Sunday, 25 September 2011

Finland joining EU: Committed leaders Esko Aho and Paavo Lipponen

Finland applied for EU membership in 1992 and joined the European Economic Area (EEA) from the beginning of 1994, but was not content to stay at that level. Thus, Finland pursued full membership and became a full member of the European Union on 1 January 1995, together with Austria and Sweden. In a 1994 referendum, 57 per cent of Finnish voters had approved joining the EU.

(The integration process was not easy for the so called neutral or non-aligned countries. The Swiss derailed the EEA membership and further EU integration in late 1992, leading to a jungle of bilateral treaties on individual issues. The Norwegians rejected accession to the European Communities/European Union for the second time in 1994, remaining at EEA and EFTA level.)

The relations between the acceding Austria, Finland and Sweden (and Norway) with the EU are documented in the 1994 accession treaty.

Finnish EU accession and the formative early years were marked by two prime ministers.

PM Esko Aho

During his time as prime minister of Finland (1991-1995), the young Esko Aho grew into a statesman facing down two historic challenges. His government turned the tide on the deep economic depression of the early 1990s, even if the impopular budget cuts led to election defeat in 1995. In 1992 Finland applied for EU membership and joinded the European Union from 1 January 1995, despite vocal opposition within Aho's own rurally based Centre Party.

PM Paavo Lipponen

The social democratic prime minister for two periods (1995-2003) Paavo Lipponen continued the tight economic policies of the Aho government, which enabled Finland to adopt the euro in 1999. Lipponen was a committed European statesman, as illustrated by his 2000 speech in Bruges, at the College of Europe, where he spoke of the need for a constitutionalisation process.

Before the Treaty of Nice was finalised, Lipponen proposed a broadly based Convention in order to prepare a basic constitution, after naming these crucial reform aims:

For any institutional structure we need a decision-making system that is as simple as possible, democratic, efficient and transparent. Fundamentally, our institutions must enjoy democratic legitimacy.

From Sweden to Finland

A few days ago, I wrote a short series in Swedish about the role of Sweden in the European union, collected in: Svensk EU-politik diskuteras. Then I covered the same ground and some more in English, compiled in: Sweden in European integration (recap).

The op-ed column by the Swedish minister of foreign affairs Carl Bildt and the minister of finance Anders Borg opens up fascinating questions about two-speed, one-speed, slow-speed or no-speed Europe, but perhaps these issues will have to wait.

Namely, we have a more astonishing phenomenon to look at: changing European perceptions of Finland in EU affairs. The essentials about the two dedicated prime ministers, Aho and Lipponen, offer historical background to current events. It is a story of vision and hard work, but what is taking place?

Ralf Grahn