EU´s Common Foreign and Security Policy by Pertti Torstila on 2 March 2000

By Pertti Torstila, Director General for Political Affairs Reflections on the European Union´s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) during the Finnish EU Presidency in 1999 Second Annual Conference on Atlanticism Hungarian Atlantic Council Budapest, 3-4 March 2000

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel priviledged to speak in my old hometown Budapest today to such a distinguished group of foreign and security policy experts on Finnish CFSP experiences only two months after the end of our EU Presidency


When preparing in spring 1999 for the Finnish Presidency of the European Union, we in Helsinki regarded the following CFSP themes as issues requiring clear action:

1) Western Balkans and the stability in the Southeastern Europe;

2) EU´s relations with Russia; the Common Strategy, the Northern Dimension

3) Turkey

4) Middle East Peace Process

5) Transatlantic relations

6) Common European Security and Defence Policy ( ESDP);

7) Common Strategies (work programme for the Strategy on Russia, strategies on Ukraine, the Mediterranean and the Balkans)

8) Introduction of the new foreign and security policy instruments provided by the Treaty of Amsterdam: the new Troika, the Presidency co-operation with the CFSP High Representative/ Secretary-General of the Council and the new Commissioner for External Relations

9) Regional crises in various parts of the world

10) Political dialogues ( some 120 meetings at different levels throughout the world, led by the Finnish Presidency)

Beside the aforementioned themes, several other CFSP related issues came up during the Finnish Presidency. As examples: crises in East Timor and Indonesia and Africa (in East Timor the referendum, the ban on arms exports and humanitarian aid; in Africa "WW I of the continent") - all charging the heavy CFSP agenda of the Presidency. The CFSP dimension was also present in such issues as the enlargement of the Union and the candidate status of Turkey. The Finnish Presidency attended carefully to these issues, and the Helsinki Council achieved remarkable results in them. We had to take into account that the world events occur totally independently of us: anything could happen anywhere at any time, and the Presidency was expected to react immediately. The Political Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Helsinki had long and busy days and nights.

The CFSP pillar of the EU is an intricate area to work in. It is expressedly inter-governmental. It does not include automatic qualified majority voting or decision-making on arrangements which would bind all member states in the way the Community pillar does. At the same time, however, the Union has ambition to develop further as a sovereign foreign policy actor.

The unanimity requirement puts the Presidency´s leadership and conciliation skills to test. Also Finland had to go through this test during its Presidency. It was generally expected that the area of common foreign and security policy would be difficult to lead during our Presidency. The tasks to be fulfilled on this multi-faceted area occupied our minds — and they must have occupied our partners´ minds as well— because during the past decades, Finnish foreign policy had predominantly focused on country’s own most immediate neighbouring regions and relations.

The political situation in early July 1999 was not easy. We had prepared for the most varied situations in our internal exercises, but the real life was different. The Union had no Commission. The new European Parliament was only preparing to convene. The Treaty of Amsterdam had entered into force (on 1 May 1999), but the Presidency could not yet use efficiently the new instruments introduced with the Treaty. President Ahtisaari´s contribution, in particular, had helped to take the sting out of the Kosovo crisis, but its after-treatment was not yet organised, and the SEE Stability Pact had not progressed further after the initial decisions made on it.

During our Presidency, we learned that matters of common foreign and security policy can hardly ever be completed and closed during the Presidency of one country. Predictability, pragmatism and transparency were some of the operating principles which our partners seemed to appreciate. We also learned that the Presidency´s own, nationally important projects have to be chosen carefully and promoted with skill and consideration.

Achievements, setbacks

The Finnish Presidency of the Union has been commended by all quarters. We achieved notable results and built successful compromises between national and all-European objectives. But there certainly is room for sound criticism: not all goals were attained.

In the Western Balkans/SEE and Russia we had set our targets higher than what we ultimately achieved. We knew, of course, that both of these complicated issues could only be resolved with time. Still, in both issues we ventured to expect more results which would bear the stamp of Helsinki.


