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HS: Bank of Finland chief Rehn calls for Nato membership, ban on Russian energy imports

Former European Economic Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Finland should join Nato "based on the Norwegian model".

Olli Rehn has been Governor of the Bank of Finland since 2018, after a decade as a European Commissioner. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The Governor of the Bank of Finland, Olli Rehn, has called for Finland to join Nato with a similar arrangement as its northern neighbour, Norway. He also said that the European Union should prepare to ban energy imports from Russia, even if it causes problems for Germany and Eastern European countries.

Rehn made the comments in an interview with the daily Helsingin Sanomat published on Sunday, marking his 60th birthday.

“A defence alliance based on the Norwegian model would be a sensible option for Finland," said Rehn. "This would mean that no nuclear weapons or permanent Nato bases would be deployed in Finland. Such a defensive model would not threaten anyone, and with any rational thinking, this should also be understood by the Russian leadership. ”

Rehn first publicly called for Finland to join Nato in 1994 in an article for the prestigious foreign policy journal Ulkopolitiikka, in which he cited Ukraine as a "powder-keg". Rehn was then a docent in political science at the University of Helsinki and a Centre Party MP.

EU should stop financing Putin's "war machine"

In the interview, Rehn said the EU should phase out energy imports in order to limit Russia's foreign income and its financing of Putin's "war machine".

He noted that EU energy imports from Russia this year are projected to be worth some 600 billion euros at current prices, three times as high as in 2020.

"The rise in energy prices is directly reducing the purchasing power of European consumers, and this 600 billion euros represents four percent of the EU's GDP," the central banker said.

Rehn's term as Governor of the Bank of Finland ends in 2025. In the interview, he declined to say whether he would seek another term at the central bank, or potentially seek the Centre Party candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.

Long history with Russian energy

Rehn spent a decade on the European Commission, holding the weighty Economic and Monetary Affairs portfolio in 2010-14.

After that, Rehn served as Economic Affairs Minister from 2015 until 2016, when he joined the Bank of Finland's board.

During his stint as Economic Affairs Minister, Rehn praised the surprise decision by majority state-owned energy company Fortum to become a partner with Russian state firm Rosatom in the proposed Fennovoima nuclear power plant.

After months of denying that it would do so, Fortum – apparently reluctantly – did an about-face in August 2015 shortly after Rehn visited Moscow. He denied pressuring the company to rescue the venture, which was seen as crucial by Russia, but which Rehn himself had long opposed.

Rehn later admitted that the project was on the verge of collapsing, as it had failed to attract the legally required level of domestic or EU/EEA ownership.

That followed the pull-out of a German firm and Rehn's rejection of an ownership bid by a shady Croatian firm that was revealed to be a shell company for Russian investors. Russia was then under EU sanctions due to its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

The plant has still not been granted a construction license.

Shortly after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, current Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintilä (Cen) indicated that he would not move the project forward.

On Friday, Yle reported that Turku Energia and many other municipal power utilities that invested in the project want to withdraw from it. However, they are unable to do so and risk losing millions in investments as there are no buyers for shares in the venture.