Fin­nish leader urges EU to boost se­cu­rity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - RAINE TIESSALO

Fin­land is urg­ing Europe to in­crease NATO con­tri­bu­tions and fo­cus more on se­cu­rity as the con­ti­nent grap­ples with po­lit­i­cal tur­moil from all sides, in­clud­ing from within.

Once the United King­dom has quit the Euro­pean Union, Fin­nish Pres­i­dent Sauli Ni­in­isto said, the 27 na­tions left be­hind need to dou­ble down on the bloc’s found­ing prin­ci­ple and give the re­main­ing 444 mil­lion cit­i­zens what they most crave: se­cu­rity. Ni­in­isto, 68, spoke Fri­day in an in­ter­view at his sea­side res­i­dence in Helsinki.

Ni­in­isto is head of state of the na­tion that shares an 833-mile bor­der with Rus­sia. It is EU’s long­est bor­der with Rus­sia, a coun­try with which Fin­land has reg­u­lar con­tact, fre­quently for se­cu­rity pur­poses.

“The dis­cus­sion deal­ing with se­cu­rity is one of those el­e­ments where we have the pos­si­bil­ity to [as­sure] Euro­pean cit­i­zens that ‘Brus­sels can take care of your se­cu­rity,’ and that would be a huge mes­sage th­ese days,” Ni­in­isto said.

The com­ments come as a spate of elec­tions threat­ens to fur­ther up­end sta­bil­ity in the 60-year-old EU. The bloc also is be­ing chal­lenged in the east by Rus­sia and in the west by a new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion that has en­dorsed the U.K.’s de­par­ture from the EU, just over four years af­ter the bloc won the No­bel Peace Prize.

As it strug­gles to re­gain the le­git­i­macy it lost in the eyes of many of its cit­i­zens fol­low­ing its debt cri­sis, the EU faces a swell of populism and na­tion­al­ism.

Ni­in­isto said a shift away from the cen­ter in French pol­i­tics in con­nec­tion with elec­tions start­ing in April wouldn’t be “a mi­nor is­sue.” He also said he be­lieves that Na­tional Front can­di­date Ma­rine Le Pen won’t win the pres­i­dency May 7. She has said she wants to take the euro zone’s sec­ond-big­gest econ­omy out of the sin­gle cur­rency bloc.

Ni­in­isto warned that, af­ter a gen­er­a­tion of peace, there’s a risk that the EU has grown too com­pla­cent to the se­cu­rity risks it faces. Ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the heart of the EU — in Paris, Brus­sels and Berlin — un­der­score the need for safe­guards.

“In Europe we have been liv­ing in very peace­ful decades, and dur­ing that time very many coun­tries have ac­tu­ally a bit for­got­ten the se­cu­rity de­tails and pol­icy,” he said. “Now it’s coming back.”

He also said decades of U.S. de­mands, re­it­er­ated by the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, that Euro­pean mem­bers of the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion foot their share of the se­cu­rity bill are un­der­stand­able.

“If there’s an agree­ment, surely it should be ful­filled,” he said.

Fin­land, which has stayed out of NATO largely due to its prox­im­ity to Rus­sia, is build­ing closer mil­i­tary ties with neigh­bor­ing Swe­den, which is also mil­i­tar­ily non­aligned.

Ger­many, Europe’s big­gest econ­omy, is work­ing to­ward rais­ing its mil­i­tary bud­get to reach NATO’s tar­get of 2 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said this month. Euro­pean na­tions have so far re­fused to con­sol­i­date their de­fense in­dus­tries or pro­cure­ment, mean­ing the eu­ros they do spend don’t have as much clout as each dol­lar spent by the U.S. or ev­ery ru­ble spent by Rus­sia.

“I’m sure that in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies around Europe, feel a bit un­safe,” Ni­in­isto said. “My think­ing is that maybe the main task that the union has is to make sure for ev­ery­body that they can live in peace, that they can work in peace, that they can de­velop their so­ci­ety in peace.”

Ni­in­isto said he is in con­tact with Rus­sia, Ger­many and the U.S.

“Fin­land’s con­tacts with Rus­sia are maybe a bit more fre­quent; that’s be­cause we’re close to Rus­sia,” he said. “It’s one of the main pil­lars of our se­cu­rity pol­icy to keep up the di­a­logue.”

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