New Role: European Integration and Finnish Foreign Policy

By Ahtisaari, Martti | Harvard International Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

New Role: European Integration and Finnish Foreign Policy


Ahtisaari, Martti, Harvard International Review


MARTTI AHTISAARI is President of the Republic of Finland.

As the new millennium approaches, Finland is a decision-maker in its own affairs to a greater degree than ever before in its history, a remarkable achievement for a small country and its people. At the same time as Finland has been strengthening its position in the international community, the surrounding world and Finnish society have been undergoing dramatic change. Economic internationalization has bound nations tightly together. Globalization is no longer solely a matter of economic endeavor; it is a sphere of interaction that has now broadened to encompass virtually every area of human life, including the labor market, services, culture, and ideas. We are in transition to an information society, in which distances and administrative boundaries are of dwindling significance.

The importance of borders has always been accentuated in security questions. For Finland, surrounded throughout its history by antagonistic powers, the question of national boundaries has been a central one. Partly accustomed to the fragility of borders, Finland eagerly joined the European Union in 1995, a move that linked the nation definitively to the political and economic core of Europe. In an increasingly internationalized world, the receding threat of a major interstate war has provided better opportunities to strengthen peace and stability by developing democracy, the rule of law, and a market economy. A parallel development, though, has been a growing threat of smaller conflicts, often internecine ones. This threat has increased the need for crisis prevention and management.

In such a world, foreign policy can no longer be managed on the assumption that states are islands, links between which can be maintained with the aid of infrequent shipping services. It is especially important from Finland's point of view that a parallel global development of integration and distinctiveness emphasizes not only power and greatness but also flexibility and capacity for cooperation. In an orderly world where international norms are respected, a small nation can succeed through flexibility and on the strengths of smallness.

At a time when the new millennium is posing new challenges for us to meet, we also have more opportunities to act than ever before. Small states must be able to develop their strengths. As John Naisbitt put it in Global Paradox, "the bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players." From a Finnish perspective, we could adapt that to say: "the more globalized and complicated the world, the more powerful its smallest states." Nevertheless, we must constantly assess how, in choosing security strategy, in participating in European integration, or in sharing global responsibility, Finland can best use the influence that it has gained during its time as an independent state.

Role of the European Union

When Finland acceded to membership in the European Union (EU), we were ready to take part in both economic and political integration. Economically speaking, EU membership was the natural result of a process of integration that began after the Second World War. Global and pan-European agreements to promote international trade and cooperation made unification inevitable.

A deepening of political cooperation, in Finland's interests, governs the changing geopolitical environment. Since the mid-1980s, the transformation of the world economy and the liberalization of capital flows have increased the need for political cooperation between states. The integration of Europe provided an opportunity to renew the continent, a process in which Finland can play an important role. We joined the EU because we wanted to be in a better position to influence the decision-making that concerns the entire continent.

In a changing world, political decisions must be built on an enduring foundation that holds the support of the citizens. …

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