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President meets with party chairs to find common ground on security policy

President Sauli Niinistö met with political party chairs on Friday, the day after the Finnish Parliament broke for the holidays. He had arranged the meeting to discuss foreign and security policy with the key party representatives already two weeks ago. Some believe recent party spats and conflicting agendas spurred the presidential assembly.

Image: Yle

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö invited the chairs of Finland’s main political parties: National Coalition Party Chair Alexander Stubb, Social Democratic Party Chair Antti Rinne, Finns Party Chair Timo Soini, Centre Party Chair Juha Sipilä, Left Alliance Chair Paavo Arhinmäki, Green League Chair Ville Niinistö, Swedish People’s Party Chair Carl Haglund and Christian Democrats Chair Päivi Räsänen, to his office in Mäntyniemi Friday to discuss Finnish security policy.

“Our ability to defend ourselves autonomously is the cornerstone of Finnish security,” the President said in a press conference arranged after the meeting. Defence cooperation with Sweden was also considered beneficial, as was Finland’s NATO partnership and American cooperation, said the President. He said no one that gathered with him at the table on Friday presented membership in the defence alliance of NATO as an option “under the present circumstances.”

“Under the present circumstances, no one is prepared to submit such an application,” he said specifically. The participants noted, however, that the option of submitting a NATO application could not be excluded either, the President said.

European security and Russia on the agenda

The topic of European security strategy and Russia was also on the agenda. Niinistö and the others agreed that Finland should emphasize the fact that the EU is a security organisation and for this reason enjoys international immunity. President Niinistö said cooperation with Russia was discussed, particularly with regard to sanctions.

“We came to the conclusion that Finland has complied with all of the EU decisions in a consistent manner,” he said.  

The President also said Finland had made many independent decisions, a practice that will continue.

“We also surmised that we have maintained a direct line of communications with Russia and that this is a good thing. This is the policy line we will carry on with.”

“A bear that is downplayed is more dangerous than one that is wounded”

Niinistö says the economic situation in Russia is a current focus and holds that it is serious. He says it will also have consequences in Finland.

“This will be particularly true for export trade and tourism”, he says.

The Finnish President feels it would be in everyone’s best interest that Russia would get its economic house in order. He doesn’t believe that it is as large a challenge for the rest of the world, however, as it is primarily a challenge for Russia and the Russian people.  

Niinistö mentioned that he had once said that a downplayed bear is more dangerous than a wounded bear, adding that “I am still of that opinion.”

President Niinistö says the fact that national leaders and political decision-makers share a common vision creates security. The meeting was called to seek out a common thread and similar points of view, not disagreements, he said.

Recent disagreements could be the cause

The Finnish political arena has hosted a lively debate on policies with regard to Russia in the last few days, as the political parties start getting in their digs in preparation for the next parliamentary elections. Niinistö said that while he believes it is good that foreign and security policy is debated and discussed, he called the meeting in Mäntyniemi to forge a common outlook.

In an opinion piece published after the press conference on Friday, Pekka Ervasti, head of the political affairs desk at the Finnish national broadcaster Yle, says Niinistö’s meeting was called in direct response to the recent spats on the issue from among the political parties. The fact that most of the incidents originated with comments from Prime Minister Stubb and the National Coalition Party – President Niinistö’s former party before he renounced his membership as President – were all the more reason to find out what was going on, says Ervasti.

On the subject of Russian sanctions, Stubb has frequently raked the main opposition Centre Party over the coals for wanting to withdraw from the EU-imposed sanctions and supposedly return Finland back to the ‘grey-zone Finlandisation days’ of the Cold War, an accusation that the Centre Party has indignantly denied.

Pro-NATO Prime Minister sends mixed messages

Stubb has also presented his personal view that Finland should join NATO in several interviews, even though his government programme on the subject has no such entry, says Ervasti, mixing his own preference confusingly with Finland’s official line.

Ervasti says the straw that broke the camel’s back, however, may have been this week’s proclamation from NCP veterans MPs Ben Zyskowicz, Pertti Salolainen, Ilkka Kanerva and Kimmo Sasi that Finland could decide to join NATO without holding a general referendum to secure the support of the populace. This is no secret, however, as it is part of the NCP party platform.

It is a question of semantics whether the meeting on Friday in Mäntyniemi was a reprimand or a foreign policy sit-in to clear the air, says Ervasti. The fact that Niinistö asked the party chairs to raise their hands if they supported NATO membership at present – none did - indicates that it was a test of sorts, he says.

The meeting also ironed out disagreements on Finland’s policy on Russian sanctions, says Ervasti, a clue that Niinistö was perhaps seeking peace on Earth for Christmas - at least in the area of Finnish security policy.

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