Who should host EU summits?
Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen met his Swedish counterpart, Göran Persson, on Wednesday. Persson was not supportive of Lipponen's idea that EU summits should continue to be held in the member countries. France, the former presiding country, slipped a clause into the decisions at the Nice summit under which all summit conferences would, in future, be held in Brussels.
Lipponen admitted that Finland must now accommodate the situation. Although the matter had not been decided officially at Nice, the proposal won broad support subsequently at a meeting of Coreper, and Finland must be satisfied with it, Lipponen said.
The new system would be implemented in two stages. Every second summit would be held in Belgium, and when the number of the member states reaches 18, all meetings would be in Brussels. On Monday evening, Persson had indicated that he agreed with Lipponen on the issue, but by Tuesday he had changed his mind. The Finnish view was that "official" summits could be held in Brussels, but the "unofficial" summits should be held in the member states. Up till now, each member country has held two to three conferences during its tenure as president.
Also on the prime ministers' agenda were other questions related to the Swedish EU Presidency. Lipponen said that Finland fully supports Sweden's main goals of the presidency, which include speeding up enlargement, focusing on issues concerning the environment and employment and the EU's Northern Dimension. Lipponen said that Sweden is aiming to secure a political breakthrough on the question of enlargement at the summit scheduled for next July in Gothenburg.
It was reported that Helsinki-Vantaa Airport's radar system is not functioning properly. The riskiest situation occurred on 15 December, when a Finnair aircraft returning from Malaga was in danger of colliding with a Russian Aeroflot plane on its way to Moscow.
The air traffic control radar had not picked up the Russian plane, even though it had been airborne for about five minutes. The planes passed each other at a distance of 150 metres. According to air traffic safety rules, the altitude distance between two aircraft should be at least 300 metres.
There have been a few other reports of Russian airplanes disappearing from the radar at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in recent months. It seems that the new radar system at Helsinki-Vantaa airport does not always pick up the signals of the transponders of some aeroplanes.
It is not, however, just Russian airliners that have suddenly disappeared from the radar screen. Disappearances lasting from a few seconds to a minute have occurred occasionally with Western planes as well. Helsinki-Vantaa air traffic control, Finland's Civil Aviation Administration and the Accident Investigation Board are investigating the situation.
Minister of Social Affairs and Health Osmo Soininvaara has welcomed the plan to grant Norwegians the right to hospital care in Finland. He says that it cannot, however, force Finnish patients to have to wait longer for their treatment. But, since there is unused treatment capacity in Finland, the arrangement would also give Finnish hospitals a much-needed economic boost.
In Finland, the shortage of doctors and nurses has been a topic of hot public debate recently. According to Soininvaara, the problem is more a lack of funds than staff availability. Norwegian authorities have earmarked a sum worth over FIM (Finnish markka) 700 million (USD 112,064,776) to send Norwegian patients abroad to get treatment.
Tuning in Lapland
Finland's Parliamentary Ombudsman, Lauri Lehtimaja, wants a report from the Ministry of Transport and Communications on how the poor reception of television programmes in the Sodankylä area in Finnish Lapland can be improved. According to Lehtimaja, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression includes both sending messages and receiving them.
Currently, Finnish Lapland has extensive areas in which television reception is very poor and costly special antennas are needed. According to the distribution company, Digita, just under 0.5 per cent of Finns live in the areas in question. No real improvements are expected before the usage of new digital technology, which would affect the Sodankylä area by 2005 or 2006. Lehtimaja says that action must be taken sooner.
Leave well enough alone
Finland does not want any new investigations into the sinking of the car and passenger ferry Estonia. In a statement sent to the Swedish Ministry of Commerce, the Finnish Ministry of Justice repeated Finland's earlier view that the international commission's final report is reliable. Sweden asked Finland for a statement on holding a possible new investigation.
The passenger ferry Estonia sank in September 1994 on its way from Tallinn to Stockholm. A total of 852 passengers, mostly Estonians and Swedes, died and only 137 were rescued. The international commission stated in its report that the main reason for the catastrophe was that the ship's front hulls were too weak and broke during a storm, ripping through the watertight bow ramp inside it, thus allowing water to pour into the car deck.
And in other news...
- Minister of Foreign Trade Kimmo Sasi has called for a reduction in the number of members in the Finnish Parliament to 150. Minister of Justice Johannes Koskinen replied that the reduction of the number of Parliamentarians is not a topical issue.
- Two-thirds of the market capital of the Helsinki Stock Exchange is in foreign hands. Parliament removed the limits to foreign ownership in 1993.
- According to Statistics Finland, the value of all buildings, land, vehicles and machinery in Finland is only twice the value of telecommunications corporation Nokia.
- Doctors say that alcoholism and depression are so common in Finland that they could be regarded as national diseases. Almost one Finn out of ten is seriously depressed, and the same number drinks too much alcohol.
- The difference in the wealth of families has clearly increased in recent years. The difference between the eight lowest income brackets and the two uppermost have grown fast since 1988.
- Recent survey shows that students are quite pleased with their economic situation. Over half of the students finance their studies by working. Loans and financial aid from parents are not as common as during the depression years of the 1990s.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 12 January 2001
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