Speech at EVA Day on Friday 10 October 2003
Estonia, Finland, Sweden – three nations so close to each other geographically, yet so far apart historically. The fifty years from the beginning of the second world war to the collapse of the Soviet Union have hardly left any happy memories about the relationship between the three nations. I am old enough to remember how bitterly disappointed we were in 1939 when we realised that Sweden would not join us in resisting the Soviet invasion. But would we have helped Swedes to defend themselves against Germany had Hitler decided to attack them – a threat Sweden could not ignore? The answer is clear: of course not. Did either Sweden or Finland do anything to save Estonia from Soviet occupation? A number of individuals did what they could to help their Estonian friends to survive, but the governments turned their back on the Baltic countries and remained sceptical in the late eighties when the Baltic peoples started an unarmed struggle for independence. The history of our three nations can be summed up in one phrase: each for himself.
All that is in the past. Today, at last, our three nations are bound together in unity. As members of the European Union – Estonia will join in six months time – relations between us will be closer than ever before. The Gulf of Finland that for decades separated Finland from Estonia is almost clogged with traffic. Open borders attract both tourists and business. Unfortunately sometimes also unwelcome guests.
EU membership does not prevent differences between the member states. Finland has adopted the euro, Sweden has just recently rejected it, Estonia has not yet had an opportunity to adopt it. In economic and social matters, Estonia challenges Finland and Sweden by its neoliberal or thatcherite ideology. Taxation is the instrument by which Estonians seek advantages for their economy.
Another difference between our three countries concerns Nato: Estonia has joined, Sweden and Finland stay outside. This brings me to the fundamental issue of security.
Security and defence policy is now subject to intense debate within the Inter-Governmental Conference. We cannot yet tell what exactly will emerge, but no doubt some form of defence co-operation can be expected. Its significance for our three countries will have to be judged in the context of the future of the European Union as a whole.
“Ever closer union” was a slogan of the founding fathers of the European Community, and it is still repeated by loyal federalists. Yet reality today is ever larger union. The ten new member states which will join the Union in May next year will not be the last. Bulgaria and Romania are waiting at the gate. In the Balkans five states hope to be accepted as candidates for membership. Turkey is already a candidate, though with little prospect of being admitted. On the Western side, the Norwegian government is trying to persuade its citizens to vote in favour of joining the Union, and if Norway joins, Iceland is likely to follow. Only Switzerland remains in splendid isolation.
What this means is that the Union will begin to look like a mini-UN. In principle, all member states will continue to be equal, but some already consider themselves to be more equal than others. The bigger member states insist on having an equivalent of a security council as the leading organ. This role will be assigned to the European Council which consists of the presidents or prime ministers if the member states. The Council elects a permanent chairman who will act as the president of the Union, and it will make its decisions unanimously or by consensus. The European Commission will be reduced to a secondary role. Its task will be to carry out what the Council decides, and in the Council the bigger countries will dominate.
Within the enlarged Union there are bound to be differences on security and defence – differences shaped by geography and history. They do not arise primarily from internal issues within the European Union, but reflect rather different views regarding the United States and Russia.
Seen from Western Europe Russia has withdrawn beyond Poland and the Baltic states, beyond the military horizon for West-European countries Russia’s present role is to supply oil and gas. As a result, Western Europeans no longer feel dependent on American protection.
The Central- and East-European countries which now are joining the Union represent a different view of what security and defence mean. They have not forgotten what they had to suffer under Soviet domination. They don’t trust West European countries – they rely on protection from the United States. That is why they have been so keen to join Nato.
Finland, too, is influenced by geography and history, but in a more ambiguous way. As you know, Finland was attacked by the Soviet army and we lost one tenth of our territory, but we succeeded in stopping the invasion and maintaining our independence. In the end, that is in the 1980s we started to call the Soviet Union “a good neighbour” – I am using quotation marks around this phrase. Yet, the primary function of our defence force is the protection of our own territory, and each year about 80 per cent of our young men complete their military service. History tells us that Russia may change, and the Russians themselves believe, or hope, that their country will rise from its present decline. Significantly, a recent opinion poll revealed that a substantial majority of Russians consider Peter the Great as the best leader Russia ever has had.
But history also tells us that the influence of the United States could extend to this part of Europe. When in 1947 the Yugoslav dictator Tito asked Stalin why Finland had been left in peace, Stalin replied: We took into account the Americans . . .
We no longer live in the world in which each nation was left on its own. I believe the three countries represented here today have a common interest with regard to the security of this part of Europe. We face a number of important questions. How will the enlarged EU function in the future? What should be done to maintain transatlantic relations? How do we assess the future of Russia? I am sure we will hear interesting replies to these questions.