The role of the EU in the new power politics environment was the main theme at the meeting of the chairs of the foreign affairs and defence committees of Member States’ parliaments held in Helsinki on 5 and 6 September.
Several speakers highlighted the concept of ‘comprehensive security’, brought forward by Finland, as well as the need to reinforce the EU’s foreign policy and to enhance related decision making. The opening speaker, Mr Mika Niikko (Finns Party), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament of Finland, reminded his European MP colleagues that inequality is also a security risk.
‘About 22 per cent of EU citizens, which is around 110 million people, are at risk of poverty or exclusion. We are representatives of the people, and we therefore should not overlook our most vulnerable citizens, even when making decisions on security policy,’ Niikko said.
In his speech, Mr Ilkka Kanerva (National Coalition Party), Chairman of the Defence Committee of the Parliament of Finland, considered that Finland had been wise not to move away from its conscription-based army and territorial defence system, unlike many other European countries after the end of the Cold War.
‘The events in the Crimean Peninsula and in Eastern Ukraine have dramatically changed the security environment in the Baltic Region. Finland has never let its guard down, and the willingness to defend the country is at a higher level in Finland than in the rest of Europe,’ Kanerva stated.
The conference participants had the opportunity to present questions to the keynote speaker, the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö. Many of the questions concerned Russia, and the August meeting between President Niinistö and Russian President Vladimir Putin had clearly sparked the curiosity of European MPs.
One of the main themes of the conference was Transatlantic cooperation. None of the speakers believed cooperation could ever recover its former position, even after the presidency of Donald Trump. Mr Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden, forecast that the power struggle with China would harness most of the financial, intellectual and military resources of the United States, independent of how pro-European the government was. Ms Heather Conley, Senior Vice President, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), made an interesting observation when she stated that instead of banging its head against a brick wall with the US Government regarding climate change, the EU should aim to find new American allies such as cleantech companies, and States and NGOs committed to combating climate change.
The conference concluded that over the last two or three years, the EU had made considerable effort to deepen its cooperation within the area of defence. New initiatives, such as the European Defence Fund and Permanent Structured Cooperation, provided a framework for further development of defence cooperation. Speakers also emphasised that the EU must have a certain level of autonomous capability. There was no need for further initiatives, but the focus should be shifted to ensuring that already agreed new forms of cooperation could really generate added value for the EU’s defence dimension.
It was stated that although the EU is not and will not be a military alliance, EU citizens expect the Union to take a more prominent role in the development of internal and external security in the EU.
Other themes discussed at the conference concerned specific foreign, security and defence policy issues, such as the situation in Iran, countering hybrid threats, political developments in the Western Balkans, the Arctic Region, and the impacts of climate change on security.