Prime Minister of Finland

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 24 January 1994

I thank you very much, Mr President, for your cordial words of welcome. I feel both honoured and privileged to address the oldest European forum for parliamentarians.

I feel particular personal pleasure about speaking today in front of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As you mentioned, Mr President, I was one of the first Finnish MPs who came here to represent Finland after our accession.

I still recall my first journey from Helsinki to Strasbourg in May 1989. Going through newspapers during the flight, I saw a striking picture on the front page of the International Herald Tribune. Hungarian soldiers were cutting barbed wire at the border of Hungary and Austria. The dismantling of the iron curtain had begun.

Since that time – the summer of 1989 – the Council of Europe has expanded rapidly eastwards. In less than four years, it has become an organisation spanning Europe. Accession to the Council has in many cases been the first step for the new democracies in their integration into Europe. Pluralistic democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law are, indeed, the solid cornerstones for the reforms carried out by countries in transition.

Finland fully supports that development. We have an historic opportunity to overcome old divisions and to construct a new, unified Europe.

Russia’s accession is one of the most topical issues on the Council’s agenda. Russia’s development influences the destinies of the whole continent. It is vital for Russia itself and for the rest of Europe that Russia is a fully–fledged participant in the European process. We must not isolate Russia or let it drift into isolation.

We all made miscalculations in trying to foresee the development of Russia. We first believed that Russia could turn overnight into a functioning democracy and market economy. We overlooked the sheer size of the country, and even more its history and traditions.

Opinions swung to the other extreme after the December elections. Some concluded that the election results marked the end of reforms in Russia. The success of extremist political forces in the elections was, they argued, a fatal blow to reform policies.

There are, however, other ways of looking at the results of the Russian elections. To begin with, the country held its first free and fair parliamentary elections. No major irregularities were registered by international monitors. That alone is enough to describe the elections as a milestone. Besides, a new constitution was approved. Its importance for continued reforms should not be underestimated.

One might ask whether the success of extremist forces in the elections was such a big surprise at all. Ordinary Russians are facing serious social and economic problems and distress. In such circumstances, an expression of disappointment and protest is not unknown even in the west. After all, people vote with their stomachs.

Russians, it needs to be emphasised, have clearly opted for democracy. Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe will be an important step in that process. Russia and other applicants should become members as soon as the conditions are met. Only membership would entail a commitment to the principles of the Council and accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

During the cold war, our concept of security was dominated by its military dimension. It has been difficult to free ourselves from the mould of a Europe divided into two military blocs. In the new Europe, security must be understood in a much broader sense. I see it as having four dimensions – military, social and economic, ecological and democratic.

The structures of military security are still evolving and seeking to take shape. When the first hole was cut through the iron curtain by the Hungarians, nothing followed automatically. The construction of a new security order in this continent only began with that event. The task is not yet accomplished. We still have much to do.

The eastern half of the continent has not been able to overcome the problems inherited from the cold war period. These countries actively seek new security arrangements.

The western alliance, for its part, is seeking ways of responding to that call. The “Partnership for Peace” plan is a positive reflection of that effort and we believe that Finland can contribute, above all, in the field of peacekeeping.

The social and economic aspects of security concern all Europe. The transformation of the economies of central and eastern Europe has proved slower and much more difficult than expected, and will be a burden on and liability for Europe for years to come. Supporting that transformation is an indispensable long-term investment for western Europe. It is also an investment in our common security.

The western part of the continent has its own share of economic problems. Top of our agenda is unemployment, reaching the post–war record of almost 20 million people. In particular, the consequences of long-term unemployment can be dramatic for individual citizens. High unemployment can destabilise whole societies. Meeting that challenge requires urgent national and joint European action.

The third, ecological, dimension of security has become a major topic in our discussions. It is now recognised by all that environmental problems cannot be addressed without concerted international efforts – also at European level.

Finally, there is a fourth component in security. Pluralistic democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and tolerance are also crucial and fundamental elements of a wider concept of security. Most of the activities of the Council of Europe fall into this category. In this forum, we often speak of “democratic security”.

All four dimensions of security are relevant when we seek to support the new democracies. A prosperous state which is democratic and where human rights are respected is not a threat to others or to itself. In contrast, oppression, persecution and distress have throughout history been the breeding ground of war and conflict. Democratic security is a lofty goal. It calls for innovative thinking and a sense of purpose.

