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Icelandic air patrolling stirs reactions

Finland's decision to join patrols of Icelandic airspace has elicited mixed reactions among government parties. Left Alliance and Social Democratic parliamentary groups remain cautious about the decision, while opposition parties are strongly against Finland taking part in the monitoring of air space.

Hävittäjiä harjoituslennolla.
On a practice mission. Image: Yle

The decision, announced on Tuesday by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, needs to be confirmed by parliament, once all the details connected with the mission are clear.

The Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy took a favourable stance towards Finland’s participation in patrolling Icelandic airspace last week. However, there is a lack of consensus on the matter among – and even within – the different government parties.

The Left Alliance fell short of advocating the Cabinet Committee’s position, and said it would decide on the matter when it was handled in parliament.

Left Alliance Transport Minister Merja Kyllönen said her party still wanted more detailed information on the operation, and especially its relationship to NATO.

According to Social Democratic MP Maarit Feldt-Ranta, her party’s parliamentary group has decided the operation proposal needs more work before a final decision could be made. The Social Democratic Parliamentary Group has taken this view to its party representatives in government.

Opposition pounces, Tuomioja defends

The opposition lashed out against the decision to join Icelandic airspace patrols.

Finns Party MPand chair of the parliament’s Defence Committee Jussi Niinistö criticised the government for being prepared to use the dwindling resources of Finland’s air force for patrolling the airspace of NATO-member Iceland.

Niinistö also rejected the idea of Finnish-Swedish cooperation, arguing the whole venture was just about saving NATO money by making outside parties – such as Finland – pay for what should be NATO’s own missions.

Chair of the Centre Party Parliamentary Group Kimmo Tiilikainen said that Finnish patrolling of Icelandic skies did not accord with tasks specified in national defence legislation.

Niinistö agrees, adding that if the air patrolling was just an international joint military exercise, then this is a matter for Defence Minister Carl Haglund to approve. However, if the mission comes to more than this, Finnish defence legislation would need to be amended to allow for the patrolling of foreign airspace.

Niinistö is resolutely opposed to altering legislation, asserting that the main task of the military should be to defend one’s own country.    

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja of the SDP was quick to answer opposition arguments against joining Icelandic air patrols. Writing in his blog, Tuomioja said the operation would in no way bring Finland closer to NATO, as well as noting that the Finnish military actually considered the Icelandic air patrolling a useful exercise.

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