Most of the eight candidates in the presidential race would be reluctant to provide military assistance in circumstances where an armed conflict compelled Estonia to invoke Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty.
YLE asked the candidates how they would respond to such a request in a presidential debate organised in Helsinki on Thursday.
Matti Vanhanen (Centre) said his immediate response would be weigh up the request with both the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy and the European Union. “We’d have to respond [to the request], but then we’d also have to consider what each of us could do to help,” he told.
He added later that it would be ill-advised to provide a “mathematical model of how we respond to different circumstances” and stressed that the appropriate response should always be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Laura Huhtasaari (PS) expressed her doubts about the mutual assistance clause of the EU and underscored that Finland must under no circumstances tolerate military activity in its sovereign territory.
“Our priority would be to protect the northern front of Estonia,” she added.
Nils Torvalds (SFP) estimated that a request for military assistance would effectively be irrelevant as Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty requires a unanimous decision by the Council of Europe.
“And I’m quite sure that [the unanimity] wouldn’t be reached,” he added.
His interpretation raised eyebrows among some of his fellow candidates. President Sauli Niinistö, for example, argued that if that were the case Finland would have violated the article in question by providing assistance to France in the aftermath of terrorist atrocities in Paris in November, 2015.
“It wasn’t discussed at the Council of Europe,” reminded Niinistö.
The Lisbon Treaty, he estimated, remains ambiguous in regards to whether or not it obliges member states to provide military assistance upon request from another member state. Niinistö added that he would discuss the hypothetical request also with the chairpersons of relevant parliamentary committees.
“First we’d have to secure our own borders, and that’s something we must hold on to,” he said, reminding that no conflict between Nato and Russia would likely be limited to the Baltics.
Paavo Väyrynen (IND) was more absolute in his interpretations of the obligations laid out in the Lisbon Treaty.
“Lisbon doesn’t oblige us to provide military assistance, nor should we provide it,” he said, warning that “such an interpretation would transform the EU into a military union and a European pillar of Nato”.
Tuula Haatainen (SDP) agreed with the incumbent in that such a conflict could not be contained in the Baltics.
“We’d be talking about World War III,” she said. “Lisbon wasn’t built for military situations but for various crises. We provided bilateral assistance to France in what was a crisis management operation.”
Finland, she added, would decide independently – after a series of internal and external discussions – what kind of assistance it would provide in response to the hypothetical request described by YLE.
France’s interpretation of the mutual assistance article is also in the best interests of Finland, viewed Pekka Haavisto (Greens). “Countries provide assistance to each other in crisis-like situations,” he clarified.
He also pointed out that Nato would likely be the primary provider of assistance to Estonia and the rest of the Baltics. Finland, on the other hand, could provide assistance in dealing with refugees, for example.
“Under no circumstances can we not assist Estonia,” stated Haavisto. “We can't replace Nato.”
Merja Kyllönen (Left Alliance), a staunch opponent of Nato and common EU defence, reminded that various oil spills remain the greatest security threat in the Baltic Sea.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi