Speech by Mr Jukka Valtasaari, Secretary of State: "Soft borders, the association of European border regions (EUREGIO) and the EU's External borders" -seminar in Joensuu, Finland, 26th January 1998

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

"The Finnish border from the standpoint of Regional Development and Security Policy"

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we meet in the city of Joensuu, in eastern Finland, I shall in this presentation deal primarily with the border between Finland and Russia, considering it against the background of today's interaction between the two countries and, to some extent, in a broader context. The rules of the game have altered in Europe and elsewhere in the world and there is no reason for us to close our eyes to the change.

In people's minds a border plays many roles. Often it has been a divider. "Like a crack in the ice, the border opens up, in front is Asia, the East. Behind is the West and Europe." Thus, Finnish poet Uuno Kailas' portrayal of a border. In the sphere of politics, one finds words such as "bridge builder", "portal", "gateway" and other expressions that make a border more an opportunity than a separator. Add to that, public discussion here in Finland and elsewhere which starts from the premise that borders have been drawn in the wrong places and that such historical distortions should be corrected. This is so widespread that the European Union thought it useful to raise the subject of respect for borders and minorities at the Copenhagen summit of 1993. An important condition for membership of the Union is that applicants do not have any unresolved disputes with their neighbours over borders or minorities.

Down the centuries, Finland's eastern border, too, has played many roles. In the last century, people and goods travelled freely between autonomous Finland and imperial Russia. The first trade statistic from the period of autonomy, dated 1872, reveals that in the 1860s as much as half of Finland's exports were bound for Russia. Later, the Second World War closed the border effectively. Rail traffic via the Vainikkala border crossing point started as early as 1947, but road traffic via Vaalimaa did not resume until 1958. The border control point as Rajajooseppi was opened in 1960 to Finnish and Russian vehicles, but other nationalities were excluded until 1967. At the present time, there are six border crossing points open to international traffic and some twenty provisional crossing points for Finnish and Russian traffic.

What is the situation now and which way is development moving?

During the Cold War, borders divided Europe, aroused fears and hindered human contacts. With the end of the Cold War, cooperation replaced confrontation and border crossing points were transformed into channels of communication.

During the Cold War, the border between Finland and Russia was one of the most closely monitored in Europe. But regardless of the differences between social systems cross-border cooperation ran smoothly, partly, no doubt, because of border surveillance. Cooperation between border officials continues to work without friction, and for good reason. After all, nearly fifty per cent of Russian road vehicles travelling abroad go via Finland.

When the foundations of a new relationship between Finland and Russia were being laid in 1991, cooperation in nearby areas entered the picture. This was a concept based on the assumption that centralised economic decision-making would be gradually phased out, that market forces would emerge in Russia and, all in all, on the notion: "Let's give geography a fresh chance."

Eventually, Finland's accession to the European Union meant that the Finnish-Russian border became part of the EU's border. Cooperation in nearby areas now had the support of EU institutions, above all others the Interreg and TACIS programmes.

Any discussion of regional development should remind us that cooperation, either bilateral or within the EU framework, is not the only, and certainly not an adeqvate medium for the development of parts of northern Europe or for responding to the challenges posed by the environment and its contamination safety of nuclear power production, harsh climatic conditions and long distances. The Nordic Countries, international financial agencies such as The World Bank and The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, countries outside the region, as well as the private business sector are all interested. Improvements in nuclear safety and the clean-up of nuclear waste are in everyone's interest and require both finance and special expertise. For their part, certain northern areas offer interesting prospects from the viewpoint of European energy security. As examples, consider the oil and gas deposits in the Barents and Kara Seas.

The European Union is indisputably becoming an important player in northern Europe, now that Finland and Sweden are members. The Union acquired a northern dimension. In response to Finlands' initiative, the Luxembourg summit agreed on further development of the northern dimension. The Finnish government will continue to base its actions on the belief that acceptance of the northern dimension as part of EU policy is essential from the Union's point of view and beneficial for both regional development and cooperation in border areas.

