Halonen addresses Council of Europe
On Wednesday President Tarja Halonen addressed the meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg. It was expected that Halonen would bring up the position of Russia in the work of the organisation and on the European political scene in general.
During recent years, Russia's human rights situation has been a major topic at all meetings of PACE. There are currently representatives of the Council in Chechnya trying to establish some sort of a rule of law in the area, but the situation there remains poor. Halonen did not, however, name Russia specifically when she stated that the member states should genuinely honour human rights and democracy.
Once again, Halonen repeated that the work of the EC, the EU and the OSCE must be well co-ordinated. She also proposed that a thorough consideration would take place of whether a special representative body on the European level should be established for the Roma. Halonen said that the Roma are a real pan-European minority and it is time to take action on their behalf. According to Halonen, the aim must be the realization of their human and minority rights in every European country.
During the Cold War years, a cautious attitude toward the Council of Europe was part of Finland's official foreign policy line, but today Finland, and especially President Halonen, is known to be an advocate of the Council's work. In her previous position as foreign minister, Halonen served as president of the Council when it was Finland's turn.
Lipponen visits Russia
Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen made a two-day visit to Russia where he had talks with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. According to Lipponen, Finland and Russia reached a preliminary agreement on the path of a gas pipeline from the Barents Sea to Germany, as the pipe would go through Finnish territorial waters. The prime ministers also discussed the Primorsk (Koivisto) oil terminal.
Lipponen said that the next step is to agree on the rules concerning the increasing traffic in the Gulf of Finland. Finland would, for instance, like to have double-strength hulls to be compulsory for oil tankers. Lipponen said that among topics discussed with Putin was security policy. He noted that Putin has a positive attitude towards EU enlargement, but wishes openness from the EU in developing its relations with Russia.
According to Lipponen, Putin also said that Russia wants to co-operate with the Baltic states and is going to improve its relations separately with all three states. Putin confirmed to Lipponen that he is going to make a state visit to Finland in September.
MTV3 cuts back personnel
The commercial television network MTV3 announced on Monday that it would make a personnel cut. It is estimated that about a quarter of the employees have to go, but the exact number is not yet known. Negotiations with the 450 employees with fixed contracts and about 40 freelancers are to begin next week.
According to the network's management, the reasons behind the reductions are the competitive situation and changes in the operational environment. Most of the channel's own production of programming will be outsourced, but the company will, however, retain its own news, current affairs, and sports programming. The announcement came as a shock to the staff, and they carried out a walkout on Monday afternoon. As a result, all news broadcasts were cancelled. Broadcasting returned to normal on Tuesday.
Tuomioja rejects postponement of landmine ban
Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja wants Finland to abandon landmines in accordance with the already agreed-to time schedule. He says that the government and the President have made the decision, and there is no reason to change it. Defence Minister Jan-Erik Enestam proposed recently that Finland could take extra time in abandoning its landmines.
According to Tuomioja, Finland has so far avoided criticism thanks to the fact that a clear program and schedule for abandoning landmines exist. The commander of the northern defence region, Major General Heikki Tilander, says that there is no adequate replacement solution for the mines, thus more time is needed.
Why aren't university students graduating?
According to a recent report, one-fourth of Finnish university students never complete their degree studies. The target is that 75 per cent of students should graduate within five years, but only approximately one-fifth of the undergraduates were able to collect a master's degree in five years. Problems seem to be the most prevalent in the humanities and the natural sciences, while nearly all doctors, dentists, and veterinarians completed their studies.
Also, the differences between the various universities were considerable. Furthermore, younger students and women tend to graduate more quickly than mature students and men. Researchers are now proposing that a degree has to be completed in less than ten years, since if nothing much has happened in ten years, it probably never will.
Telecoms giant Sonera in management crisis
A management crisis has broken out in the partially state-owned telecommunications service provider Sonera. It was alleged that the new president and CEO of the company, Kaj-Erik Relander, has brought the operative management of the company into a state which has been described as near chaos. One reason for the confusion is that Relander has not announced any clear strategy for the company, according to critics.
Hesitation has been particularly obvious in the strategy concerning the third generation mobile communications system. At the same time Sonera has been taking big risks by spending massive sums of money for a mobile telephone licence in Germany. Many in the Sonera management fear that the risks have grown too big and a serious shortage of trust is said to exist between Relander and his subordinates. Sonera's share price is currently less than one fourth from its peak last year.
And in other news...
- HIV infections from drug needles is exceeding previous estimates. While the National Public Health Institute has reports of 184 such cases during the years 1980-2000, a service centre run by the Helsinki Deaconess Institute has already helped 253 HIV positive drug users.
- Finland doubled its BSE testing, now conducting tests for mad cow's disease on 20,000 head of cattle. Earlier plans were to test the brain matter of just 10,000 animals.
- Prison terms were handed down on two men found guilty of flattening several hundred gravestones in a cemetery in the city of Pori. A 16-year-old student was given one year three months imprisonment, and a 19-year-old labourer received a ten-month sentence. The two men went to the cemetery in April 1999, overturned 371 gravestones, destroyed flower arrangements, and broke windows in the nearby chapel.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 26 January 2001
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