Jaakko Blomberg, Under-Secretary of State: The EU as an Instrument of the Member States in Foreign, Security and Defence Policy
Membership in the European Union can be seen both as an asset and a liability in terms of a member´s foreign relations. Like in any association, by joining forces with a strong group an individual member can get value-added results. But membership in the Union also entails an obligation to pursue one´s own objectives in the common Union context even where it may not seem to be in the national interest. From this perspective, membership in the EU is meaningful only if the national interests are seen in a comprehensive way.
The European Union´s common foreign and security policy is but a part of the external relations significance of membership. The other main part is the economic weight of the Union and its trade policy. In both respects the Union is a work in progress and will remain so as far ahead as we can see.
In matters of foreign, security and defence policy the Union has made rapid progress during the past decade. There have been ups and downs, and there will be, but the trend clearly is up. The development of the Union has taken place in rather dramatically changing circumstances. Part of the development has been due to changes in the circumstances, part to deliberate planning. There is a growing awareness in the Union that in a changing world it cannot effectively pursue its overall interests if it is not competent and capable in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and in the new field of Common European security and Defence Policy (CESDP).
In the following there is a review of the Finnish experience on these policies from the point of view of their relevance to the Finnish national interests and concerns.
In the early years of the 90s, when Finland was making up her mind on seeking membership, several studies were devoted to the negative potential of membership for the foreign relations of the country. The tradition of Finnish foreign policy contained an element of caution against commitments that would tie our hands to decisions of other countries. The value of independent decision making was stressed.
During the cold war the Finnish foreign policy makers developed special skills in dealing with the entreaties to common causes made by the Soviet Union. Every effort was made to establish one´s decision independently even in cases where in substance we seemed to be supporting Soviet initiatives.
Similarly with the other main partner, the Nordic group. The Nordic cooperation in international politics was active and substantive and as such rather unique during the cold war years. For Finland it was indeed a positive tool to balance out the Soviet influence. But every caution was made to avoid open ended commitments on issues sensitive to Finland, in particular political or military East-West issues.
With this tradition it was not a simple thing to commit oneself to the CFSP of the Union, reinforced in the 1991 Maastricht treaty. Prejudices run deep. The root of them was the policy of neutrality as the core method of keeping a distance from the Soviet embrace and a method to gain influence and prestige in international relations. For many it was difficult to see that the time for it was over. The idea of Finland as a country politically placed between the East and the West was losing its meaning. The Soviet Union collapsed and the communist hegemonism was gone. Acceeding to the European Union was not to be seen as giving up neutrality and joining the other side since there were no more two sides after the Paris Charter of 1990.
Thus, during the crucial year 1992 when the decision to seek membership was contemplated, there were arguments for and against. The main issue was the relationship with Russia, the historically number one problem for Finland. Those who were sceptical of the EU argued in terms of the past experience. Those in favour appealed to the new Europe and to the values commonly agreed upon in the 1990 Paris summit of the CSCE.
Therefore, the meaning of EU membership for Finland was and is fundamentally about the values we share with the other members of the Union. And this applies with full force also to the external relations and the CFSP of the Union. The Union is for its members an instrument to uphold and promote common values. This does not imply that the members can or should agree at every situation on the application of the common values in practise. Individual members may face difficult choices between overall, broad interests and narrow interests related to any given individual case. Again, for Finland this did not imply taking sides in a dispute – say, Russia versus the West - but a commitment to shared values. And, the reasoning continues, should anybody act against the values, Finland should join those who defend these values.
As the scope of the CFSP is expanding, the question is often put: How much room is left for an individual member´s own foreign and security policy. Apart from the fact that there still are important areas in which the Union does not pursue a collective policy, the naked fact is that it is not uncommon for an individual member state or small group of member states to pursue their national policies in open disregard of the obligation to establish a common Union position. As a consequence, the Union role is weakened and other members´ interests are neglected. Therefore, generally speaking, doing so comes with a price. Other members may remember. Larger member states can afford going alone as they may be less dependent on support and solidarity from other member states. For small member states the cost is higher.
A simple but important rule which applies in the Union as well as in any association is that solidarity is reciprocal: if you expect support from others, volunteer to support them when you can. Thus, when in the fall of 1995, during the first year of the Finnish membership, the Spanish presidency launched the Barcelona process on Mediterranean cooperation, Finland took pains to express her support to the undertaking. And, later, on Finnish initiative, the first ministerial conference on the process took place in Helsinki. The Finnish attitude was based on the simple idea that to gain support from the South for the Northern dimension which later was concieved through a specific Finnish initiative, we Northerners must engage in the Southern causes.
