Summary of the seminar
FIIA Director Teija Tiilikainen opened the seminar by pointing to the change in the EU’s position: it used to be there to resolve crises, whereas now it is no longer a strong asset to its members but looks weak. State power and military power are back. Surrounding political crises and the migration crisis – occurring simultaneously – create internal problems for the Union, Dr Tiilikainen noted before inviting Minister Soini to take the stage.
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Timo Soini began his keynote presentation by warning that the crises facing Europe threaten its security and the very future of the EU. People are losing trust in the European project. Adequate solutions to the migration crisis, a possible Brexit, and economic problems are lacking. Mr Soini criticised bailout policies in the handling of the euro crisis, and counted ageing populations and slowing exports among current challenges. The Schengen system has been shaken by the migration crisis. There is a loss of vision, legitimacy and solidarity, and criticism of integration is growing. According to Mr Soini, this is due to the inability to tackle issues at the source. The global balance of power and the global political system are shifting, as can be seen in the weakening of the main pillars of the post-Cold War multilateral order and a more assertive Russia. In Europe, the norms and principles of cooperative security are being challenged. The ability of the international community to prevent or peacefully resolve crises such as the Syrian war is seriously weakened by this. Yet, globalization goes on, technological advancement continues, and the interdependencies of the last century are still with us.
Next, Mr Soini talked about the crisis in the relations between Russia and the West. He noted how Russia seeks to regain influence in the former Soviet space, cement the illegal annexation of Crimea, curb further integration of former Soviet states with the EU and put a halt to NATO enlargement. Although not a ”fan of the EU”, Mr Soini said he takes no pleasure in the situation. Common responses from the EU towards Russia are now needed. Russia shows readiness to use even military means. Unpredictability and at times even loose nuclear talk are among the tools Russia uses, Mr Soini remarked. Other worrying developments in the country are related to human rights, increased state control, weak institutions and systemic corruption. For Finland Russia is an important neighbour, both economically and security-wise. The eventual improvement of relations depends much on Russia, Mr Soini concluded.
Mr Soini envisaged three approaches to Russia. Core principles of European security and international law must be defended, which means the sanctions must be maintained. Second, we have to take better care of our own security, both individually and collectively: in addition to Finland’s territorial defence concept, the EU has a wider set of tools than NATO and should be strengthened as a security community. Finally, we must keep up constructive engagement with Russia when it suits both parties’ interests.
As regards the migration crisis, Mr Soini pointed out both the root causes in the regions of origin and the inability of the international community to prevent conflicts. Despite similar scenarios in policy planning papers, the EU was unprepared. Finland was proportionally the fourth largest receiver of asylum seekers last year. Problems arise if the EU members do not obey mutually agreed norms, Mr Soini said, referring to burden-sharing and reforms of the Dublin regulation. Relocation and resettlement must be carried out on voluntary basis as is stated in the Finnish government’s program.
People fleeing war or persecution are entitled to protection, but not everyone is fleeing these things. Mass emigration does not solve the economic and social problems in Africa and the Middle East. The crisis implies balancing between the EU’s two goals and values: promoting human rights and safeguarding the Schengen system and the free movement of citizens. Order must be restored; free movement inside Europe is possible only if we have solid control of our external borders. The intensified cooperation with Turkey has curbed the refugee flow via Turkey to Greece. We have to address the conflict in Syria and Iraq and support the mediation efforts in Libya. We need comprehensive policies that cover trade, environment, development and human rights. We also need to address the pull-factors in Europe. Referring to a World Bank report, Mr Soini stressed the economic impact of large-scale migration and underlined the importance of managing migration.
The UK June referendum causes concern all over Europe and in the US. It is in a way a result of increasing mistrust in the EU. Whatever the result, we need to take a serious look at what the Union means for its citizens. Many people in the UK want to leave. The decision is a British decision alone, and we should not interfere. But for Finland Britain is an essential part of Europe and often a like-minded partner.
The EU’s ability to respond to the crises is inadequate, Mr Soini said. It can prove disastrous to merely try to manage the situation. The EU suffers in the current era of power politics, because its power is soft – it is based on economic and diplomatic means. People are confused about the EU’s role, and many people think it has lost its ability to consolidate peace and stability. The EU must acknowledge the facts and implement reforms demanded by the people. Mr Soini stated that although the EU is far from perfect, he stands for many things in the EU, such as free trade, sound economics, deepening internal market and smart regulation, promotion of human rights etc.