A good example of pioneering work done here in Strasbourg is the inclusion of women and the gender perspective in the Council’s work – an item to which the President referred, and I totally agree with him. It is significant that a new body has been set up by the Assembly to work on equality between women and men. In different forums, my government has actively stressed the importance of heeding the female perspective and experience in all decision-making. We must bring the wit and will of women to bear on building our society.

Protection of national minorities is crucial for the success of the new Europe. The Council of Europe and your Assembly have focused much attention on this issue. The Finnish record with regard to national minorities is considerable. The constitutionally-based innovative and generous arrangements established for our Swedish–speaking population, the autonomy granted to the Aland Islands and the rights extended to our Sami minority in Lapland speak for themselves. Especially in today’s world, these Finnish examples attract broad international attention.

The primary goal of a nation state is to secure the freedom and well-being of its citizens. This is legitimate but in a world of independence, no nation can survive in isolation. The smaller the state, the truer this notion is. Integration of economies and convergence of policies are necessary prerequisites for overcoming many of the new challenges to which I have already referred.

Europeans – men and women – are the driving force in everything we do. They and their children should be the focal point of our policies. Excessive centralisation of decision-making will only turn people against the idea of joint European action. Joining forces at European level does not pre-empt the importance of national policies.

Negotiations on Finland’s accession to the European Union are entering a crucial phase these very weeks. The timetable is very tight, as we strive to conclude the negotiations by the beginning of March. A few critical chapters still remain open, but I am confident that all parties to these negotiations will spare no efforts to settle the outstanding issues in time and in a mutually satisfactory manner.

I have often been asked to give my prediction whether and when Finland will become a member of the European Union. I am reminded of the great Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius, who was said to have spent much time in the restaurants of Helsinki at the beginning of this century. Once, after several days of absence from home, his wife called in desperation asking for at least a tentative forecast of when Mr Sibelius was likely to come home. He replied: “My dear, I am a composer. My vocation is to compose, not to make forecasts.”

For me, our membership of the European Union is not a matter of forecasting or of timetables but of substance and negotiations. For the people of Finland, it will be decisive that our fundamental interests are secured and specific circumstances are taken into account in our country, too. If that proves to be the case, Finland will join the European Union.

I started with a personal recollection and I wish to conclude in a similar way. European co-operation has deep historical roots in the north. I was reminded of this during a recent visit to St Petersburg and the old Karelian town of Viipuri, which was part of Finland until 1944. In Viipuri, I visited the manor and park of Monrepos, which was built 200 years ago by Ludwig von Nicolay, former professor of international law at the University of Strasbourg. He wanted to build a splendid European garden in the Viipuri region and he made that dream come true.

Monrepos was created not by him, but by Austrian, Danish, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Russian and Swedish architects and land scape designers and over the decades it became the most remarkable northern landscape garden in the world. Strolling in the Monrepos park, I felt that the circle, in a way, is closing. I recognised the simple historic truth: Europe is one. Thank you, Mr President.


Thank you very much Mr Aho, for your most interesting and inspiring statement. As you know, quite a number of members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions, and supplementary questions, if they are asked, must be limited to thirty seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches. The first question is from Mr Konig of Austria.

Mr KONIG (Austria)

I listened to your speech, Mr Prime Minister. I am an Austrian member of parliament and my country is in the same boat as Finland as regards negotiations for membership of the European Union. I therefore take the liberty of asking you not to make a forecast but to tell me whether you expect the ongoing negotiations, provided they meet the basic requirements of your country and Austria, to be concluded before 10 March to enable the outgoing European Parliament to take a vote on it.

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

We have a very ambitious timetable for the negotiations if we want to conclude them before the beginning of March, but I think that it is possible. What we need is political will on both sides of the negotiating table. Finland has two special problems in the negotiations — regional policy and agriculture. As I said, our goal is not to have privileges in the negotiations but to have security that the goals of the common agricultural policy can be met in our country. To do that, we need arrangements and a permanent support system which will create conditions for Nordic agricultural production in the future. The negotiations are concentrating on that matter at present. I am optimistic that it will be possible. What we need is political will.


Do you want to ask a supplementary question?

Mr KONIG (Austria)

No, just to thank the Prime Minister for his clear statement.


I congratulate the Prime Minister on his excellent speech. It is natural that you have talked about the negotiations for joining the European Union. Does that imply that Finland and the Finnish Government accept the implications for security and defence which are contained in the Maastricht Treaty?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

We have been able to reach agreement in the negotiations on a common foreign and security policy. It means that Finland will be able to take part in developing that dimension of the policy of the European Union. As I said in my speech, we see security in a much broader sense than before. I believe that the European Union will play an important role in creating a new European security architecture and influencing all four dimensions of security. Finland is interested in taking part in the process. As a member of the European Union, it will be possible for Finland to do that.


