Indrek Kiisler: On summoning Finland's ambassador to the carpet

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Finnish Government has given the thumbs down to the fundamental values of the European Union and the free movement of people and workers, throughout the coronavirus crisis. It has made no compromises. I await a time, however, when the Finnish ambassador to Estonia will be called to the carpet and informed that bilateral relations have suffered irreversible harm, writes head of ERR radio news Indrek Kiisler.

Friends are different from casual acquaintances in that, if they have concerns, a friend can be spoken to openly. You can say what you mean and, if needed, give it to them straight. If a friend has jam stains on their front, you can signal this without fear of a painful backlash.

While the touchstone of communication between nations is their interests,  certainly the rules of friendship also apply in diplomacy too. We can talk to Latvia or Finland more openly and meaningfully than we can, say, with Mongolia or Uruguay, not to mention Russia, since our relations with the eastern neighbor are overcast in a shadow of bitter suspicion and navel-gazing.

Looking outwards, there is still this perception at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs HQ on Rävala pst that all kinds of statements can be made about hostile countries, but when greater and closer friends are behaving obnoxiously, it seems somehow inappropriate to tell them about the inconvenience face-to-face. It is more diplomatic to smile meekly.

This type of restraint has accompanied Estonia's foreign policy line for almost the entire period since the restoration of independence, with the possible exception of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who did not fail to tell good neighbors when something had touched a nerve.

During the coronavirus crisis, the Finnish Government has given the thumbs down to the fundamental values of the European Union, the free movement of people and workers, no compromise has been considered, such as permitting vaccinated people or those who have recovered from the virus to cross the Gulf in a simplified way.

Cynically, however, only those required by the Finnish state are permitted entry, for instance medical professionals or those specialists who are in high demand. Seasonal berry-pickers are also welcome from countries like Ukraine and Thailand – states which do not have substantive checks in assessing the coronavirus' spread – during summer.

A social democratic-led (!) government never takes the time to consider people who have not seen their families or been home for months at a stretch. These are not their constituents, but it seems that our foreign ministry's white-collar workers are simply 'Kalevipoegs' who are cross-Gulf commuters, a type of people who have chosen this destiny for themselves.

Yes, the coronavirus has spread less in Finland. However, even now at a time when rates in neighboring countries are falling like a tonne of bricks, Finland continues stubbornly to protect its borders.

The real reason for this border protection is, of course, the forthcoming local elections; no leading Finnish politician would dare to make any decisions of substance before the final electoral results are in.

It wouldn't be appropriate for Estonia to meddle in the domestic politics of its northern neighbors. Nevertheless, the Estonian government must take a clear condemning and unified stance on Finland's actions.

Even at a time when the European Commission has launched infringement proceedings against Finland, we here still seem to hope to be able to smooth things over via back-office meetings.

This is work-in-progress, but with no results.

In my opinion, this phase in communications is over. I am particularly looking forward to the summoning of the Finnish ambassador to the [president's] carpet to be told directly, as a friend, that bilateral relations have taken an irreversible hit. Fraternal countries do not do such things to each other.

At present, I see no reason why we should meet members of Finland's government and politicians of any level before the Finnish state complies with basic EU principles.

In essence, Finland is acting like Hungary, or Poland, which are both still being investigated. This must also all be said publicly.

The coronavirus crisis has breathed new life into past times, one when those who spoke most about solidarity and global cooperation in actuality had their claws into you the most. This happens both at the human and the national level.

Finland has in every way been a strong supporter of closer cooperation within the EU, but in reality, the northern neighbors are turning into a regular, isolated periphery of Europe. A country whose main barrier to growth potential has been conservatism and isolation. This is not my assessment, but what OECD analysts have written.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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