Speech by Mr Jukka Valtasaari, Secretary of State: The Finnish Presidency: lessons for the future of the EU and Baltic Sea Region, Wilton Park Conference, Helsinki 25th May 2000

Wilton Park Conference on the Baltic Sea Region and EU policy between the Finnish and Swedish Presidencies,

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Helsinki,
Thursday 25 May, 2000

Mr Jukka Valtasaari
Secretary of State,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

The Finnish Presidency: lessons for the future of the EU and Baltic Sea Region,

Speaking points

1. Four Lessons

First only coalitions work. The EU Presidency is often compared with a relay race. In such a race one´s own priorities will have to contribute to the overall objective of the team. This is true for big and small nations.

Second, issues can not be dealt with in isolation, regionally or by the EU only. The familiar figure of cold war threat grew several heads, such as nuclear power plant disaster, epidemics, drugs, crime or greenhouse effect. These problems ignore borders, they are not limited to Europe and they affect the security of nations and individuals alike.

Third, don´t forget the voter. Recent polls prove that a significant part of the elected prefer to live as before as a homogeneous nation state led by an own government. The relevance of the EU risks been questioned.

Fourth, there is no demand for observers in a common effort. This lesson is particularly true for formally neutral countries which previously enjoyed the luxury of choosing their own agenda.

2. The EU Presidency

Although EU presidencies are only fleeting moments in European history, they oblige each government in turn to concentrate on essentials, to produce results against which success will be judged by other actors in European integration as well as the media. Thus, the presidency is not merely a relay race in which each government carries the baton and concentrates on not dropping it.

The Finnish Presidency had a few additional problems. Among them was that the Santer Commission had resigned and the new Prodi Commission had not yet been appointed when our turn came to preside. In addition, quite a number of external issues needed attention. Among them were the rebuilding of Kosovo, the war in Chechnya, the EU´s relations with Turkey and East Timor. These issues were not only European concerns, their solutions required a larger coalition of interests. Our geography and interest in the global economy suggested that we concentrate on external relations. Among them, the Baltic Sea region is closest to our interests and our hearts.

3. The Baltic Sea Region, old and new

The new Baltic Sea Region is not something never seen before. It is an old reality restored. In warfare and economic interaction the region´s history goes back to the times of the Vikings, the Hanseatic League and the Kalmar Union. The divisions of the past fifty years are an exception. During the good times, the history of the Baltic Sea has brought its coastal states together and brought well-being to nations and their citizens. Unfortunately, after the end of the cold war only the political divisions went away; a good number of socio-economic divisions remain to be addressed.

4. Success stories

"The Baltic Sea is today the most dynamic area of the continent, 80 million people produce fifteen per cent of global commodity trade", runs the headline of an article in the May number of Courier International. The ending of the confrontation between alliances in Europe made room for diversity in the Baltic Sea region. Diversity creates opportunities. Differences in development between Germany and the Scandinavian countries, on one hand, and Poland, the Baltic States and Russia, on the other, are great. The region includes parts of such key areas of Europe as Rostock and St. Petersburg and touches other areas of global significance such as the Barent´s region and the North Sea.

5. Fault lines

Some problems are inherent in the development of the region and must therefore be addressed with vigour.

The first fault line is the deepening socio-economic divide. The second is the danger of the border between an expanding EU and Russia turning into a normative fault line and the third is the revolution hidden in the development of the modern information society.

6. The Baltic Region and European developments

The region must not be analysed in isolation, but with respect to the forces at play globally and in Europe. Three fundamental currents are the enlargement of the EU eastwards, the orientation of Russia westwards, and a German orientation northwards. These currents meet in the Baltic Sea Region where one can see the geographical finality of the European Union taking shape. Today, Russia borders on one member of the Union, Finland, but in the foreseeable future four more EU countries will border on Russia, namely Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In consequence, a number of new legitimate interests will have to be taken into account.

7. Who provides security?

The Baltic Sea Region is a security complex where the security interests of the countries involved are inseparable but not insular. Two major institutional processes are at play, namely the enlargements of the European Union and NATO. Governments of the region have their own role. The ultimate judgement of how these providers of security will best contribute to regional security and the security of individual countries is for individual governments to make.

For instance, it would be a pity if the discussion recently launched by Foreign Minister Fischer of Germany concerning the legal finalité of the EU would complicate the provision of security in the Baltic Sea Region.

8. The EU acquired a Northern Dimension

As a geopolitical reality this happened five years ago. The institutional conclusions took more time and still need to be improved. The reason is that the complex of the Northern Dimension includes EU members, candidates and non-members - cross-border action involves all of them - and there are, inter alia, global interests.

This situation offers a wide variety of possibilities to promote regional European and global developments, stability through predominantly economic means. Cooperation in the fields of energy, safety of nuclear reactors, health and the environment are issues that belong to the regional and also to the European and global agendas.

9. Russia is part of the action

Russia is an actor with respect to all these agendas. It is a much more European state than the Soviet Union ever was. From Moscow´s point of view westwards is a benign direction. It now has one member state of the Union as a neighbour and will soon have four more. Europe is its main trading partner; a good 40 per cent of its trade is with Europe. Baltic ports handle 40 per cent of its transit trade. The introduction of the euro had a profound impact and is a departure from the traditional geopolitical approach which historically guides Russia´s thoughts.

As a consequence there is now for the first time a genuine interest in the European Union in Russia. The EU´s common strategy on Russia was approved by the EU and Russia responded with a Russian strategy for cooperation with the Union. The Northern Dimension was praised by many Russian spokesmen. Kaliningrad, a microcosm of Russia, was described as a pilot project by then Prime Minister Putin in Helsinki, in October, and on April 21 the Duma approved the legislation providing for shared production in the Shtokmanovskaya gasfield, thereby making a North-European gas pipeline and a Baltic energy loop a practical prospect.

It should be easier for the EU to be guided by common interests, rather than most recent difficulties, which occurred in Russia.