Do you want to ask a supplementary question?


Of course, it was a general answer. Nevertheless, I thank the Prime Minister for it.

Mr RUFFY (Switzerland)

My questions partly overlap those of Mr Konig and Mr Lopez Henares.

Public opinion in Finland seems to be divided over membership of the European Union. Are there forces in Finland opposing membership?

My second question concerns President Clinton’s approaches to neutral countries about a “partnership for peace”. With respect to a common European defence policy, would Finland be interested in making a contribution?


You have asked your question and supplementary question at once. I hope that Mr Aho will also answer both questions at once.

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

Recent polls in Finland show that 41 % of the population are in favour of membership, 27% are against and the rest are hesitating.

I see the terms of accession as decisive. As I said, Finland is a different country in Europe because of its geography and climate. It is important for us to take that into consideration in the terms of accession because it will have a major impact on support of the membership among our ordinary citizens. Some of our political parties are totally against membership. Some of the parties in favour of membership have minorities – large minorities in some cases – which are critical of membership. The final stage will begin when the negotiations are concluded and we see the terms of accession.

Finland has a positive view on the possibility of solving the problems of central and eastern European countries and their security through a “Partnership for Peace”. It will have a positive impact in Europe’s security architecture. Finland’s position is somewhat special. Our security is on a non-military, non-alliance basis, and we have no need for alternative security arrangements. We have long traditions in the field of peacekeeping. Finland started its role in 1956 – two years after my birth. Since then, we have taken part in peacekeeping operations all over the world. Finland could play an important role in the peacekeeping field. That is how we can contribute to a “Partnership for Peace” plan for Europe. In that sense, it is possible for Finland to take part in the arrangement.

Mr GÜNER (Turkey)

As the Prime Minister of a country neighbouring the Russian Federation, what is your government’s perspective on the outcome of the recent elections in Russia, which seem to have resulted in strengthening the position of extremists?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

It is difficult for us in that field. I remember meeting a Finnish foreign policy expert in August 1991 soon after the coup attempt in Russia. He said that only badly informed people could forecast what would happen in Russia. That experience is a good reason to avoid forecasts.

As I said in my speech, the democratic process is going on. As such, it is essential for Russia and its future that free and democratic elections take place. It was an historic event in Russia. The old Soviet constitution is gone and a new constitution for democratic development has been created. In that sense, I am optimistic that the process of reform will continue but not without problems and setbacks. The basic direction is towards democracy and a market economy in Russia.


Prime Minister, you mentioned the “Partnership for Peace” and you said that you might want to participate in the programme under certain arrangements. Under precisely what kind of arrangements could Finland participate?

What is your position on the question of the extension of Nato? Do you believe that accepting new membership is the best scenario, or should Europe seek an alternative security system, stressing the CSCE process or another element other than Nato?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

As I mentioned, it is important that a new security architecture be created, and that requires many measures. Organisations such as Nato, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and the North Atlantic Conference on Security in Europe, as well as the “Partnership for Peace” plan will have an important role to play when creating the new European security architecture.

It is also important that we take national interests into consideration. Different national interests are involved. We have our interests and other countries have theirs. The structure must be created in such a way that national interests can be taken into consideration. There will be many solutions to the security problems. In that sense, the “Partnership for Peace” plan is positive because it takes national differences into consideration and it makes it possible to have tailored arrangements for individual countries.

THE PRESIDENT. — Thank you very much, Mr Jaskiernia. Do you wish to put another question?


I also asked, Prime Minister, whether you saw the extension of Nato as the goal that Europe should seek. Would that be a good tendency?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

Nato will play an important role in the European security architecture. When we work out the arrangements, it will be important that we do not create new borderlines in Europe. It is reasonable to make the arrangements in such a way that Russia is not isolated – or is not likely to drift towards isolation. That is why the process of the enlargement of Nato is important. It must happen in a way that does not create new borderlines.

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

Mr Prime Minister, may I tell you how pleased we are to welcome you among us. Your country occupies a strategic position as we saw in 1940 and 1989. It has greatly suffered from the break-up of the former Soviet Union, economically and in terms of trade. How do you think the situation can be recovered?

As you know, our Assembly held a meeting in Tallinn to examine co-operation in the Baltic region. Can your country, together with the Nordic Council, contribute to the revival of co-operation in the Baltic region?


