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New Finnish Government Could Reshape EU Neighborhood Policy

New Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja

New Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja

Finland has finally announced its new six-party coalition government after months of negotiations.

The Euroskeptic True Finns party, which had threatened to veto bail-outs for the eurozone’s struggling economies, was left out but two appointments to the new government might nonetheless have an impact on how the European Union is run. Or at least shape Brussels’ activities in its eastern neighborhood.

The most obvious change is that social democrat Erkki Tuomioja once again becomes foreign minister, a post he held in 2000-07.

He replaces the young and energetic Alexander Stubb. In Stubb's three years at the post, he built up efficient working relations with his Polish and Swedish counterparts, Radek Sikorksi and Carl Bildt, respectively.

This triumvirate had a very strong say in shaping EU policy toward its eastern neighborhood.

Stubb will now be Finland’s Europe Minister and is most probably vying for a heavy portfolio in the next EU Commission in three years time.

Conversely, with a more cautious view on Finnish NATO membership and Euro-Atlanticism in general, Tuomioja will struggle to form the same alliances as his predecessor.

The other change might happen by default, as Heidi Hautala became the new Finnish minister for aid.

Until her appointment, Hautala was the chairwoman of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, representing the Greens.

Another Green member of the European Parliament is expected to replace her in the upcoming weeks.

But there is a potential fly in the ointment.

The chairmanship might instead go to the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, which consists mainly of center-right parties such as the British Tories, the Polish Law and Justice Party, and the Czech Civic Democrats.

The reason the ECR might get the nod is that this group has just one chairperson in the European Parliament’s 20 committees, whereas the smaller Green grouping has two.

Until now, that is.

The human rights subcommittee has a small, but not negligible, say in foreign policy.

Its reports and opinions can often offer damaging views on the human rights situation in various countries.

With a British, Czech, or Polish conservative instead of a Finnish Green at its helm, the tone it adopts might be even harsher toward countries such as Russia and Belarus.

Nonetheless, a gentlemen's agreement will most probably ensure that there won’t be any great change at the top.

But then again, there are few gentlemen in the European Parliament when there is a chance to grab power.

-- Rikard Jozwiak

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