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Finnish politicos divided over proposed joint EU army

President Sauli Niinistö and Defence Minister Carl Haglund have come out in support of a proposal by EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to establish a joint EU military force. The idea of a cross-border military unit has immediately divided opinions in Finland, with opposition voices dismissing the scheme.

Presidentti Sauli Niinistö ja Euroopan komission puheenjohtaja Jean-Claude Juncker.
President Sauli Niinistö and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels in January. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

In a thinly-veiled jab at the Kremlin and its alleged activities in Ukraine, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker floated the idea of a regional force yesterday, saying it would signal that the bloc is ready to defend its values.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said he supported the idea of developing a joint EU army.

“The European Union has been built on the basis of peace and it’s a central value, so it’s odd that we don’t have the means to safeguard it,” Niinistö said in an interview with the Finnish news agency STT.

Defence Minister Carl Haglund told Yle that from the Finnish perspective, Juncker’s idea was intriguing and worth discussing.

“In my view Finland should be positively open to this,” Haglund remarked.

But a joint regional force would by no means be a done deal. If it were established, it would have to be more permanent that the existing EU Battlegroup.

“It could provide added value, but that would require that we preferably have all EU members on board,” Haglund observed.

The Defence Minister pointed out however that Juncker’s suggested combined defence group would not be a replacement for NATO.

“A majority of EU countries believe that NATO is the primary forum for defence cooperation and the EU would be secondary,” he declared.

Finns Party cool on proposal

Other Finnish political heavyweights didn’t warm to the proposal, however.  Chair of the parliamentary Defence Committee, the Finns Party's Jussi Niinistö offered a chilly reception, saying that EU members won't be keen on spending on joint military defence in difficult times.

Niinistö pointed to the existence of the EU Battlegroup, saying that its forces had never been deployed.

“We have created a paper tiger … are we now going to create another paper tiger army?” he queried.

Niinistö added that 22 of the EU’s 28 member states already belonged to NATO.

Niinistö’s party leader Timo Soini, who also chairs Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said he doesn’t believe that the EU could put together a joint army.

He added that he saw the EU’s role as more of an economic and free trade alliance and said that even that project has proven to be a challenge.

“If we look at the results of the EU’s common policies, for instance the monetary union, then this doesn’t inspire me to believe in a common EU army,” Soini remarked.

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