Thank you very much, Mr Valleix. Would you like to answer, Mr Aho?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

It is true that the collapse of the former Soviet Union had a great influence on our economy. I can illustrate that by saying that in 1990, Russian exports formed 13% of the total. A year later, the figure dropped to between 3% and 4%. That had major implications for the Finnish economy. It is one reason why we have had major difficulties and a deep depression in our economy. Today, our economy is recovering and in that sense, the worst is over. We have been able to overcome the structural problems.

The role of Finland in the Baltic countries is important. Finland and other Nordic countries have a special responsibility for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic countries that are newly independent again. A good illustration of the importance of Finland and Finnish markets to Estonia exports today is about 50%. The main way in which we can assist those countries is to provide markets for their products and services.

We must give assistance to create new bases for the economies of the Baltic countries. Finland, together with other Nordic countries, has been able to do that. We have investments and support systems, and we have given technical assistance. In that sense, the role of Finland and the other Nordic countries is important in that region of Europe. Among you delegates, there are greater experts. Representatives from the Baltic countries may be able to say a few words on that topic.


Thank you. do you want to put another question, Mr Valleix?

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

No I am satisfied with Mr Aho’s reply.


You mentioned Estonia, Prime Minister. Mr Kelam from Estonia will put the next question.

Mr KELAM (Estonia)

As I am situated 80 kilometers south of the Finnish capital, I am worried about signs that influential groups in Russia are trying to reassert their influence over the independent states which, until recently, were victims of Soviet occupation. In Moscow, a quasi-official stance has been taken in the form of the so-called “near abroad doctrine” to justify intervening in the affairs of the Baltic states and not meeting fully and in time the resolutions of the CSCE Helsinki Summit providing for the rapid withdrawal of former Soviet troops from the Baltic states. What is the Finnish Government’s position on Moscow’s “near abroad” concept? Can you imagine, Prime Minister, the Russians becoming full members of the Council of Europe without having previously withdrawn their troops from Estonia and Latvia?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

It is very important that all European countries are committed to the principles and provisions of the CSCE. The Helsinki Summit in the summer of 1992 played a very important role in deciding the question of Russian troops in the Baltic countries. The decisions made in Helsinki aided the process of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Baltic countries. We expect that very soon, Russia, Latvia and Estonia will be able to reach an agreement on withdrawal so that the troops can be removed by the end of August this year.

Relations between Russia and the Baltic countries must be based on the same principles as relations between all other European countries. Those principles are mentioned in the CSCE document and all countries must be committed to them.


Your answers, Mr Prime Minster, are convincing. Most colleagues do not react with supplementary questions. I call Mr Maruflu.

Mr MARUFLU (Turkey)

First, may I thank the Prime Minister for an excellent speech.

One of the items included in the Assembly’s agenda is the enlargement of the Council of Europe. The Russian Federation’s application for membership of the Council of Europe is a core issue that should always be taken into consideration in determining the future enlargement costs of this Organisation. Opinions differ on the accession of Russia, and in that context, may I ask the Prime Minister for his country’s position on that subject? Further, what is the Prime Minister’s opinion on the situation of Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

I have already stressed in my speech the importance of Russia joining the Council of Europe as soon as the relevant conditions are met. I know that there are other applicants on the list and it is equally important that those meet the conditions so that they, too, can join the Council of Europe. That is the best way to guarantee that the Council of Europe’s essential and important principles are implemented in central and eastern European countries.

I remember well, that when I started my work here in the Parliamentary Assembly in the spring or summer of 1989, we were discussing how soon we could allow those new countries into the Council of Europe. We decided to make rapid progress, which was an important and positive decision. I hope that this further enlargement can be achieved in the same way.

I was asked about the implication of the presence of Russian troops in Estonia and Latvia on enlargement of the Council of Europe. I cannot give a clear answer but it is understandable that the question of foreign, Russian troops in Latvia and Estonia has an impact on the enlargement process.

On Bosnia, it is sad that European countries and the international community have been unable to do more to stop the violence in the former Yugoslavia. That situation is a major challenge for the international community. I am not an expert on how to solve the problem. This afternoon, you will have a much better opportunity to get that question answered when Mr Stoltenberg comes here to answer your questions. However, no issue is more urgent than the situation in the former Yugoslavia. It is a problem not just for the former Yugoslavia but for Europe. It is our problem.

Mr FABRA (Spain) (interpretation)

asked Mr Aho what advice Finland had given to Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and wanted to know whether they were joining the western market economy.

