Quiet… And not very interested?

Finland
Finnish Institute of International Affairs
 
Conclusions of the European Council of December 2008 on the fate of the Lisbon Treaty
 
In general, the main attention after the European Council was on the decisions about economy and climate, with the conclusions on the Lisbon Treaty getting only scant attention. Officially, optimism towards the treaty entering into force was maintained: Olli Rehn, the EU Commissioner for enlargement, said that he is confident that the Lisbon Treaty will take effect.[1]
 
As to what kind of end result the decision to hold another referendum in Ireland will have, many pointed out that the financial crisis has shown Ireland how much it has to gain from its membership; without being a member of the monetary union, it would have suffered the same fate as Iceland. It is hoped that the financial crisis gives the key to unlock the situation and get the Lisbon Treaty ratified.[2]
 
The True Finns (Perussuomalaiset[3]), a party critical towards the EU, commented on the decision to hold another referendum in Ireland by saying that “when a small nation is being humiliated like that, it is humiliating even for the onlookers”[4]. Timo Soini, chairman of the party, used this argument to motivate the party to take an active role in the campaign for its anti-EU candidates to be elected to the European Parliament.[5]
 
European Parliament elections
 
Based on surveys on the support for national parties, it seemed in January that the true Finns would indeed get at least one seat in the European Parliament. Thus, Soini’s opinions (see above) may have some resonance in the electorate also with regard to the specific question of how Ireland was treated.[6] This received a lot of media attention and alarmed other parties.[7] Apart from this, the public discussion about the elections was still scheduled to start. Many journalists brought up the fact that according to the latest Eurobarometer, Finns were the Europeans least likely to know when the next European Parliaments elections are to take place. According to them, this reflected the Finnish disinterest in the elections.[8]
 
Formation of the new Commission
 
All in all, the new Commission did not emerge as a discussion topic. There were a few expressions of satisfaction due to the decision to not rotate the seats in Commission as a concession to the Irish.[9] Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen outlined that it is too early to start speculating about the candidates before it is known which treaty will be implemented.[10] As to how the Commission would be formed, Minister of Migration and European Affairs, Astrid Thors, predicted that the president of the new Commission would be chosen after the European Parliament elections, and the rest of the Commission once it is known which treaty rules will be followed.[11]
 
Appointment of the High Representative
 
Member of the European Parliament, Ville Itälä, suggested that if the Lisbon Treaty is implemented, Finland should campaign for Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, to be appointed to the position of the High Representative.[12] Thus, public discussion about the appointment of the High Representative concentrated on gathering widespread national support for Olli Rehn.[13] It was also suggested that Finland should campaign for both one male and one female candidate to show that it promotes gender equality.[14] Very little was said about how the Lisbon Treaty would change the role of the High Representative, instead, the issue was approached from the point of view of who would be appointed. A central concern was whether it would turn out impossible for a candidate from a small member state to be selected. Tony Blair was among the most often mentioned non-Finnish names to the new top posts.[15]
 
In the context of the more general discussion about the appointments, it was at times remarked that the treaty does not make clear distinctions between the competences of the Council President, Commission President and High Representative, which may complicate matters.[16]
 
Concerns about the long term
 
There was little discussion about the long-term implications. When discussed, a fairly typical approach was that of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats. While they strongly supported the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, their leader pointed out that the Irish referendum is a warning which the Union should take seriously. The Union needs to take measures to increase trust amongst the citizens.[17]
 
Speaking to the Finnish Heads of Missions, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen told how he had noticed a profound change in the nature of the Union five years ago. The Union had ceased to have a solid, undivided core. The Union of the post-enlargement era is more heterogeneous and coalitions change according to topic. This assessment had been a correct one, he concluded.[18]
 
According to Prime Minister Vanhanen, the treaty renewal process is a sign of how difficult it can be to reach an agreement in a Union of 27 member states. There are items in the Union’s agenda all the time, which keep challenging the unity of the EU. This will bring up the issue of differentiated integration, of which Vanhanen said that the unity of the 27 has always been a significant thing to him. He also stressed that it is in Finland’s own interest to be involved whenever the Union is making decisions.[19]
 
Last but not least, the NGOs which had campaigned against the Lisbon Treaty kept reminding their position that the treaty would lead to a more centralized, unequal and undemocratic Union. The EU would become a more distant organisation away from the citizens and the decision making would focus more and more in the control of the large member states.[20]

 



[1] ”Unioni ei ole kriisissä”, Eväitä eurooppalaiseen vaikuttamiseen, Maaseudun Sivistysliitto, 2008.


