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Finnish report
by Euro Reporter
2015-08-28 08:12:58
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Air guitarists duke it out at Finland world championships

Who can play wildest on an instrument no one can see? A record 30 air guitarists from a dozen countries are jamming on a stage in northern Finland to answer just that question. The 20th Air Guitar World Championships kicked off Thursday with 30 "dark horses" hoping to be among eight advancing to Friday's final, joining seven national champions who automatically qualify. The competition started as a joke by a local musician, adding to the small Nordic nation's reputation as an inventor of offbeat summer events such as the "mosquito slapping" and "wife carrying" competitions. It has gradually spread worldwide with national events held annually in several countries.

The 2002 champion, London architect Zac Monro, is back after a break of 13 years seeking to rekindle that "special flame that breaks the mundane" — although he no longer feels a need to win. "It's a great crowd and it's just good to be here among all these people who enjoy doing this crazy thing," said Munro, who goes by the stage name "The Magnet." All the same, he said, he'd like to be in the final "instead of just watching." Germany's national champion, Sabrina "Lady Liberty" Schramm from Munich, is already in the final but she's still nervous, wringing her hands as she declares she "yearns to win." She caught the competition bug when she finished ninth in Oulu in 2014.

"I was brought up on rock music. I just love it," she said. "When I saw a local air guitar competition in my home town I thought that's the most crazy thing you can do, so I just had to do it." Schramm faces tough competition from the reigning title holder Nanami "Seven Seas" Nagura from Japan, who won last year at the age of 18, and the current U.S. champion — legendary New Yorker Matt "Airistotle" Burns. Oulu's mayor is also enthusiastic, describing the event as "creative craziness," which has become part of the image of Finland's northernmost city, a high-tech hub that provided a large workforce for Nokia before it sold its ailing smartphone division to Microsoft. "It plays a vital role in our dynamic society and our ecosystem. It's a city of young people with an average age of 37, which needs this kind of innovative thinking," Matti Pennanen said. "We want to keep it going for as long as possible."


Finland says it cannot defend neighbouring countries from Russian aggression

Finland is in no position to help defend its Baltic neighbours and fellow EU members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania should it become necessary, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Tuesday. His comments were made during talks with a group of Finnish ambassadors as regional tensions grow over the crisis in Ukraine. "Every now and then we hear the idea that Finland could be partially responsible for the defence of the Baltics," Niinisto said. "Finland is not in a position where it could offer others security guarantees which we ourselves don't even have." Under Moscow's thumb until 1991, the three Baltic States have been on high alert since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year.

finland_400_01Unlike its Baltic neighbours, Finland - which shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia - is not a member of NATO although the defence alliance has kept its doors open to the reluctant Nordic country. "Our eastern border (with Russia) is longer than those of all NATO countries together. If a nation of a little over five million people is in charge of its defence on its own, it is enough responsibility to bear," Niinisto said. Finland has tried to maintain good relations with its powerful neighbour since the end of World War II although it has lately observed an increase in Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea area. But the regional tensions have not made Finnish public opinion more favourable to joining NATO, with recent polls showing a majority opposed. Niinisto said Finland would continue to develop its own defence in cooperation with its western neighbour Sweden and through a partnership with NATO.


Finland with weakest EU economy set to contract fourth year

Finland is emerging as the European Union’s weakest economy because of its failure to build a competitive labour market, according to Finance Minister Alexander Stubb. The economy of the northernmost euro member is set to contract for a fourth consecutive year, Stubb said at a conference of Finnish diplomats in Helsinki on Monday. He described the development as “worrying.”

The government has so far failed to persuade Finns to accept pay cuts it says are necessary to compete with its trading partners. Stubb warned that the nation’s economic plight isn’t only linked to market shocks but is structural, meaning only a program of reform can jolt the nation out of its sclerosis. Finland’s woes are compounded by Russia’s recession, with exports to the country’s eastern neighbour dropping 35 percent in the first five months of 2015, according to government data released Tuesday.

Aktia, a Finnish bank, estimates gross domestic product will contract 0.5 percent in 2015, after shrinking every year since 2011. Both exports and investments are seen contracting, according to the bank. Any reform program should target bringing about “quick relief” for an economy that has been hobbled by its lack of competitiveness, Aktia said. Finland, which has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Germany through the darkest hours of Europe’s debt crisis to advocate the wisdom of austerity, now risks seeing its own ratings tarnished by its economic decline. Moody’s Investors Service, which still rates Finland Aaa, said last week the country’s weak economic prospects were “credit-negative.” Standard & Poor’s stripped Finland of its top rating in October.


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