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The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron in Finland was about sudden stunts, wild gestures, rhythmical words and, thankfully, also about serious politics.
The press conference after the talks with the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the Presidential Palace on Thursday afternoon sent out journalists with their heads spinning, and photojournalists being led out from the front door of the palace only to be stopped by a sturdy member of the Finnish security team.
“There are enough of you media people out there already,” he said.
After taking us out through another door, it was still unclear if the journalists could be let loose.
Later it turned out that a few photographers were let out from the front door to follow President Macron and Niinistö to the Market Square, opposite the palace, where the presidents in the flashlights of the cameras browsed the local tabloids and sat down for a cup of coffee.
A photo where Macron is pointing his finger down to the coffee cup became one of the most popular photos on social media. “You call that coffee?” said the caption.
These types of sudden deviations from the program became a trademark during Macron’s visit. And they also, unfortunately, have become the highlight in many news outlets. Macron’s media person is impulsive, smiles a lot; he is like our former premier Alexander Stubb on steroids.
So, let’s take a look under the hype on what was revealed of his discussions between President Niinistö and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä.
European defense policy
At the press conference with Niinistö, Macron stressed that “we must rethink the European security architecture.” He pushed for a strategic partnership, including terms of defense, with “our closest neighbors.” Europe, according to Macron, should take responsibility for its own defense without having to rely on the US for its own security.
President Niinistö thanked Macron for his initiatives saying that he had been waiting for such a discussion for about ten years. “It is extremely important, not only for France, not only for Finland and not only for Europe but for the whole world that Europe begins to assume more responsibility for its own security and its role in the world. In today’s world, strength is respected. And if we wish to bring out the topics that we respect, we have to appear strong. This is what it is about in Europe at present, I think. And it is important that you are carrying that flag.”
Macron said that “our interest with Turkey as well as with Russia is to have a strategic partnership which enables to stabilize the relationship with the European Union in the long term. We must bring up to date our relationship with Russia further to the end of the Cold War.”
According to President Niinistö, concrete steps are being taken between France and Finland regarding defense. Finland intends to participate in the European Intervention Initiative put forward by France, a Franco-Finnish Statement on European Defence was published during the visit and the two countries are also preparing a bilateral letter of intent on defense cooperation.
Niinistö said that he is following President Macron’s recent thoughts about the European security architecture with interest. “As recently as at the beginning of this millennium, we Europeans felt that we had a circle of security around us. There was a lot of dialogue with the Russians, including talks about visa liberalization. With Turkey, we discussed EU membership. We tried to introduce democracy in North Africa by helping them build schools, hospitals and so on. Such a circle of security was growing around Europe,” Niinistö said.
“What happened then? We all know that this circle is now broken. And it is excellent that President Macron has now started to think whether it could be rebuilt,” Niinisö said.
“The mere fact that everyone will know that we Europeans stick together will be an extremely strong strategic tool.”
Later, during the discussions with Prime Minister Sipilä at prime minister’s official residence, Kesäranta, declarations were created on the development of the EU defense cooperation and on the utilization of artificial intelligence, AI. “The declaration on developing defense cooperation continues the active collaboration between Finland and France in this sector. While I visited Paris in June 2016, then President of France François Hollande and I adopted a declaration in which we encouraged the EU member states to intensify their defense cooperation,” Sipilä said.
After that, rapid and important steps have been taken, including the creation of the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO). It means European acquisition projects and harmonization of the capability requirements, for example. “The ambition of developing European defense means first and foremost responsibility for our citizens. We are now taking determined steps in the right direction. Finland, like France, has been active in each stage of the development. And we will continue our joint efforts,” said Sipilä.
The declaration also refers to the European intervention initiative introduced by France that aims to strengthen Europe’s ability to respond, alongside the actions of the EU and NATO, to crises affecting its own security. Finland has expressed its interest to join the initiative.
Digitalization and innovations also featured strongly in the meeting of Prime Minister Sipilä and President Macron. Finnish expertise was presented to President Macron at Aalto University. “I was particularly pleased to begin our meeting at the University with innovations on our agenda. I hope that the Finnish way of doing things aroused interest and we can continue our close cooperation,” Sipilä said.
In the EU, Finland and France have strongly highlighted the importance of digitalization and innovations. They play a key role in efforts to develop the EU’s competitiveness and to create new jobs. The declaration given this morning by Prime Minister Sipilä and President Macron challenges the EU to reinforce its activities in the field. “Europe should adopt a stronger research and innovation policy. This goal must show in all activities. Both President Macron and I are prepared to roll up our sleeves and work hard to deepen European cooperation,” Sipilä said.
In the initiative of Finland and France, published today, the EU member states are urged to look at the opportunities brought by artificial intelligence more systematically and to respond to citizens’ concerns relating to the ethical questions linked to artificial intelligence, for example. In accordance with the declaration, the EU must promote fair, participatory and humane digitalization.
“President Macron and I decided today to launch cooperation relating to artificial intelligence between our two countries. The idea is to prepare recommendations for AI, which can be used not only in Finland and France but also at the EU level,” Prime Minister Sipilä said.
Both Finland and France have a national strategy for artificial intelligence, which provides them a good foundation for exchanging views and know-how and for together exerting influence at EU level. The cooperation will focus particularly on the digitalization of industries, the health sector, transport services and supporting startup companies.
“We also discussed several other questions that are important for the EU, including our capacity to safeguard Europe’s self-sufficiency as a food producer. This is ultimately a question of security, and President Macron and I share this concern. In the commission’s proposal for the future financial framework, major cuts were suggested in funding for agriculture. We will work together in order to ensure that the funding for agriculture would remain at least at the current level,” Sipilä said.
According to Sipilä, Europe’s internal unity has improved from what it was a couple of years ago. “But gales swaying from outside the European Union affect it perhaps harder than ever before. We must shoulder our heavy responsibility for ensuring that the EU remains united. Unity is the precondition for a stronger EU. President Macron and I are firmly committed to working together for this matter,” Sipilä concluded.
Additional sources: The Finnish Government