[2] Tiia Lehtonen, researcher: ”Talouskriisi voi jouduttaa EU:n perustuslain ratifiointia”, Helsingin Sanomat, 23 October 2008.


[3] The True Finns have gained popularity fast, with currently 8.3 percent of Finns supporting them. Source: ”Keskustan kannatus laskenut alle 20 prosentin”, YLE - Finnish Broadcasting Company, Web news, 19 January 2009, available at: http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/kotimaa/2009/01/keskustan_kannatus_laskenut_al... (last access: 30 January 2009).


[4] Timo Soini, chairman of the True Finns: ”Isoja asioita pienille ihmisille”, in: PerusSuomalainen 15/2008, p. 3.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Based on the survey, it is impossible to say to what extent the popularity should be attributed to the party’s EU opinions and to what extent to its nationalism and calls for stricter migration laws.


[7] See e.g. ”Blogi starttaa eurovaalien odotuksen”, Website of the official magazine of the Green party Vihreä lanka, 16 January 2009, available at: http://www.vihrealanka.fi/node/3240 (last access: 26 January 2009).


[8] ”Vaalikuume vähäistä”, Lapin kansa, 13 January 2009.


[9] E.g. Anneli Jäätteenmäki, MEP: ”EU tuli komissaariasiassa järkiinsä”, Communication, 12 December 2008.


[10] ”Rehnin ehdokkuus EU:n ulkoministeriksi ei saa varauksetonta tukea”, YLE - Finnish Broadcasting Company, Web news, 17 December 2008, available at: http://yle.fi/uutiset/talous_ja_politiikka/2008/12/jaatteenmaki_esittaa_... (last access: 29 January 2009).


[11] Astrid Thors, Minister of Migration and European Affairs: Speech at the Finnish Institute of International Affair’s (FIIA) seminar ”Aftermath of the Summit”, 15 December 2008.


[12] ”Tulossa nimityskamppailun ja heikkenevän talouden EU-vuosi”, Aamulehti, 19 December 2008.


[13] ”Rehnillä nostetta EU:n ulkoministeriksi”, YLE - Finnish Broadcasting Company, Web news, 16 December 2008, available at: http://yle.fi/uutiset/talous_ja_politiikka/2008/12/rehnilla_nostetta_eun... (last access: 29 January 2009).


[14] ”Rehnin ehdokkuus EU:n ulkoministeriksi ei saa varauksetonta tukea”, YLE - Finnish Broadcasting Company, Web news, 17 December 2008, available at: http://yle.fi/uutiset/talous_ja_politiikka/2008/12/jaatteenmaki_esittaa_... (last access: 29 January 2009).


[15] ”Rehnin nimi esillä EU:n ulkoministeriksi”, Helsingin Sanomat, 18 December 2008.


[16] Ibid.


[17] Jutta Urpilainen, leader of the Social Democrats: Speech at a meeting of the Social Democrat MP’s, 2/3 September 2008, available at: http://www.sdp.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/puheet/?a=viewItem&itemid=1116 (last access: 25 January 2009).


[18] Matti Vanhanen, Prime Minister: Speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Missions, 28 August 2008, Helsinki, available at: http://www.vnk.fi/ajankohtaista/puheet/puhe/en.jsp?oid=236735 (last access: 27 January 2009).


[19] Ibid.


[20] ”Vaihtoehto EU:lle kansalaisliike vetoaa kansanedustajiin - Hylätkää EU:n perustuslaki”, Vaihtoehto EU:lle 2/2008.