On biased negotiations, Balkan stereotypes and Arctic potential

Tuulia Nieminen, Johanna Nykänen and Aaretti Siitonen

During the reporting period, a conflict between the official policy of Finland and popular sentiment in the country towards EU enlargement could be detected. The government held that enlargement benefited Finland politically and economically, and lay at the core of its EU policy. More specifically, “Finland supports the membership negotiations of Turkey and Croatia and the Western Balkans’ closer proximity to the EU.”[1] At the same time, according to a Eurobarometer survey conducted in autumn 2009, a majority (55 percent) of Finns were against enlargement of the EU in the coming years. Although two out of five (40 percent) were in favour of enlargement, Finns are somewhat more reserved on this than EU citizens on average. According to the survey, the cautiousness of Finns can be explained by the fact that a great majority feel that the EU has grown too quickly. However, judging from the Finnish press coverage, a more realistic explanation might be that, apart from Iceland, the candidate countries remain distant and unknown to Finns, and this causes uncertainty and some reservations. Also, ministerial level visits concentrated on Finland’s neighbouring area, with even the Prime Minister’s office admitting that the Mediterranean region and some new member states were being neglected.[2]
Iceland’s EU membership was largely perceived as an open-and-shut affair, and, as such, separate from other current and awaiting applications. Indeed, comparisons with Bulgaria and Greece were made to argue that the EU criteria for membership favours some states over others; Iceland, the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat wrote in its main editorial, already implements EU legislation better than, for example, the aforementioned member states.[3] Iceland was expected to become a member of the EU in the next enlargement round, notwithstanding its economic turmoil and the Icesave dispute with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Foreign Minister Stubb believed that Croatia is already almost at the finishing line. He also envisaged that membership negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could be opened this year. Referring to Turkey, Stubb strongly emphasised that the EU must treat all applicants equally and keep its promises.[4]
Reporting on the EU prospects of the Balkan candidate countries fluctuated between informing the readers about the largely unknown countries and reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes of the region being a “powder keg”, where, in the words of Aamulehti journalist Veikko Vuorikoski, “the burden of history prevents the countries from becoming fully-fledged members of the European family.”[5] Indeed, reporting tended to lean towards the negative, with Serbia only brought up to praise the EU for forcing the Serbian parliament to publicly condemn Srebrenica and to suggest that visa freedom for Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians has caused a wave of Albanians to arrive in the EU.[6] Turkey’s role as a significant energy supplier to the EU was mentioned, as was Moldova’s frustration with its slow progress towards EU membership.[7]

Partly overlapping with the debate on the prospective member states is the discussion on Finland’s potential to become a flag bearer in the EU’s Arctic policy, which has gained prominence. At the end of 2009, the parliamentary foreign affairs committee held a session on the relations between Finland and the Arctic region, concluding that it is important for Finland to profile itself as an Arctic and Northern state in order to reap all the political and economic benefits that the region has to offer. This sentiment is shared by researchers.[8] In a newspaper column, Social Democrat Member of the European Parliament Liisa Jaakonsaari emphasised that environmental and security issues, together with the living conditions of indigenous people, must be taken fully into account when planning Finland’s policies towards the Arctic.[9]

[1] Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland: EU enlargement, available at: (last access: 19 May 2010).

[2] Suomenmaa: Suomalaisministereitä eivät kiinnosta vierailut Välimeren maissa, 17 December 2010.

[3] Helsingin Sanomat: Icesave-kiista pois Islannin EU-tieltä, 26 February 2010.

[4] Turun Sanomat: Kroatian kanssa lähestytään maaliviivaa – Turkin EU-jäsenyydelle entistä tiukemmat ehdot, 9 December 2010.

[5] Aamulehti: Enemmän kuin pientä laiton tarvetta, 12 February 2010.

[6] Helsingin Sanomat: Serbia lähetti viestin Brysseliin, 2 April 2010; Helsingin Sanomat: Viisumivapaus aiheutti albaanien vyöryn EU:hun, 3 March 2010.

[7] Helsingin Sanomat: Turkki haluaa energiamahdiksi, 2 April 2010; Turun Sanomat: Moldova turhautui EU-tien hitauteen, 6 April 2010.

[8] Lotta Numminen: Jäämeren suojelu vaatii uutta hallintatapaa, Helsingin Sanomat, 6 April 2010.

[9] Kaleva: Aukaiseeko Ashton arktisen aarrearkun, 2 March 2010.