In an interview in the social democratic daily Uutispäivä Demari, President Tarja Halonen said she thinks that, at the moment, the EU does not need any longer-term visions or new decisions on how to develop its functions. In her opinion, it is more important to concentrate on enlargement and getting EMU fully under way. Halonen sees a possible increase in xenophobia after the enlargement, when more European people will be moving from one EU country to another. This threat should be taken seriously, she says.
Halonen also commented on issues related to security policy. On NATO relations, she said that if accession becomes a current issue at some time, a decision is to be made on political grounds. Halonen continued by saying that she thinks a matter of greater urgency and importance is that the Finnish defence capacity should meet the requirements of regional defence and of crisis control, not only military conflict but also international crime, drug trafficking and social inequalities.
Thus, the improvement of civil crisis control should not be neglected. More funds would be necessary for the defence forces so that their materials were in line with the requirements of EU crisis management.
Blood donation ban
Blood donations by people who lived in Britain for at least six months at any time between 1980 and 1996 are now banned in Finland. Finland is imposing the ban out of concern that the fatal new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) could be transmitted through blood, though there is no evidence this is possible.
Nine other countries have taken similar action to reduce the possible risk. So far, no cases of CJD have been found in cattle in Finland, and the ban is said to be only an extreme precautionary measure. The head of the blood service of the Finnish Red Cross, Juhani Leikola, says that the restriction affects 1000 to 2000 donors in Finland, less than one per cent of the total number of potential donors.
Liberalise, or else...
The Finnish government wants European Union leaders to accelerate plans for the liberalisation of the EU's energy and capital markets at the upcoming March summit in Stockholm. The statement by the government urged the EU to do more to improve its competitive position, also demanding that, at the Stockholm summit, a concrete timetable and objectives for the further liberalisation of the energy sector be established.
The European Commission has stated that it will be up to the European Parliament and EU governments to work harder to meet whatever deadline they set for adopting the legal framework for the financial services industry. The Commission itself will have all the legislation foreseen in an action plan on financial services proposed by 2002.
Enlargement's effects on Finland
The Secretariat of the Economic Council stated in its report on EU Enlargement and Finland that the immediate effects of the enlargement on the Finnish economy will remain moderate. According to the report, new member states will feel the most notable impact of the enlargement. In old member states, the main effects will be evident in certain economic sectors.
The effects caused by the enlargement in Finland will be tempered by the fact that free trade between the EU and the candidate countries is already an established practise in several areas. However, in the future, the presence of Finnish companies will also be felt in the markets of other candidate countries, not just Estonia. So far, trade between the more distant candidate countries has remained minor.
The operational environment, it is assumed, will change more in the food market, building trade and service sector than in industry. According to the report, the actual flow of workers to the Finnish labour market from, for instance, Estonia, will remain considerably lower than opinion poll respondents have feared. Immigration to Finland will grow only moderately.
The EU's enlargement will also effect Finland through the EU budget and control systems, while Finland's contribution to the EU is also going to increase slightly.
Warnings come from top phone makers
The world's largest mobile phone maker, Nokia, again posted record profits, but trimmed its first quarter sales growth forecast, due to slower growth in the handset market. A presumption of slowing mobile phone sales received confirmation from Nokia's 2001 outlook.
Nokia cut its forecast for industry-wide mobile phone sales to 500 to 550 million units from a previous 550 million. Also, Motorola and Ericsson, number two and three in mobile phone unit production, have warned of a reduction in mobile phone sales.
Doctor strike likely
The Finnish Medical Association submitted a strike warning for physicians employed by Finnish municipalities, after rejecting the pay offer that was made by the Commission for Local Authority Employers. A possible strike could begin in March at the earliest.
Doctors want a 20 per cent pay increase. The Commission for Local Authority Employers offered, however, only a four per cent raise. According to a study, doctors working in the public sector currently earn FIM (Finnish markka) 20,000 to 30,000 (EUR 3365 to 5050) a month. The figures differ significantly depending on what is counted as basic salary and who has counted them. Doctors also demand better working hours.
And in other news...
- After almost a year in office, President Tarja Halonen gets relatively good marks for her job performance. On a scale of four to ten, she received a satisfactory 7.6 from the Finnish people.
- The Finnish Prime Minister's Office is nominating former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as the recipient of the next Nobel Peace Prize. Ahtisaari has been involved in international mediation efforts in the Balkans and Northern Ireland.
- According to a recent poll, 40 per cent of the 1400 respondents want the Greens to stay in the ruling government, even if the coalition introduces a bill in parliament on the building of a fifth nuclear power unit.
- The Traffic Safety Committee wants to prohibit the consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles. Furthermore, the transportation of an opened bottle inside a car would not be allowed.
- More border guards will be transferred from northern border stations to Helsinki and south-eastern Finland, because passenger numbers from Russia are surging there.
- Due to high housing prices, only about 25 per cent of people below 30 years of age live in an apartment they own. Ten years ago, the figure was around 50 per cent.
- 42 per cent of Finns say that they prefer domestic meat over cheaper imports. Thus, the meat's origin has surpassed its price as the most important selection criterion.
- The head of the Finnish national broadcasting company, YLE, says the start of digital television broadcasts, which is scheduled to begin in August, could be delayed by two months.
- President Halonen has been strongly criticised by citizens for going to a fashion show instead of attending the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the death of Marshal Carl Gustav Emil Mannerheim, former president, regent and commander-in-chief of the Finnish military during both the War of Independence (1918) and during the period of the Winter War and the Second World War (1939-1946).
Aleksi Vakkuri, 2 February 2001
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