Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country holds the revolving presidency of the European Union, says that Turkey joining the EU would “reinforce political stability in Europe.” In an interview with Euronews’ Päivi Suhonen, he also spoke about the future of the European Constitution and Europe’s energy relations with Russia.
EuroNews: Finland’s presidency of the EU began on the first of July. How have the first three months been?
Vanhanen: Of course, the most notable event, was the crisis in Lebanon. We couldn’t have foreseen that, but we were ready to cope with major international crises, and we responded immediately. We didn’t do exactly what even the large countries wanted, but we did maintain the unity of the European Union while defending the European point of view. The presidency has to find a common vision and that must include the point of view of the country which hold the presidency and we did that on this occasion. The EU must learn how to speak with one voice on foreign affairs.
EuroNews: With regard to EU expansion, from next January there will be probably two new members, Bulgaria and Romania. How importance it is for Finland that this expansion occurs during its presidency?
Vanhanen: Of course it’s important. And more especially symbolically, because the decision that they should join was made during the previous Finnish presidency of the EU. Now, if we manage to complete the negotiations during our current presidency, that would be very good.
EuroNews: Let us address the issue of Turkey. Can Turkey one day meet all the requirements necessary to join the EU?
Vanhanen: Right now, it doesn’t meet them. But I believe and I wish that one day it will be able to. It is important for the stability of Europe, and for Turkey’s neighbours, that Turkey – which is a very large country – assumes European norms and that its society develops along those lines. That would reinforce political stability in Europe. I understand the view some people have that Turkey doesn’t meet the criteria for joining the EU at the moment, but I’d like people to be ready to change their opinion once Turkey does. We must look forward to when Turkey is in a position to join, rather than Turkey as it is today.
EuroNews: Where do we stop expanding the European Union, where should the final borders be?
Vanhanen: Finland doesn’t want to get into this discussion on the borders, because we must take into account the countries which could remain outside the EU and that’s a problem. I prefer to emphasise the long established European principle that all European countries that meet the criteria and the standards of the EU, must have the right to join.
EuroNews: How have the ten newest members in the European Union adapted to being in the EU? For example, there were fears of a flood of cheap labour from new member states because people from those countries could come in and work under the terms of the free market services directive. Britain and Ireland did see many arrivals, but when Finland opened its borders this summer nothing much happened. Were those fears unfounded?
Vanhanen: The problem is not so much in the more economically developed countries, which can absorb workers to cover for their own labour shortfalls. Rather, the problem seems to be in the countries that provide the workers. The problem is back home, especially if it’s the more qualified workers who leave, creating a brain drain. It affects the better trained and especially the young people, as long as they stay in their own countries they can hope to attain a higher standard of living. If countries that join the EU continue to develop, through being members, that’s the best way of avoiding workers leaving those countries.
EuroNews: Matti Vanhanen, you helped write the text of the European Constitution, which is now moribund. What’s needed to revitalise it?
Vanhanen: There can’t be a real solution until 2008. It’s going to be a rather long process…
EuroNews: But will Finland ratify the Constitution as of this autumn?
Vanhanen: Finland, like the majority of EU members, will put forward its views on the text that’s already been negotiated, because we have that right and we want to give our opinion on that text, to say whether it’s good or not.
EuroNews: But will that ever come into effect just as it is?
Vanhanen: It is possible, but anyway we have the right to deliver our opinion on this negotiated agreement. It’s inconceivable that a country that isn’t in favour has the right to speak for the other countries. It is a good thing that countries have an opportunity to voice their opinions. That will affect the final outcome.
EuroNews: Looking ahead to the informal EU summit to be held at Lahti in Finland next month. Finland has invited Russian president Vladimir Putin and the summit will examine energy issues. Is Europe too dependent on Russia for energy?
Vanhanen: In international relations, we are all dependent on each other. Especially in economic relations. And I’d say that tendency – of interdependence – is increasing.
EuroNews: But how?
Vanhanen: For example, Finland’s success – and we have been very successful – is mainly based on other countries’ dependence on us and that dependence is reciprocal. Russia gets revenue from selling energy and it’s in its interest to be as reliable an energy supplier as possible. And it’s in the interest of Europe to have guaranteed, long-term access to sources of energy, while taking care to ensure that the market defines prices. In this case, our interest is obtaining energy from the North, East and South (ie everywhere). Europe must develop multiple networks of energy suppliers, so it doesn’t depend exclusively on just one source.