President Tarja Halonen says that she is cautiously optimistic that the European Union will achieve results at the Nice summit. She states that the EU should be ready to accept new members and not keep them waiting. Halonen also said that she would consider it a success if the questions necessary for enlargement were to be put into shape and a joint communiqué were made on what to do in the future.
She said at a luncheon of Finland's association of political journalists that the whole Finnish delegation in Nice is prepared to act constructively and effectively in order to make decisions; it is, however, uncertain whether the Nice summit will be successful. Halonen also said that she is pleased with the activity shown by Finnish politicians, such as Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö, in expressing their opinions on important EU issues.
Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen received a mandate from the Grand Committee of the Parliament to consent to the proposed rotation of EU commissioners. The committee was prepared to accept this alternative as a last option—if nothing else would help. Finland is still looking for a solution which would give each member state its own commissioner.
Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja expressed that the EU summit in Nice is going to be difficult and criticised France not preparing properly for the Summit. In an interview with the German daily Berliner Zeitung, Tuomioja said that France has totally failed to bring the member states closer to each other. He said that no progress was made in the pre-summit talks among EU foreign ministers in Brussels. Tuomioja had hoped that some progress towards an agreement would have been made before the summit.
On Wednesday, Finland celebrated its 83rd Independence Day, and the most influential figures in the nation gathered in the president's palace to commemorate the event. Thus, the Finnish delegation flew to Nice almost directly from the Independence Day reception.
Finland to avoid full-scale BSE tests?
Finland, Sweden and Denmark could get a special exemption on the issue of testing cattle over 30 months of age for BSE, or Mad Cows Disease. EU agriculture ministers decided on Monday night that less strict testing procedures will be considered for member states with a low risk of BSE. Finland voted against the extension of the restrictions.
According to the Finnish point of view, the measures are not in proportion to the real risk of BSE, because no cases of the disease have been diagnosed in Finland. Finnish Agriculture Minister Kalevi Hemilä thinks that, for example, tests based on sampling could be one possibility.
Exemption from full-scale BSE testing would also mean significant financial savings. Hemilä pointed out that, according to previous engagements, Finland will test all cattle in the risk group. A final decision on the question of cattle over 30 months of age will be made later by the EU's Administrative Committee on beef.
Latvia's President visits Finland
Latvia's President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga met with President Tarja Halonen during a visit to Finland. They discussed, among other issues, the EU and Finland's EU experiences. In Halonen's view, Latvia has made excellent progress in meeting the membership criteria of the EU. However, she noted that there is still much to be done, and she hopes that the same pace will continue in Latvia.
Vīķe-Freiberga stated that the three Baltic countries would continue their close co-operation as before, even if they were accepted as members of the EU at different times. Halonen confirmed that this view is backed up by the experiences of the Nordic countries: co-operation still works, even though some of the countries are in the EU and some are not.
On the other hand, Halonen considers all three Baltic countries as good applicants. She said that it would be possible for them to join the EU at the same time. Vīķe-Freiberga also commented on Latvia's relations with Russia and said that some progress had been made during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, but that problems remain. While in Finland, Vīķe-Freiberga met with, in addition to President Halonen, Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and Finnish Eduskunta Speaker Riitta Uosukainen.
General Hägglund on military-related issues
General Gustav Hägglund, chief of the Defence Forces, commented that crisis control in Europe will be put into the hands of the EU in the foreseeable future. He pointd out that NATO is primarily an organisation headed by the United States. In Finland, there have been talks about Hägglund becoming the chairman of the military committee of the European Union, but he said that the chair of the prospective committee will go and will belong to one of the large nations in the EU. He also stated that, personally, he is more interested in retirement.
Finnish security and NATO
According to a recent poll published in the newspaper Kaleva, a majority of Finns think that a possible NATO membership would not increase Finland's security. Only one-third of respondents feel that membership would improve national security. Conversely, nearly a half of the over 1500 people who took part in the poll believe that EU membership has increased Finland's security.
Finland's situation is now considered more secure than during the days of the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance with the former Soviet Union. Also, President Tarja Halonen stated her opinion on the possibility of Finnish membership in NATO has not changed; in other words, the President has not become a supporter of Finnish NATO membership. Furthermore, she said that she thought all EU member states should be equal, whether they are NATO members or not.
And in other news...
- Life expectancy for Finns has become longer. The average lifespan is now 78 years. A century ago it was 64 years.
- An unusually low level of snow is causing concern to the tourism sector in Lapland. A cold period in early November was followed by milder weather, which melted the snow. The early winter is usually high season for tourism in Lapland. A single snowfall could, however, change the situation at any time.
- According to a recent survey by Eurostat, Finnish small and medium-sized companies are badly prepared for the introduction of the euro. The Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers warns, however, against generalisations. The shortcomings concern mainly small companies that do not belong to an employer organisation, they argued.
- The average Finn spent about FIM (Finnish markka) four thousand (USD 600) on alcoholic beverages in 1999. The figures show that the nation spent a total of FIM 20.2 billion on buying alcoholic beverages last year. Measured in pure alcohol, the consumption per person was around nine litres, about 1.7 per cent more than in 1998.
- Fifteen-year-old Sergei Khachatrian from Armenia won the VIII International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition. Previous winners of the Jean Sibelius International Violin Competition include Viktoria Mullova from the Soviet Union (1980) and Finn Pekka Kuusisto (1995).
- The five government parties reached an agreement on added expenditure for next year's budget. The greatest increase, FIM 110 million, is for road construction. Among other beneficiaries were, for instance, universities and the Frontier Guard.
- Finland is preparing three big hits at criminals together with the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Police, Customs and Frontier Guard will in spring concurrently work against organised crime in the four countries. These will be the biggest such combined operations ever. Hundreds of police, customs and border control officers will be involved in the operations.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 7 December 2000
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Yle Ykkönen, Radio Suomi