Chirac talks EU reforms
French President Jacques Chirac visited Finland on Monday, holding talks with President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. The visit was part of a tour that Chirac is making to EU member states ahead of the Nice summit. At the conference, opening in just over a week, a number of EU institutional reforms should be agreed upon that will be necessary for the enlargement.
Both Halonen and Chirac were optimistic that EU countries will reach an agreement in Nice on such reforms. Chirac expressed his belief that Finland's role in Nice will be extremely important, saying that he would rely on Finland's support of France as the presiding state in all matters in which Finnish interests were not in jeopardy. The "big or small member-nation question" is of no importance to those who think of the future of the EU, Chirac said.
Lipponen also wished to get away from the configuration of big versus small. However, he did want a compromise to which small nations could subscribe; for example, small nations are concerned about having commissioners of their own. In his opinion, the Union would be ready to accept new member states starting from the end of year 2002. After the enlargement, each country should have its own commissioner, but countries currently holding two commissioner posts would have to give up one.
Tuomioja on human rights
Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja presented a new report on the government's human rights policy to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament. He would like to enhance the role of human rights in Finnish foreign policy and welcomes the input of citizens.
Tuomioja stated that the focus of the Finnish human rights policy lies in the rights of women, children, minorities and indigenous people. In addition, the rights of the disabled, human trafficking and torture are of special concern.
During its EU presidency, Finland succeeded in increasing transparency and coherence in the Union's human rights policy, Tuomioja said. The EU's activities to abolish capital punishment were especially visible.
And Tuomioja on Russian policy
Foreign Minister Tuomioja said at a Social Democratic Party's seminar that Finland has its own active policy on Russia, referring to a recent political debate on whether Finland has neglected its bilateral relations with Russia in lieu of the EU's common policy.
When Finland's accession to the European Union was debated, one of the issues was the impact of the membership on Finland's relations with Russia, said Tuomioja. The transition in Europe had already changed the general framework of Finnish-Russian relations. It was concluded then that Finland's possibilities in promoting bilateral relations with Russia would be better as a member rather than a non-member of the European Union. This estimation proved right, and relations have developed positively, Tuomioja said.
As a member of the European Union, Finland has been able to actively promote the EU's policies on Russia, said Tuomioja. He mentioned the adoption of the EU's programme on the Northern Dimension on a Finnish initiative and the Finnish input on the establishment of the EU's strategy on Russia. Tuomioja was also convinced that the enlargement of the EU would further improve the relations between the EU and Russia. In particular, the accession of the Baltic states will enhance co-operation.
EU criticises Finland
EU inspectors have spotted several weaknesses in Finnish measures during last spring's monitoring of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease"). According to the documents of the Food and Veterinary Office of the EU, there have been cases in which animals should have been considered, officially, as being suspected of having BSE.
The inspection report states that Finland's BSE monitoring system lacks a clear allocation of responsibility, coordination and follow up procedures. It states that although legislation and regulations are up-to-date, the operations are quite scattered, which reduces the credibility of BSE monitoring activities. The inspectors visited Finland in the spring, and Finland is to file an official response to the report next week.
Schengen Treaty discussed
It is likely that Finland and the other Nordic countries will come under the Schengen Treaty starting 25 March 2001. This means that the internal EU controls on travellers between the countries that subscribe to Schengen will be ended.
Although free movement will become feasible, one should still carry a passport, because the authorities still have the right to ask for proof of identification, despite abolished border controls. The justice and home affairs ministers of member states will meet on Friday to decide on the Schengen schedule. Most member states have already signed the treaty.
And in other news...
- Vice Admiral Juhani Kaskeala will be the next commander-in-chief of the Finnish Defence Forces, after the retirement of General Gustav Hägglund. Previosly, Kaskeala served as a special Finnish representative in the EU Military Committee in Brussels.
- The Parliament has decided on the business hours of shops and stores on Sundays. Shops and stores under 400 square metres of floorspace are allowed to be open most Sundays of the year. There are still some particular Sundays, such as the Mothers' Day, when the stores must stay closed.
- Education Minister Maija Rask says that she is concerned because education in the Finnish language is being cut in Sweden. Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja has also expressed concern over the fact that the teaching of Finnish is evidently to end at Lund University.
- According to the Consumer Research Centre, Finns consider their knowledge of the euro deficient. The survey showed that there is a lack of awareness, for instance, about the two-month transitional period and the values of euro notes and coins.
- According to a study by Statistics Finland and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, bars and restaurants are among Finland's most hazardous work places. Employees at bars and restaurants have traditionally suffered from shoulder problems and alcohol abuse. Now, psychological problems are increasing. It is, however, the police that face the greatest risk of work-related death.
- Eleven-year old Mikko Tamminen wrote a stock market investment guide. The booklet is fast to read, and even adults who are not familiar with the basics of the stock market would probably find it useful. Despite recent market fluctuations, Tamminen feels that it is better to keep money in stocks than in a piggy bank.
- Professional theieves and drug-users have stolen hundreds of laptop computers worth several million Finnish markka from cars parked in Helsinki. The great majority of the robberies were in the downtown area.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 30 November 2000
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Yle Ykkönen, Radio Suomi