MP perplexed by Finland’s 'surprise' defence agreement with Britain

Centre Party MP Antti Kaikkonen has criticised the Finnish Defence Ministry for not telling the parliamentary foreign affairs committee of its intentions to sign a defence cooperation agreement with Britain ahead of time. News of the planned agreement seems to have come out of the blue to some of the country’s lawmakers.

Centre Party MP Antti Kaikkonen in parliament on July 1. Image: Jarno Kuusinen / AOP

Chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee Antti Kaikkonen, an MP for the Centre Party, is “still rather wondering” why the Finnish Parliament was not informed of the defence cooperation agreement signed on Saturday, July 9 between Great Britain and Finland farther in advance. 

Minister: Not significant enough

Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö of the Finns Party signed the agreement with his British counterpart Michael Fallon at the NATO Summit in Warsaw. The Finnish defence minister later said in terms of foreign policy, the document was not that significant that it would have required informing the parliament. He also said the importance of the agreement has been given disproportionate attention because of the Brexit result.

Kaikkonen is not having it.

In his blog Sunday, the MP wrote that “the parliamentary foreign affairs committee surely can judge for itself what kinds of foreign and security policy matters it is interested in.” 

Kaikkonen points out that the matter was in fact just of substantial interest to the committee, as it had called upon the defence ministry to submit information about similar potential agreements with Sweden and the US in a meeting over Midsummer. He says the information was delivered accordingly, and it became evident that is was possible that Finland would enter into an agreement with the US.

“I think this would have been a natural opportunity for them to say that, as a matter of fact, Finland intends to sign a defence cooperation agreement with the EU’s most significant military power, Great Britain,” he wrote in his blog.

He finished by saying that he expects communication to work better in the future.

Not legally binding

What Kaikkonen didn’t bring up was if the agreement was ever approved by others in the country’s leadership and what Finland’s EU partners might think.

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy insisted in late June after the Brexit vote that that no EU country should enter into informal talks of any kind with the island country until Britain has invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and formally applied to leave the European Union.

It is not clear if Finland snubbed this policy with its Saturday agreement, and if the Finnish-British defence cooperation agreement is the only one of its kind to be signed between Britain and another EU country after Brexit. As of Sunday evening, the British Defence Ministry website makes no mention of Saturday’s agreement with Finland.

“The framework document between Finland and Great Britain is by nature a declaration of intent for political cooperation. The document describes the general guidelines of defence cooperation as a basis for practical cooperation between the defence ministries and the defence forces of our two countries as they are meant to be developed. Among other things, the cooperation will bolster education and training activities, crisis management operations, the fight against chemical and biological weapons, information exchange and standardization,” the Finnish defence ministry writes in a June 8 press release. 

The defence ministry’s website also states that the agreement is not legally binding and therefore contains no obligations from either signing party.