There has been some debate in Finland about the relevance of the national foreign and security policy in relation to the Union´s common policies. Recently President Koivisto seemed to argue that Finland has been neglecting bilateral relations with both Russia and the Nordic countries, relying only on the EU and its policies. From the government side it was countered that bilateral channels have been pursued with vigor and success while at the same time Finnish interests have benefitted from common Union policies.
In fact Russia is the one issue which demonstrates the value and instrumentality of the Union´s external policies and the CFSP for Finland as a member state. Contrary to the domestic doubts of the early years, Finland has found little difficulty in agreeing with other member states on the policies concerning Russia. Moreover, Finland has been able to gain support among the membership on specific new elements of the policy. The common strategy on Russia and its implementation has been the main instrument while the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement provides the framework. And the Northern Dimension of the external and croos-border policies of the Union caters heavily to the EU-Russia relations among others.
The significance to Russia of the European Union will only increase through enlargement, particularly when countries neighbouring Russia will acceed. From the Finnish point of view, accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will underline this point. For the future, the importance of the EU-Russia relationship will only grow.
How succesful the Union has been in its policies on Russia can undoubtedly be debated. Russia has not been an easy partner. Situations like the Chechen war have complicated the relations considerably. Finland got her share of these difficulties during her presidency of the Union, in the autumn of 1999.
Yet from the Finnish national point of view the situation is more than satisfactory. When disagreeing with assertations like those of president Koivisto one does not deny that Russia has and always will have a special place in the Finnish foreign and security policy, one which needs to be given constant attention including a particular bilateral agenda related to neighbourhood. It is for this reason that Finland is using the Union´s common policies as effectively as possible for a constructive engagement of Russia.
The results for Finland are twofold. On the one hand, the successful conduct of the EU-Russia relations contribute to the bilateral relations between Finland and Russia and help solve bilaterally problems that may arise. So far, during the six years of the EU membership, there has been ample evidence of this. Without exaggeration one can say that the Finno-Russian relations have never before been better than they are now.
On the other hand, no matter what quality of the bilateral relations, for Russia dealing with Finland is dealing with the European Union. The Finnish membership in the EU has brought about a structural change in our Russia relations: stability and partnership without precedent in history.
One can of course pose a sceptical question: how solid is this situation really and what guarantees are there ? The answer is that there is a strong incentive for Russia to stay the course, but there are no guarantees. And one can ask: is there an alternative ?
Another case much debated in Finland is the defence dimension of the CFSP. At an early stage, in the spring of 1996 when the Amsterdam treaty was being prepared, Finland and Sweden took an intitiave to shape the security and defence policy of the Union. Ever since, the two countries have kept the line. Despite military non-alliance, they have been second to none in promoting military and civilian instruments for the Union for the purposes of being able to manage conflicts and crises in or between third countries.
Questions have been asked in Finland about the advisability of getting too deeply involved in the military sector because of the possible problems it may bring along for a country that is militarily non-aligned. The answer is that, as experience in the Balkans over the past decade has shown, crisis management is needed for peace, stability and security in Europe. And it is our Europe, integrated and interdependent. Instability in the Balkans is a threat to Finnish interests. Therefore the evolving EU crisis management capability is a security instrument for Finland. As cooperation and consultation between the EU and NATO is arranged on the basis of respect and decision-making autonomy, there is no contradiction between military non-alliance and the ESDP.
The Union has affirmed ever since the 1991 that it will develop a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence. When joining the Union, Finland explicitly stated that while it in prevailing circumstances prefers to stay militarily non-aligned it did not exclude any further development in the Union.
Today, however, the Union is not foreseen to develop into a mutual, collective defence alliance. During the nineties strong views were expressed in the Union to the effect that the Union should do so, primarily by way of incorporating the WEU into the Union. Yet the reality is that, while NATO remains a viable tool of its member states, a parallel, duplicative defence pact is not likely or possible. Consequently one can conclude that, at least in the foreseeable future, the current EU defence plans aiming at a crisis management capability are not likely to develop further into an EU common defence arrangement.
There is no question that the EU membership adds to the ability of a member state to pursue its interests and objectives. It does in matters of geographical vicinity. Even more so it does in global issues and remote situations which arte particularly relevant for small member states. The Union empowers them in world affairs. But the global reach means also that each member state must share the global responsibilities. Each member state must take a stand on matters with which it may have little acquaintance or previous experience. As far as Finland goes, the balance has so far been overwhelmingly positive.
By way of conclusion and within the frames outlined above, one can say that Finland pursues its national interests and national policies with the proper means available. The EU is an instrument among others but surely a most important one. It has not only promoted Finnish values and interests, it has also helped Finland to adapt and develop its foreign and security policies in the changing Europe and world at large.