NEWS ANALYSIS: Government partners disagree on how to decide on emergency loans in euro crisis
By Piia Elonen
One more EU summit come and gone. Another programme was cobbled together to save the European economy.
One of the declarations was that the in the financial institution that is being launched next year, the European Stability Mechanism, decisions could be made with a qualified majority of 85 per cent – that is, consensus would not be needed in all cases.
In this connection, it was repeated several times that Finland’s view is different: Finland wants to keep decision-making by consensus.
But who is this “Finland”? Who represents Finland, and where is Finland’s point of view defined?
In Finland EU policy is set by the government. Therefore, the Finnish policy line was drawn up in the government.
The Finnish Parliament also has a strong role in EU decision-making. The Constitutional Law Committee announced that qualified majority decisions in the ESM would actually violate the constitution. The Grand Committee, which deals with EU matters, gave the Prime Minister instructions for negotiating in Brussels – that is, the limits within which agreement was authorised.
There are six parties in the government. The main government parties are the National Coalition Party and the SDP. The chairman of the National Coalition Party, the government’s Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, represents Finland in EU summit meetings, and the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Minister of Finance Jutta Urpilainen To the outside, the government naturally appears to be unified and tries to get the Finnish policy line enshrined in treaties that are signed.
However, the National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats are pulling in opposite directions on the issue of Finland’s demand for consensus decision-making. This is not stated out loud, but much can be read between the lines.
Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb (Nat. Coalition Party) was a guest on the Ykkösaamu television interview programme on the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). The journalist asked Stubb about the view voiced by Jutta Urpilainen the previous evening. Urpilainen had insisted that Finland is either in an ESM that makes decisions by consensus, or then it will not be in the ESM at all.
Stubb just said “right” and then began his answer: “As the Prime Minister noted...” Stubb avoided Urpilainen and did not say anything about what the Minister of Finance had said.
This is quite revealing. The SDP is publicly promoting an either/or option for the treaties – either consensus, or nothing.
Social Democrat Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, the chair of the Grand Committee, openly criticised Katainen over the mention of qualified majority voting in the ESM draft, even though there is a Finnish footnote. The matter should have been wiped away completely.
The National Coalition Party is searching for a different kind of solution. The thinking in the party is that instead of consensus, it is possible to make decisions by qualified majority, if they can be scaled back in such a way that no new obligations fall into Finland’s lap.
For instance, a ceiling could be set for Finland’s payments to the ESM. Then there would be no constitutional violation.
Katainen is naturally not making any direct attacks against the demands of his government partner Jutta Urpilainen, nor is Stubb, who deftly avoided the question about Urpilainen.
However, it is revealing that Kimmo Sasi (Nat. Coalition Party), a deputy member of the Constitutional Law Committee, elbowed his way into a meeting of the committee so that he might submit a dissenting opinion to the ESM statement. It is unlikely that he would have been acting as a mere private person. Probably the National Coalition Party wants to leave a door open for something more than just an either-or decision.
On the TV interview programme, Stubb insisted – without mentioning the Social Democrats – that it is best to leave one’s self some room to manoeuvre, and not to lock one’s negotiation stances into place too hard.
In any case it is clear that the points of view of the National Coalition Party and the SDP cannot compete against each other in Brussels. It is a single Finnish policy line that is promoted there. There is time to look for it, as no signatures will be placed on the ESM paper until next spring.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 11.12.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
PM: Finland needs to be part of ESM (12.12.2011)
Finland sticks to consensus demand at euro summit (9.12.2011)
EU summit: Finland’s concerns remain unanswered (12.12.2011)
PIIA ELONEN / Helsingin Sanomat