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President Niinistö: "EU must not be a pawn on the chessboard"

The Finnish president has called on the European Union to forge an independent, influential role for itself amid greater geopolitical uncertainty. Speaking at the same event in Mikkeli, former European Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Finland and Russia have fundamentally different values.

Presidentti Sauli Niinistö pitää puhetta Mikkelin torilla.
President Sauli Niinistö spoke to crowds on Mikkeli's main square after the symposium. Image: Esa Huuhko / Yle

President Sauli Niinistö has called for a strengthening of the European Union. Speaking in the eastern Finnish town of Mikkeli on Saturday, he said this was essential because of a variety of converging factors.

Niinistö cited what he called a "significantly increasing" external geopolitical pressure on Europe and the rapid deterioration of the relationship between Russia and the US, and greater uncertainty in trans-Atlantic relations.

EU must straighten up

"If we look back to half a year ago, there has been a tremendous change in the geopolitical area. Half a year ago we were watching as the relationship between the USA and Russia was developing surprisingly quickly. Today we see that the relationship is falling apart surprisingly quickly," Niinistö observed.

The president said that there have messages from both Russia and China that the EU should pull itself together.

Niinistö pointed to instability in trans-Atlantic relations as one of the biggest changes. He asked rhetorically whether the EU has a clear, independent, influential role or whether it is seen as a pawn in a larger game.

"The EU must strengthen itself on its own terms to the point that we are not a pawn on the chessboard but rather a queen," he suggested.

Rehn: Russian and Finnish values differ

Addressing the same symposium earlier, former European Commissioner and Finnish Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn said that Finland's relationship with Russia remains its most important challenge.

Olli Rehn Päämajasymposiumissa Mikkelissä 1. heinäkuuta 2017.
Rehn Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

"We share the same [railway] track gauge as Russia, but a different value base: I refer particularly to the rule of law and rule by the people," Rehn said.

Rehn, a native of Mikkeli, became a Member of the Board of the Bank of Finland early this year. He was holding the symposium's annual Mannerheim address, discussing the legacy of Marshall Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, who led Finnish troops in several wars and later served as president.

The Päämaja or "Headquarters" symposium takes its name from Mikkeli's history as the site of the headquarters of the Finnish Defence Forces. During the Civil War of 1918, the HQ of Mannerheim's victorious White Army was located in the city. Mikkeli hosted the Finnish Defence Forces during the Winter War of 1939-40 and the Continuation War of 1941-44.

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