The situation in the Balkans is worrying. A failure to pursue the clearworded will and lack of unified policy by the international community would lead to new disasters. The division of labour within the international community in the Balkans is a headache and in Kosovo serious problems remain, although we aimed at more clarity and concrete achievements during the six months of our Presidency. Democracy in the FRY and the future of Montenegro trouble observers’ minds. The international community has made only limited progress toward constructing a civil society under the rule of law. The situation in Kosovo is a disgrace to the international community. There are severe problems and ethnic hatred persists between the different population groups. The region radiates insecurity, is far from being stable, and the ethnic purges against Serbs are no more acceptable than were the persecutions of Albanians. The Union should also have made more concrete progress in respect of the sanctions against Serbia, its democratisation process and the Stability Pact.


Russia is and remains also after the Finnish Presidency a yardstick for Finland´s EU membership and a challenge to it. Finland´s foreign policy leadership knows well that, at the same time as it is deliberating the EU´s positions on the problems in East Timor, in Africa or between India and Pakistan, it has to attend carefully to the immediate object of country’s interests, its own neighbourhood. In this respect Finland´s tasks have not changed since the years of the Cold War. The EU countries, for their part, place great expectations on Finland when it comes to the relations between the Union and Russia. In his interview to the largest Finnish weekly magazine (Suomen Kuvalehti, 1 January 2000), Jacques Delors said the following: "The disorder in Russia will continue in at least ten years. In these circumstances the EU would be wise to consult Finland as an expert on relations with Russia. I believe that Finland still has the best understanding of how the EU should behave in its relations with today´s Russia". Finland is no longer alone in its relations with Russia, but the EU membership did not change our geographic position.

Because of Russia’s internal situation and the war in Chechnya, we did not manage to reach our ambitious Russia-related targets quite as planned. With these targets I mean the consolidation of the EU-Russia relations on a sustainable basis, the Northern Dimension and the work programme for the EU’s Common Strategy on Russia. The past six months experience also taught to us that the Presidency cannot evade its responsibility for representing the opinion of all member states. The developments of the crisis in Chechnya and the firm position the Union adopted on it in Helsinki illustrate well the case. When elaborating the Union´s crisis management capability and the ESDP, we also arrived at a new situation with our close Nordic non-EU NATO neighbours Norway and Iceland.

The construction of the EU-Russia relations is however a huge endeavour reaching far beyond the Finnish Presidency. We know that our neighbours Sweden and Denmark will resolutely advocate the Northern Dimension during their EU Presidencies in 2001-2002. We also know that the relations with Russia are not without significance to any EU country. The succesful continuation of this important task is guaranteed.


The great leap forward of the Union´s security and defence dimension - EU’s crisis management capacity - during the Finnish Presidency was an unquestionable achievement in the field of the CFSP. The Balkan crisis opened the eyes and obliged all Europeans to engage more effectively in conflict prevention and crisis management, both military and civilian. This new CFSP opening has a great significance to both the Union´s common foreign and security policy and to Finland´s own national objectives.

On the eve of the Finnish Presidency doubts were expressed about "neutral Finland’s" ability and resolve to advance in the sensitive area of common foreign and security policy. Some questioned Finland´s will to implement the ambitious decisions made by the Cologne summit.

Those doubts were without grounds. Since its accession to the European Union in 1995, Finland had no longer regarded itself as a neutral country. In a union there are no neutrals. President Ahtisaari’s masterly act in taming Milosevic gave the Finnish Presidency a flying start. We set high targets for ourselves and our partners in the sensitive area of military crisis management, we promised visible results and kept the promise. At the same time we, together with the three other militarily non-allied EU-partners, stood by our own basic starting points. We were not creating a European army. We were not seeking to duplicate NATO’s role. NATO’s core function still is collective defence and colective defence is not part of the EU’s crisis management mandate.

At the Helsinki summit a firm foundation for further work was laid down, and Portugal and France will build on it. The Helsinki Council made concrete decisions on the Union´s military crisis management capabilities and the related decision-making mechanisms. The Council further decided on the resources of civil crisis management and their coordination. Moreover a bridge towards the Western European Union was construed by appointing the Secretary-General of the Council, Mr. Javier Solana, also Secretary-General of the WEU.

