New energy, familiar themes

Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Public debaters were unanimous in saying that the relations between the EU and the US will improve. While there was a lot of excitement about the new era, expectations were often quite unspecific. Many pointed out that more effort is now needed from the EU side than before. Moreover, the wish lists are not similar on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean.[1] The Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, fears that more obstacles for productive cooperation will now be found in Europe rather than in the US.[2] Many Finns would very likely agree to several of the points on Minister Stubb’s wish list when he said that he would like the US and the EU to form a better team with regard to world trade, crisis management, human rights, climate change and rebuilding in Iraq. He also wished Europe and the US had other noticeable forms of cooperation than just the NATO operation in Afghanistan. All transatlantic collaboration should not be related to wars.[3]
Nevertheless, by far the most often mentioned issue was burden-sharing with regard to Afghanistan. A prominent EU affairs correspondent of the largest newspaper, “Helsingin Sanomat”, even predicted that the next big argument between the US and the EU may erupt over Afghanistan.[4] Obama is likely to put more resources into Afghanistan and will expect greater input from his European allies, including in the more dangerous areas of Southern Afghanistan, which may materialize the worry over the Europeans’ ability to meet Obama’s requests.[5]
Barack Obama’s initial climate policy decisions were welcomed by many. “Vihreä lanka”, the official paper of the Green Party, hailed Barack Obama’s energy policy as strict and progressive and was positively surprised by his level of investment to renewable energy technology.[6] Jutta Urpilainen, the leader of the main opposition party, Social Democrats, called upgrading the transatlantic relations as the EU’s mission for the year 2009. In her view, the Copenhagen Climate Conference should become a potentially important milestone in fulfilling this goal.[7] Perhaps this reflects the second broader theme: strengthened multilateralism which involves the joint leadership of the US and the EU. There was some acknowledgement of the need to involve more partners than just the EU and the US to tackle the financial crisis. In climate matters, it is somehow more possible to call for the EU-US tandem to lead the world.
Finally, more respect for human rights is certainly among the top three wishes the Europeans have for the new US Administration,[8] with resigning from torture and the closing down of Guantanamo as the most important practical implications. This led to a vivid discussion as to whether Finland should accept prisoners from Guantanamo.[9] This, we think, is a manifestation of the third priority: concrete measures to show that the two partners are again sharing the same values.

[1] ”Niin paljon odotuksia, niin vähän takeita”, Helsingin Sanomat, 14 January 2009.

[2] ”USA:n kädenojennukseen vastattava”, Suomen Kuvalehti, 19 June 2008.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ”Tervemenoa Bush ja tervetuloa Obama: EU on innoissaan uudesta alusta”, Helsingin Sanomat, 6 November 2008.

[5] ”Raimo Väyrynen: Uuden hallinnon taloudellinen liikkumavara pieni”, Turun Sanomat, 6 November 2008.

[6] ”Obama satsaa uusiutuvaan energiaan odotettua enemmän”, Vihreä lanka (web edition), 19 January 2009, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).

[7] Jutta Urpilainen, leader of the Social Democrats: Speech at a meeting of the Social Democrat MP’s, 2/3 September 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).

[8] Annamari Sipilä, journalist: ”Niin paljon odotuksia, niin vähän takeita”, Helsingin Sanomat, 14 January 2009.

[9] See e.g. Pekka Haavisto: ”Suomen pitäisi vastaanottaa Guantánamon vankeja”, Helsingin Sanomat, 25 January 2009.