The border between the European Union and Russia forms a contact surface with the adjacent area on the Russian side where economic and social development have not progressed as rapidly as we would have hoped. A living standard gap runs along the outer side of the EU's border, wide enough that it could be regarded as a destabilising factor. Narrowing the gap is therefore an important political objective. This idea is neither new nor original. In the post-war years, the Marshall Plan was built on the enhancement of political stability through economic means. We in Finland are particularly concerned about the state of the process of reform in Russian Karelia. This, too, is not unprecedented. Finland itself uses international financing instruments to speed up its own structural changes. What is essential is that all the parties involved are committed to change, otherwise the results will fall short of the target and may also be short-lived.

The rapid increase in interaction across our eastern border, a consequence of cooperation between market forces and governments, is founded on the fact that the Finnish and Russian border, after historic developments, is now confirmed internationally and through international law. Finland supports the principle of the inviolability of borders enshrined in the Final Act of the OSCE. As President Ahtisaari recently stated, a prerequisite for good relations between states is an honest assessment of the past. We attach value to the fact that certain phases in our recent history are now seen in Russia in a truthful light. President Yeltsin condemned the annexation of Karelia as Stalinist expansionism. In the words of the Final Act of the OSCE, borders can be changed by peaceful means and negotiated consent. At the present time, however, there is no such readiness in Russia; and in any case Finland, a signatory to the OSCE Final Act, has no territorial demands against any country.

During President Ahtisaari's visit to Moscow last November, and thereafter, the Karelia question was raised in the Finnish media and in public discussion. At a press conference in the Russian capital, President Ahtisaari pointed out that in a democratic society citizens have the right to discuss matters close to their hearts and said he would be the last person to prohibit such discourse. He did emphasise, however, that one should not remain a prisoner of history or allow the Karelia issue to sully bilateral relations. The priorities now are the continuation of Russia's reform policies and the strengthening of cooperation between Russia and the other countries of Europe. Cooperation with nearby areas is an excellent instrument in this quest. Finland supports the integration of Russia into western structures and is working within the EU and other forums on behalf of that goal. The partnership and cooperation pact that recently came into effect between the EU and Russia is an instrument that can energise the EU's policies towards Russia. The next steps will be Russian membership of the World Trade Organisation and the creation of a free trade area covering the EU and Russia.

We operate, then, Russia and Finland, in a Europe that we have endorsed in international agreements and declarations as an indivisible, community of independent states based on shared values, founded on democracy, human rights that emphasise the worth of the individual, and on an open and integrated economic system that relies on market mechanisms. But lofty linguistic flourishes conceal a demanding task. Mastering the task calls for adaptability to the information and production technology revolutions which, in turn, open the way for the co-ordination of manufacturing operations across national borders, or even world-wide. In the world of globalisation, interaction on a global scale is not hyperbole, it is an essential part of daily life.

From internationalisation, it follows that borders unify, not separate. Bridges are made to cross, not to admire. But growing international contacts have another side, too: the so-called soft security problems of emigrants and refugees, organised crime, terrorism, minorities and violations of human rights. Solutions to these problems can only be found through international cooperation. For that reason the Finnish government, within the Council of the Baltic Sea States, has called for cooperation among immigration officials. Moreover, a task force concentrating on organised crime, including money laundering and drug trafficking, operates under the auspices of Baltic regional cooperation at prime minister level, a mechanism known as the Visby process.

Traditional national security will continue to be the responsibility of central governments. Stability and the maintenance of defensive capability will remain parts of the credible quest for improved security, as it is broadly understood. In this area, too, Finland seeks the best results through national efforts combined with international cooperation. We favour reductions in armaments, greater trust, intensified cooperation among the armed forces of different countries and improved international crisis control. Regional cooperation is a good procedure in the Baltic Sea area, too, provided one remembers that it is a part of Europe's overall security environment. Among the joint responsibilities of the Euro-Atlantic community is the security of its constituent areas; all who are interested should have the right to take part. Regionalism also means the opening of doors.

Security, broadly understood, will emerge as an issue within societies, and from interaction among societies, until military security is arranged satisfactorily. An understanding of this was one of the pillars of European integration way back in the 1950s. Integration in the Western European setting embraces the historic achievements of the post-war years. The eastward extension of the European Union is the next step in this evolution. Finland's cooperation with nearby areas plays a small but important part in the furtherance of the integration process, which has been weighed and found to be worthy.