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

The question of free trade is essential for those three Baltic countries. Finland now has free trade agreements with all of them. In negotiating membership of the European Union, it was essential for us that free trade be preserved. Last December, we reached an agreement with the Union that, in some way or another, the continuation of free trade could be secured. I hope that the basis for the solution will be an agreement between the European Union and the individual Baltic countries so that free trade agreements can be made. I have information that, very soon, such agreements will be negotiated and signed between the European Union and those three countries. They are most crucial for the economic development of those countries.

The question of western European countries, including Finland, assisting Baltic countries is very important. It is also important that Western Europe has a clear strategy on how to assist those countries, including Russia, that need economic support.

Finland has recognised that certain areas of the economy are of special interest to it. Those include furniture production, nuclear safety, food production and processing, communication systems and environmental protection. I believe that we have been able to give the best possible support to the Baltic countries in those fields, in which we also have good co-operation with the neighbouring regions of Russia: St Petersburg, Karelia and Murmansk. On the support that Western Europe and the industrialised countries give Russia, we must concentrate on those areas.


The question that I intended to raise has already been answered. I should simply like to express the wish that the negotiations are concluded by the end of March while Greece still has the presidency of the European Union. If negotiations are concluded and the European Parliament’s opinion is given in time, it is absolutely necessary to have a positive referendum because the European Union cannot afford another negative referendum. That would be a pity, not just for Finland, but for the European Union itself.

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

I am happy to respond to that question because I totally agree that it is not only important to get results in the negotiations and to be able to conclude them, but to ensure that the agreement is adopted by the European Union and the applicant. To enable that goal to be reached, the terms of accession must be that a large majority of the Finnish population are secure in the knowledge that our national interests will be met by joining the European Union. As I said, we have special circumstances because of our geographical location and our climate. If those are taken into consideration properly I think that the majority of the Finnish population will accept membership of the Union. I fully agree that it is also a question of the Union’s reliability.


Thank you. Mr Holtz will pose the final question to Mr Aho.

Mr HOLTZ (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, thank you very much for permitting me to speak.

Mr Prime Minister, at the beginning of your speech you described what feelings you had in 1989 when you travelled here to Strasbourg for the first time. Looking back, Mr Prime Minister, what would you say is the most important aspect of the Council of Europe for your country? If your country becomes a member of the European Union, what special significance do you see for it in continuing to work actively here at the Council of Europe?


Thank you, Mr Holtz. We shall listen carefully to the answer because I think that you asked the million dollar question. I call Mr Aho.

Mr Aho, Prime Minister of Finland

I have to be very careful, Mr President. In my statement I spoke very warmly about equality between men and women, but life in Finland is quite difficult today. We will soon have a woman president and a woman speaker of our parliament and we already have a woman governor of the Bank of Finland, so I have to be very careful when I answer this question because the principles adopted also have implications in real life.

Joining the Council of Europe was a very important step in Finland’s political approach to other parts of Europe. In that sense it was the first reflection of the changes that have taken place in Europe – changes that started in the mid-1980s. What was Finland’s role? The most important part was that we would support the enlargement of the Council of Europe.

The first Finnish representatives in this Assembly were listened to and regarded as experts because many of you thought that Finnish parliamentarians have special information on Russia and other parts of eastern Europe. In that sense I think that, from the very beginning, Finland played quite an important role in the Council of Europe. Equality between men and women is one good example of that and another is the way in which we have dealt with our national minorities. As I said, we have received more international attention. Delegations come to Finland from different parts of the world and have visited the Aland Islands to find out how the constitutional arrangements created by the Finns are working. Finland also has a role to play in that area and can make a contribution to a difficult issue in today’s world.

I am not able to give any other answers, but I feel that, historically, Finland’s decision to join the Council of Europe was one of the most important that we have made.


Thank you very much, Mr Aho. That was very satisfactory and you can see how much your colleagues appreciated your comments. As a matter of fact you have done so well with your national minority in Finland that I hope that you will not have any problems with men or women becoming a minority in your society, which could be a worry if some tendencies carry on for too long.

On membership of the European Union, sometimes countries in our Assembly which join the Union feel that they have married again and that they can divorce their former partners with whom they have been associated for many years — that might mean the Council of Europe. We expect that Finland, like many countries, will realise that it can be a member of both the European Union and the Council of Europe and that they are the same marriage. That has not been obvious to many of our member countries.

We wish you very well, Mr Aho and we wish you the success that your country and your people deserve. Thank you.