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The EU, Turkey and Russia
Talking to the Finnish Prime Minister



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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November 16, 2006

LONDON - Will the Finnish presidency of the European Union end with a bang or a whimper? No one is laying bets here, but much is at stake - the continuation of negotiations on Turkey’s future entry and the future relationship of the EU to Russia, for which the Finns have more historical experience to draw on than anyone else.

Both issues are coming to a head in the next few weeks - Russia when President Vladimir Putin has his formal summit with European heads of government in Helsinki on November 24th and the EU summit in mid December when the clock will stop for the Turkish decision.

Talking with Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, current president of the European Union, at his pleasant, unguarded, official residence overlooking a wintry lake in central Helsinki, it is apparent that Turkey has to realize that the longer it draws out the compromises that it has to make, the more people will conclude that there is no place for Turkey in Europe.

Indeed they may begin to think that it is Russia that should be coming into Europe not Turkey. “Culturally Russia is much closer to Europe than Turkey”, mused the prime minister after I raised the subject. “There is no question that despite its large Asian landmass, Russia with its literature, religious traditions and music is very central to European life”.

Finland fought a bitter war to resist the encroaching might of the Soviet Union in 1939 but, as the prime minister reminded me, Finland also had a very civilized relationship with Russia during its long nineteenth century occupation when Tsar Alexander 1, whose statue still graces the main square in Helsinki, allowed the country to develop its language (to replace Swedish, the heritage of a previous even longer occupation) and its democratic and legal institutions.

“Could Russia come into the EU in the foreseeable future?” I asked Vanhanen. “They’ve not asked”, he replied. “We don’t speak about it now but certainly Russia is part of Europe. Too many Europeans hark back to Soviet times but we should forget that. One day in the future we will start to think about it.” I reminded him that Gorbachev had talked about constructing a common “European house” and only the other day Putin was in Helsinki and told the informal European summit that the greatest challenge before them was “to safeguard Christianity in Europe”.

“Russia is a natural partner for us”, interjected the prime minister, “and if Russia develops economically and socially to a certain level of well-being but then wants to go even higher they will have to integrate more with us. For the moment we are trying to build a strategic partnership.”

“No society can properly develop by concentrating on its raw materials”, he continued, “but that is what Russia is doing at the moment. I think Putin does realize the country has to get on another level beyond oil. Like us they have to get into technology. Already Finnish high tech firms, like Technopolis, are moving into Russia, first into St Petersburg (only four hours away on the new fast train). There they are finding a pool of knowledgeable scientists and highly trained young people coming out of good universities.”

“But Russia is refusing to sign the Energy Charter?” I remonstrated. “Doesn’t this suggest Russia is more interested in muscle power than cooperation?”

“It’s true they had reservations about some parts of the Energy Charter, but not its basic principles. However, at the summit we will take a decision to start negotiations on a new “Participation and Cooperation Agreement” – we haven’t given it a proper name yet - that will lay out the terms of future energy cooperation. Putin is in a cooperative mood and he is supporting this.

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We can’t say that Russia is a problem for us on energy. But each EU country has to make sure it has a diverse range of energy producers around the world. Russia has not made big enough investment so far in its energy sector to insure that EU can get all the energy it wants. It’s true some western companies are having problems in Russia. This is why we need an international energy court to arbitrate these disputes.”

The interview closed by the prime minister telling me proudly that his house used to be the Russian governor’s residence when Russia ruled Finland. I couldn’t help think as I walked away that he’d given Turkey a tough time, demanding Ankara to do all the compromising even though many European diplomats will admit in private that the EU has not always played it straight with Turkey.

In contrast every word on Russia was couched in the most favourable way. Is this going to be Europe’s mood over the next decade or is it just a Finnish aberration?


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


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