I am not going into the details of the Helsinki ESDP report here. Its essential points must be familiar to the audience. If not so, I recommend that you study the document closely. The report deals with the most significant horizontal theme concerning the Union’s common foreign and security policy. The new decision-making bodies — the Political and Security Committee (PSC), the Military Committee (MC) and the Military Staff (MS) — are structures which will decisively reform the Union´s activities in the CFSP field in the near future. Progress in issues of security, defence and crisis management will indicate the direction in which the Union will advance in the next few years in respect of deepening.

The questions now discussed are closely connected with the transatlantic relationship and they are of great importance to the United States and its allies. As Strobe Talbott has said: " We want to see a Europe that can act effectively through the Alliance, or, if NATO is not engaged, on its own." This statement shoulders the Union’s ambitions. The EU is not the European pillar of NATO but building for the Union the crisis management capacity of its own, also functions as a reassesment of the transatlantic relationship. Therefore the development of the EU-NATO relations and the EU´s relations with the third countries, especially the six European non-EU NATO countries is essential. An erosion of the transatlantic ties because of too far fledged "autonomic" arrangements of the European security and defence policy would not be in the interest of the Union members. It would neither promote stability in Northern Europe, a vital region from Finland´s point of view, and it would also complicate the relationship of the two important European enlargement processes (the EU and the NATO).


We Finns learned many useful lessons from our Presidency.

- The Presidency showed the Finns very concretely that their country is indeed an essential part of vital international activities, part of the Union with global influence and responsibility. We had to take a stand on most varied, difficult questions of international politics — and as the Presidency we also had to define the joint position of 15 member states.

- All wisdom does not come from the big countries only. The rotating Presidency is vital to the EU. Small member states have special skills and qualities in promoting the indispensable compromises. Surprisingly often, small countries are also better equipped for that.

- The Presidency of the European Union provided a huge international challenge and test of strength to Finland. The Presidency period unfolds every presiding country before the eyes of the other member states and the rest of the world. The presiding country gets a unique opportunity of showing others what that country really is and what it really can do. The EU Presidency is an opportunity of being put on the map. To a small member state this opportunity is even more significant than to larger ones. The presiding country also gets a chance to bring the Union within its own borders; a chance to present the EU to its own citizens. Moreover, the presiding country gets a unique view from "a royal box" to the essence of the Union and the other member states. Finland got such a view when it as President, built compromises not only between the 11 and the 4 but also between the 11 in the ESDP.

- We prepared for the Presidency since our accession to the EU, in more than four years. We did not aim at surprises during our Presidency, but we set very clear targets for ourselves. Coordination and consultation functioned well both within our own administration and with the other member states. When preparing for the tasks, we promoted resolutely direct personal contacts with our partner countries, the Secretariat of the Council and the Commission. We did not hesitate to make use of modern information technologies: all Political Directors in the Political Committee had free use of communicators made by the Finnish Nokia Group. Our small and co-operative administration did not turn out to be a problem or disadvantage. Within an administration, which was strongly welded together, all information flowed smoothly and informally.

- The Presidency taught us that the Union which operates efficiently in the field of common foreign and security policy is in the central interest of Finland. It is of paramount importance to the member states that the Union be a global, strong actor. The common foreign and security policy and its new innovation, crisis management capability, need rapid elaboration. Our successors, Portugal and France, are facing a great challenge. And the work will continue after them.

- During its independence of more than 80 years, Finland has gone through many maturity tests but never have we had an international diplomatic challenge which could be compared with the EU Presidency. We know that we completed the operation with distinction. Now that we have returned to the rank we will no longer be the same rank-and-file member of the Union as before the Presidency. We can now give more, and we are also expected to give more. Faced with questions that are occupying our continent and the whole world, we must prepare for continued effort and alertness. The breathing space after the Presidency remains very short.