Finland helps Latvia
Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen promised at the end of his two-day working visit to Riga that Finland would support Latvia economically, politically and administratively to further its preparations for accession to the European Union. Latvia will receive help, for instance, in language instruction of its minorities, and Finnish companies will also take part in environment protection projects.
Latvian Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš said he believes Latvia and the other Baltic states are all at the same level in their preparations for the EU. The prime ministers also discussed other matters, such as the Northern Dimension of the EU. Furthermore, Lipponen stated that in transit trade there is a lot of business for both countries, but Finland will not try to compete with Latvia on volume.
In Lipponen's opinion, the coming accession of the Baltic states to the EU will help them to improve their relations with Russia. He noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin's comments on relations with the Baltics were highly favourable in a meeting between Lipponen and Putin last month.
President Halonen addresses parliament
At the official opening of the Eduskunta, President Tarja Halonen took a stand on decision-making in foreign policy. Halonen said that decisions involving EU enlargement and integration require the positive contribution of all of the highest institutions of the state, and she expressed her wish for the highest possible degree of concord in political will for such matters.
Halonen noted that, under the new constitution, she is to make her formally structured decisions together with the government on the basis of its preparation and recommendations. In Halonen's opinion, advisory referenda should not be used too often. She said that all of the highest institutions of state have the right to listen to public opinion, but also to influence it. However, the legal and moral responsibility for the actual decisions always resides with the decision makers.
In her speech, Halonen also spoke about the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the problems of poverty and unemployment, equality, differences in income and basic services.
Ambassador nominations cause problems
President Tarja Halonen intervened in the nominations of ambassadors by the Foreign Ministry. The government and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja were obliged to withdraw three names from the list of prospective appointees when the President announced that the individuals did not meet her approval.
Usually the President does not intervene with the nominations once they have reached government level, although under the constitution it is the President who appoints the ambassadors and other high-ranking officials. Halonen's surprise move caused a partial stop in the ongoing round of appointments. It is said that there is confusion and some embarrassment among those drafting the lists. For instance, a new ambassador is being sought to represent Finland at the EU in Brussels.
National climate strategy almost clear
According to the government's program on climate, Finland could meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions without having to increase the number of nuclear reactors in the country. Without a fifth nuclear reactor, however, the limitation of emissions would be more expensive. Finnish industry has called for a new nuclear reactor to be added to the existing four units.
The government discussed the national climate strategy on Wednesday, and the discussion was more conciliatory than was expected. Now the draft is returned to the Ministry of Trade and Industry for completion. Among other things, there is a need for additional calculations of the impact of different energy alternatives.
The government intends to report its strategy to the parliament at the end of March. The strategy would show how Finland intends to keep its greenhouse emissions at 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The group putting together the programme has been drawn from all parliamentary parties and was led by Minister of Trade and Industry Sinikka Mönkäre.
Human trafficking from Russia to Finland?
Illegal entry into Finland across the Russian border has been relatively infrequent, but there have been signs of a change in recent years. Furthermore, there have been incidents that resemble professional human trafficking.
The Finnish Frontier Guard is concerned about the implications of a decision made by the Russian Border Guard to strengthen the monitoring of sectors of the border in crisis areas at the expense of security on the more peaceful borders with Finland and Norway. The Russian Border Guard service estimated that some 1.5 million foreigners are living illegally in Russia, and it is expected some may try to immigrate to the West.
And in other news...
- A UNICEF report shows that, among the industrialised countries, the ninth fewest fatal accidents to children occur in Finland, while the fewest occur in Sweden. Some 368 Finns below the age of 15 died in accidents between 1991 and 1995. According to the report, every third, totalling 133 persons, would have been saved if safety had been at the Swedish level.
- Approximately 1000 participants jumped into the water in Kajaani at the Finnish ice pool swimming championships. Combined with the wind-chill factor, the temperature was nearly forty degrees below freezing during the race. At least 80,000 Finns jump through a hole in the ice at least once a week, and some 350,000 have tried it at least once within the past year. The world championships will be held in Jyväskylä in one month.
- Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö says that Finland cannot afford to give up landmines, as any system of replacement is estimated to cost FIM (Finnish markka) four to five billion, which is roughly one half of the annual allocation for national defence.
- European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) will buy a 26.8 per cent holding in the Finnish state-owned defence group, Patria, for an undisclosed sum.
- Finland will have five members on the military staff of the European Union. The tasks of the staff include planning and co-ordinating EU crisis control and co-operation with NATO.
- Finnish mobile phone wholesale rose in January to 61,686 units. The Finnish Electronics Wholesalers' Association says that the handset penetration rate in Finland, the world's most mature mobile market, was 73.2 per cent in 2000.
Aleksi Vakkuri, 9 February 2001
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