The EU should focus on the essentials. Mr Soini saw no need for deepening integration, but highlighted the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and of transparent decision-making. Especially given the current hybrid threats, the EU should be strengthened as a security community and this should be reflected in the upcoming global strategy. Conflict prevention in Africa and Middle East must be stepped up, Mr Soini said. The foreign and security policy goals must be jointly implemented by the member states. Even the biggest members are not able to tackle crises alone.
Roderick Parkes discussed the issue of migration, focusing on three points. He underlined that we are at a crossroads, and outlined possible negative and positive scenarios for the next few years. There is the possibility of a split where different parts of the Schengen zone have conflicting aims and policies, or a Europe where free movement is split two ways between a Eurozone core and peripheral countries. On the other hand, he envisioned a more positive scenario, where although power is shifting away from the EU, we may be able to harness that and restore order in a new form. Not all refugees are victims, and they must be helped to help themselves. We should move from classic humanitarian policies to ensuring opportunities for people to stay closer to home, and build free movement on a regional level.
The EU should also engage in new partnerships and work better e.g. with African states. The Union should also work with so-called progressive rivals, countries like Brazil who want to challenge western power with their humanitarian policies.
Mr Parkes emphasised the need to act now. An escalation of the Syrian crisis would hit migration routes in Libya and the Western Balkans. On the other hand, the deal with Turkey gives us some breathing space, and Turkey has little to gain from turning the tap back on. We should focus on making European migration policy more sustainable. The way we prevented the predicted 25 million people coming from the former Eastern bloc countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall was through fairly restrictive measures, Mr Parkes argued. The historical lesson is that we need to work hard on migration. Not all of the work should be left to interior ministers – it’s good to listen to foreign ministers as well.
Kristi Raik focused in her comments on the Ukraine crisis and relations with Russia. There is a sense, she said, that the EU which until recently was a source of inspiration to its neighbourhood is a declining power. We could perform better, but perhaps the external crises are still not bad enough to unify Europeans behind common responses.
In our relations with Russia, we are getting used to a new normal. A lot of effort is needed just to keep the crisis from getting worse. The disagreement on the European security order is fundamental: Russia is not ready to treat Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries as fully sovereign states.
This is actually a long-term development: the relations have steadily deteriorated since Putin first came to power in 2000. Russia’s military spending has steadily grown since then, too. And after the colour revolutions, Russia has aimed to regain control over the post-Soviet states. The trend continues until an even bigger crisis comes.
We often hear Russia has not been treated equally. Finland has prided itself in a particular kind or relationship, but this Finnish model does not correspond to Russia’s idea, which is equality of major powers. Russia is disappointed not to be included in Euroatlantic security structures, but it does not imagine itself as one European member of EU or NATO among others. It never gave up the idea of a sphere of influence.
To defend the European security order, the EU must be committed to norms, but there is no agreement on the content or usefulness of norms with Russia. From the Western perspective, the Ukraine crisis must first be settled. Russia on the other hand wants to renegotiate the security order, with Ukraine part of the package. Moreover, the EU must use its economic power. There is no reason to lift sanctions now. May has been the worst month as regards fighting in Ukraine. Dr Raik pointed out that EU could communicate its positions more clearly. The new Global Strategy should bring some clarity to this. Communication is needed with Russia to avoid unintended escalation. We have to communicate with all of the Eastern partners.
Commentators have noted the absence of EU institutions in the Normandy format used for trying to resolve the Ukraine crisis. We must admit that the EU institutions are not strong enough to take the lead in all the issues Europe is facing. Member states, including Finland need to be active to strengthen the Union and achieve unity.
After the presentations, audience questions were answered by the speakers. Foreign Minister Soini said that the mutual assistance and solidarity clauses had never been tested before the Paris attacks. Despite the tragedy, the awareness that assistance can be expected was a good thing. Turkey’s relationship to the EU after the refugee deal and a possible Brexit raised some concerns. Increased EU-NATO cooperation was also discussed, as well as the role of small EU member states and the differences between the goals and identities of member states. The discussion also featured topics such as a visa-free regime between the EU and Georgia or Ukraine, and the role of the OSCE in migration issues and conflict management. The question was raised whether the EU should seek to become a military power. Further questions related to the role of the US and the situation in Libya were also reflected upon.