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Finnish president hits EU over "feeble" decision-making

Speaking to a gathering of Finnish ambassadors in Helsinki, President Sauli Niinistö painted a grim picture of the current status of the EU and of Finnish society. His speech was short on concrete suggestions for improvements in either realm, though.

Sauli Niinistö puhuu eduskunnassa.
The Finnish president warned of growing divisions in Europe and at home. Image: Petteri Paalasmaa / AOP

President Sauli Niinistö has sharply criticised the European Union for what he sees as its weak decision-making and implementation. He spoke on Tuesday to an annual meeting of Finnish ambassadors and senior diplomats at the House of Parliament in Helsinki.

The EU faces an impasse on many issues, one that is "largely self-inflicted," said Niinistö.

"We all know the steps of this dance: a crisis comes out of nowhere. Summits are held. And then the same thing happens again. And the can is simply kicked down the road. The problem becomes even more intractable," he observed.

Even when decisions are made, he said, "their implementation often adds up to no more than good intentions," citing "the feeble approach taken to the joint handling of the migration crisis".

Niinistö said the EU cannot be "a fair-weather organisation" but that "the signs are not entirely encouraging," adding that the UK's Brexit decision is "a serious blow".

"The EU's banking crisis, which had already been declared as solved, is making a comeback after the UK's decision in favour of Brexit," said Niinistö, adding that "powerful forces are now shaking up the EU."

Back to basics

The President said that post-Brexit, the EU's future will hang in the balance – with some pushing for radical deepening of the union, while others support fragmentation. He predicted that both sides will be disappointed.

Instead he called for a return to the EU's basic values, so that all citizens and member states can feel that the Union brings stability to their lives. Niinistö warned that the EU's legitimacy will be undermined if citizens don't feel safe in their daily lives.

For example, he argued that terrorism is "not an uncontrollable force of nature, but always grows out of particular social and political settings". The only way of preventing terrorism, says Niinistö, is to identify, analyse and address these underlying factors.

Beyond terrorism, Niinistö said that stronger joint EU action on security would be in Finland's interests, noting that "the deepening relationship between NATO and the EU also implies a more important security role for the EU in the future".

Parallels with Brexit and Trump

On the domestic front, the president called for action to address the plight of young people struggling with education and employment.

He said recent research suggests that "Finland is dividing into a nation of winners who are content with life and their country and to those who are dissatisfied and disappointed".

As the president sees it, "this same dramatic division can be seen in the result of the UK's Brexit vote and the popularity of Donald Trump in the United States. When those in society who view themselves as having lost out are roused, the consequences can be difficult to predict."

Niinistö did not suggest any specifics on how the financially-strapped state should tackle this societal divide besides that "particular attention should be paid to our young people". A series of constitutional reforms in recent decades have however primarily limited the once-powerful presidency's role to overseeing foreign rather than domestic policy.

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