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French, Finnish presidents to weigh European defence proposals

At a Helsinki summit, Emmanuel Macron and Sauli Niinistö are to discuss military partnerships beyond the EU and NATO among other issues.

Emmanuel Macron ja Juha Sipilä.
Macron met with PM Juha Sipilä in Paris last year. Image: AOP

French President Emmanuel Macron begins an official visit to Finland on Wednesday evening. Macron and his wife will join their Finnish counterparts for dinner at the Presidential Palace beginning just before 8 pm.

On Thursday morning, presidents Macron and Sauli Niinistö will hold talks, which are expected to centre on European security.

According to an official handout, the leaders plan to discuss security and defence policy, relations with Russia and the US, Arctic questions, climate change and “the state of the rules-based multilateral international order,” among other issues.

Finland has yet to formally respond to a French proposal that it join an international intervention force, an idea floated by France earlier this year. Paris is seeking a deployable European military crisis force outside of existing EU efforts.

Niilo Kauppi, a research professor of the universities of Jyväskylä and Strasbourg, said in an Yle interview on Wednesday morning that France wants more European military cooperation due to its troubled relationship with NATO, and growing uncertainty about US commitment to the alliance. Finland, which is a close partner of NATO but not a member, has also in the past supported more EU defence cooperation.

The French president arrives in Finland from Denmark as part of a three-day trip hoping to shore up support for his efforts to reform the EU.

Innovation at Aalto, lunch in Meilahti

The presidents are to hold a joint press conference in the Hall of Mirrors of the Presidential Palace.

On Thursday Macron will join Prime Minister Juha Sipilä for a visit to Aalto University in Otaniemi, Espoo, to learn about Finnish innovations. After that the two will hold lunchtime talks at Sipilä's official residence in Helsinki's Meilahti neighbourhood. On the agenda are EU issues such as the European Monetary Union, migration and defence policy. The pair will speak to reporters after lunch.

Meanwhile, the presidents’ wives, Jenni Haukio and Brigitte Macron, will visit the soon-to-be-opened New Children’s Hospital in Meilahti and the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress just outside Helsinki harbour.

This marks Macron’s first official visit to Finland. Niinistö was most recently in France for the Paris Climate Change Conference in late 2015. Sipilä and Macron met in Paris last autumn.

Police warn of traffic disruptions in Helsinki and Vantaa due to the visit. On Wednesday evening there will be brief traffic interruptions on and around the main routes between Helsinki Airport and the city centre. On Thursday expect delays and blockades particularly in western and central Helsinki.

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