Bad talk in Brugge
Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's speech in Belgium last Friday met with heavy criticism from political parties in Finland. The Centre Party, the Greens and the Christian Democratic Party said that his view on the future structure of the European Union differs from current Finnish policy. Lipponen proposed, among other things, that the EU should have its own constitution.
The chairperson of the Centre Party's parliamentary faction, Mauri Pekkarinen, said that it should now be discussed whether the supranational policy proposed by Lipponen is also to be considered official Finnish policy towards the EU. Pekkarinen thinks that Lipponen wants to divert power from member states to the European Commission and the supranational EU Parliament. Lipponen was also criticised because he did not consult with President Tarja Halonen before he gave his speech.
The debate over the Prime Minister's speech continued during the week. The parliamentary faction of the Centre Party called on Lipponen to give an account of his vision of Finland's EU policy to Parliament. The group said that Lipponen had personally outlined a deepening of integration that went further than the level decided upon by the Finnish Parliament.
Lipponen, in turn, wrote in his column in the daily Turun Sanomat that leading Centrists had not offered answers of their own, but rushed instead to investigate whether the accused should be condemned for supporting an EU federation. He wrote that he put forward the option of a constitution specifically to clarify the situation of small nations in the EU.
Lipponen's speech can be seen as a response to policy speeches that have been made, for instance, by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and French President Jacques Chirac about the future of the EU.
On Thursday, Lipponen met the Centre Party's parliamentary faction in private. Afterwards, both Lipponen and the faction's chairperson, Mauri Pekkarinen, reported that they were pleased with the meeting. Lipponen had clarified his opinions, and Pekkarinen admitted that they were no longer that unacceptable.
Permission to build
Finnish energy company Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) submitted an application to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for permission to build a fifth nuclear power unit in Finland. There are currently two nuclear power plants in Finland, one with two Swedish units on the western coast and another on the southern coast with two Soviet-built units.
The estimated cost for the new unit would be FIM (Finnish markka) 10 to 15 billion (EUR 1.68 to 2.52 billion). The government, which includes the anti-nuclear Green Party, will examine the application and either pass it on to the Parliament or reject it.
In any case, a lengthy discussion is expected to take place. An earlier attempt for more atomic energy was, after years of debate, crushed in a parliamentary vote in 1993. The new plant, if accepted, would be ready between 2008 and 2010. Nuclear power, which accounts for 28 per cent of total power consumed, is currently the biggest source of electricity in Finland. Environmental organizations stated that it is a mistake to apply for more nuclear power.
Developing the Union
Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen and British Prime Minister Tony Blair published a joint programme in Finnish and British newspapers about the development of the European Union. It deals with the Union's enlargement, internal restructuring, the fight against crime and economic and social reforms.
Enlargement is seen to be an opportunity to reunite a continent that has been divided and to ensure that all of Europe shares peace and progress. The prime ministers want the EU to hasten membership negotiations with the candidate states. They would like to see new member states participate in the European Parliament's elections in 2004.
Concerning the EU's internal restructuring, Lipponen and Blair seek a solution in which two overall priorities will be met. EU decision-making should be rationalised in a way that would give the European public a sense that it is they who govern Europe, not the other way around. The Union should also be functional with 30 member states, Lipponen and Blair declared.
When it comes to the fight against crime, the prime ministers expressed their will to create a European zone with freedom, security and justice as was agreed with other EU heads of states a year ago in the Finnish town of Tampere.
Concerning economic reform, the prime ministers are aiming, in line with targets set by the EU last year in Lisbon, to become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy with opportunities for consistent economic growth, more and better jobs and a higher degree of social cohesion.
Saying no to NATO
Former President Martti Ahtisaari says he is convinced that Finland will not join NATO when the military alliance considers enlargement next, probably in the year 2002. Ahtisaari stated that he sees no need for Finland to join. After 2002, Finland will continue along the lines of the Partnership for Peace agreement, Ahtisaari said in an interview with the newspaper Sunnuntaisuomalainen.
And in other news...
- Talks to reach a collective agreement in the labour market are still ongoing. Unions have demanded pay rises of 3.8 per cent for a settlement that could extend to, or beyond, two years, while employers have proposed a 1.8 per cent rise.
- The research department of the Ministry of Justice said that the number of criminal homicides and other personal crimes rose slightly in 1999 from 1998, although the 142 murders in 1999 was around the average for the decade.
- Radio Sputnik, a Russian radio channel in Finland, has been a success among Russian tourists. The Russian minority in Finland founded the station, which gives them news and entertainment in their own language.
- Minister of Trade and Industry Olli-Pekka Heinonen supports plans to prohibit talking on hand-held mobile phone while driving. Talking would be allowed on hands-free sets only.
- An HIV test for personal use is being discussed in Finland and the EU. Denmark, among others, has demanded that these kinds of tests should be completely banned. In Finland, a decision from the authorities is expected within months.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 16 November 2000
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Yle Ykkönen, Radio Suomi