‘Sleepwalking Into a Geopolitical Crisis,’ as Seen From Finland

Updated on
  • Finland’s Rehn says Russia, U.S. election can’t paralyze EU
  • Brexit may give rise to new alliances inside EU, Rehn says

Finland Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Finland shares the EU’s longest border with Russia, giving it a unique perspective on the West’s souring relationship with Moscow.

And the view from Finland is worrying. Olli Rehn, the Finn who used to oversee EU economic policy and is now economy minister, says events rocking the U.K., the U.S. and the Middle East demand a response from Europe, which he sees as the guardian of a precious world order now at risk.

“The EU should not be paralyzed,” Rehn, who’s about to take a seat on the board of Finland’s central bank, said in an interview in Helsinki on Monday. Whether it’s “Brexit or being vulnerable to the election of any foreign leader, be that the President-elect of the U.S. or anyone else, the EU must maintain its unity.” That requires “pragmatic reform,” he said.

Sleepwalkers

Against the backdrop of the EU’s considerable economic challenges, the political climate poses a “major threat,” Rehn said. If Europe doesn’t react, the risk is that the region will end up “sleepwalking into a geopolitical crisis in a situation where we have a more assertive Russia,” and several other “geopolitical bonfires, like Syria and Ukraine,” he said.

Seven decades after Europe emerged from the horrors of World War II, the institutions and the web of multinational ties created to avoid any form of repeat look to be unraveling. Finland, which next year celebrates 100 years of independence following the Russian revolution, is now frantically trying to assess the new political reality in the U.S. in an effort to gauge how East-West relations will change.

Donald Trump

“Finland is following very carefully the positions of President-elect” Donald Trump “with regard to foreign and security policy,” Rehn said. “As we see it, the U.S. should continue to play an important role within the European security agenda.”

The country has opted to stay out of NATO in an effort to strike a precarious balance that avoids angering Russia while drawing some of the benefits of a partial collaboration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While campaigning, Trump famously said the U.S. should only come to the aid of its NATO allies if they pay for the service.

New Alliances

The remarks left several countries along Russia’s border feeling more vulnerable. Given the geopolitical tensions, Finland will try and “maintain our own credible defense” setup, Rehn said. The country will also “continue to practice defense cooperation with our European partners, especially Sweden, and our enhanced partnership with NATO.”

And as Britain’s departure from the EU weakens the bloc, Rehn signaled new alliances within Europe may need to be formed to protect interests such as free trade.

“The Nordic countries and Germany, and other like-minded countries, will need to focus on these issues,” he said.

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