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Finnish report Finnish report
by Euro Reporter
2011-08-27 05:22:50
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Rehn rejects option to lead Finland

Olli Rehn, the European Union’s top economic official, has decided not to leave the post and run for president of Finland. He announced on Sunday he did not believe he should leave in the middle of the eurozone debt crisis. Mr Rehn, who as commissioner for economic and monetary affairs has played a central role in formulating the EU response, has gained an international reputation as one of the more steady hands in the occasionally chaotic management of the crisis. But his global prominence has not translated into popularity at home. His sombre personality and membership of the Centre party – biggest losers in this spring’s national elections – made his candidacy an increasingly long shot.

Mr Rehn was also hit by the likely entry of Sauli Niinisto, popular speaker of parliament and member of the governing National Coalition party. A poll for the YLE broadcaster this month put Mr Niinisto’s support in the January vote at 60 per cent. Mr Rehn was third on 9 per cent. In a written statement, Mr Rehn said he spent much of the summer deliberating before deciding he could not both serve in Brussels and run as a candidate. “My tasks in Europe are still very much unfinished [and] I am committed to the ongoing work to overcome the sovereign debt crisis,” he said. Finnish politics have been upended by the emergence of a strong anti-EU sentiment, culminating in the surprising election success of the populist True Finns in April’s elections. The party came within a percentage point of becoming the largest in parliament.

Mr Rehn’s Centre party, which had been the largest, was forced out of government and has been riven by divisions between its pro-Europe liberal wing and its more Eurosceptic rural base in Finland’s agricultural heartland. The rise in anti-EU sentiment in the eurozone member has thrown a wrench in a number of EU efforts to stem the current crisis, most recently with its insistence that Finland receive cash collateral from Greece in return for backing a new €109bn bail-out. In his statement, Mr Rehn said he was tempted to run to “defend my views on the international orientation” of Finland, a clear reference to the ongoing debate over Europe, but said his current job was important for his home country as well.


Finland ready to take part in Libya operation

Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja (Social Democratic Party) says that Finland is ready in principle to take part in both military and civilian crisis management in post-civil war Libya. Tuomoja said on Monday that it is too early to think about the possible dimensions of a possible operation, because “terrible things can still happen in Libya”.

Responding to journalists questions in connection with an annual gathering of Finnish ambassadors, Tuomioja said that a new phase is starting in Libya in any case, and that the era of Muammar Gaddafi is over. The fast pace of events in Libya during the weekend apparently came as something of a surprise. There was no mention of Libya in the original version of Tuomioja’s speech to the ambassadors. Apparently a reference to Finland’s possible role in the aftermath was added at the last minute.

Tuomioja repeatedly emphasised that Finland can take part in an “UN-led operation”. He specified that getting a UN authorisation for the operation is a key matter. He considered a NATO operation in Libya to be unlikely, but he felt that initiatives led by the European Union are possible.  In his speech Tuomioja said that the EU “should continue to give aid and support to countries in transition in North Africa and the Middle East, even though we cannot know exactly where the revolts will ultimately lead”.  The Foreign Minister feels that Finland’s possibilities to help Libya are exceptionally good because Finland has an extensive knowledge in crisis management to offer. Finland’s current resources would also be enough because so few Finnish soldiers are now on other crisis management missions.


Merkel rejects collateral for Finland's Greek aid

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday rejected granting Finland special treatment in the form of collateral for fresh aid for Greece, a lawmaker from her ruling Christian Democrats, or CDU, said. "It can't be that one country gets extra collateral," Merkel is quoted as telling CDU members of parliament in a meeting on European policy, according to the lawmaker. Finland, in a bilateral deal with Greece, is seeking collateral in exchange for granting further aid to the southern European country, a move that led other euro-zone countries to demand a similar treatment. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble at the same CDU lawmakers' meeting said that any bilateral agreement between Finland and Greece on collateral had always been subject to an approval from the entire euro zone, which hasn't been granted so far, another participant of the lawmaker meeting told journalists.

Schaeuble also rejected calls from some lawmakers to refuse further aid for the troubled Mediterranean country. To let Greek go bankrupt "would lead to much more fundamental damage," Schaeuble is quoted as telling lawmakers, according to the participant. Lawmakers at the CDU meeting Tuesday also said that it could be counter-productive to use assets as collateral that Greece should have available for its ambitious privatization plan, the participant added. Merkel and Schaeuble's comments came after an earlier statement on Tuesday by German Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who told ARD public broadcaster that future aid from the euro-zone rescue fund should be backed by collateral.

At the meeting Tuesday evening, Merkel and Schaeuble also were trying to convince dissident CDU lawmakers to speedily approve changes to the currency bloc's current rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, or EFSF. Euro-zone government leaders agreed July 21 to allow the EFSF to buy sovereign bonds directly in the secondary market, and earlier had decided to boost the fund's effective lending capacity to EUR440 billion ($634.73 billion). Members of parliament earlier Tuesday brushed aside criticism that changes to the EFSF are being pushed through parliament too quickly, saying they plan to hold a vote by Sept. 23. A decision needs to be made quickly, Joerg van Essen, the parliamentary whip of the Free Democratic Party, or FDP, said in a statement. The FDP is Merkel's junior coalition partner.

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