreäliitto (Greens), which collected 7.6 per cent, or 1.3 per cent more than four years ago. Of the parties not in government, Kristillinen liitto (Christian Alliance) scored 4.3 per cent, which was 1.1 per cent higher than in the previous elections.
President Tarja Halonen made a two-day visit to Norway at the invitation of King Harald V. In Oslo, she spoke about Nordic co-operation. According to Halonen, the Nordic countries should co-operate more inside the EU, although Norway and Iceland are not members.
There is not enough political co-operation among Nordic countries, she said during her visit to Norway. Halonen added that Nordic co-operation was important for Finland during the Cold War period. Now, it is important because of EU enlargement.
The future of energy
The government will consider the future of Finland's energy policy before Christmas. It is to receive a climate report, which, among other things, shows that it is necessary to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It is likely that on account of the report, the government and Parliament will have to take a position on whether nuclear power should be expanded.
There are currently two nuclear power stations in Finland, each with two units—one on the south coast with Soviet-built units and one on the west coast with Swedish-built units. The industry plans to submit an application to the government for a licence in principle to build a fifth nuclear power unit.
Joining the Union
Finland supports Latvia's goal of joining the European Union in the first wave of the enlargement. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said that it is impossible to predict the exact date, but Finland hopes that Latvia's progress will enable it to be, if not the very first, then at least in the first group of countries to join the EU.
Latvia's Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš said that Latvia aims to complete its membership talks by the end of 2002 and, thus, join the EU next year. However, if it is not until 2005, Latvia will not cry, Bērziņš continued. Finland supports the other Baltic states' bids to join the EU as well.
Defending the Union?
In a few weeks time, the government will explain the future visions of the EU defence co-operation to Parliament. According to some observers, France and Germany seem to be willing to form their own "mini defence alliance" within the Union. The Finnish government would not be pleased to see four or five countries take their own path in defence matters.
Prime Minister Lipponen said that now is the time to establish the rules and make sure that all decisions are made within the Union. It should be noted that many EU states are also members of the NATO and, hence, already have defence co-operation agreements with each other.
Alpo Rusi, chief counsellor of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, has said that the EU needs NATO to develop its own foreign policy. According to Rusi, Finland's old Russian-based foreign policy should be supplanted by a working with NATO. He also said that the current non-alliance policy leads to instability, which NATO membership would preclude. Both militarily and politically, Finland is ready for NATO and, in the long term, it is not sensible to think that membership in the EU and NATO cannot go together, Rusi said.
Over one hundred Finns have been found guilty of treason since World War II. During the first three decades after the war, 125 sentences were handed down. After that, about a dozen people have been covicted of treason.
Finland was the subject of Soviet espionage. Later, Soviets began to exploit Finland for their international espionage efforts. KGB agents forged entire families into church records and their names were then used for genuine passports and personal identity papers.
And in other news...
- Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš visited Finland from 24 to 25 October, and the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, will visit Finland from 26 to 28 October.
- Finland is losing several million FIM (Finnish markka) in EU agricultural support, due to insufficient supervision and minor mistakes. According to Minister of Agriculture Kalevi Hemilä, the amount of the loss could be as much as FIM 25 million (EUR 4.2 million).
- The amount of tax-free beer that Finns are allowed to import from other EU countries will rise from 15 to 32 litres, starting next month. From countries outside the Union, the amount will rise to 16 litres. The amount from other EU countries should go up to 64 litres, starting from 2003.
- Finland and China celebrated the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations this week. The actual anniversary is 28 October, but different celebrations will be held in Helsinki and Beijing prior to that.
- President Tarja Halonen will soon have to decide whether a civilian or a soldier will hold the top spot at the ministry of defence. President Halonen last week said that it is the competence of the candidate that will be the deciding factor. At the moment, the leading candidate is Vice Admiral Juhani Kaskeala, chief of the ministry's defence policy unit.
- The European Commission has demanded that Finland open trade on vitamins. Today, vitamin products that have a higher amount of the recommended daily dosage are the ones that end up in pharmacies in Finland.
- Finnish hopes that the European Food Authority will be located in Finland have risen again. Both the EU Parliament and the EU's Commissioner for Agriculture, Franz Fischler, have supported Finland's efforts to host the agency. However, Fischler emphasised that the heads of the EU member states will make the final decision on the matter.
- Labour organisations still think it is possible to produce a nationwide settlement on pay and other terms of work before the beginning of December, which is their target. There have also been more pessimistic predictions.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 27 October 2000
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Yle Ykkönen, Radio Suomi