Government's secret position on the EU treaty

Several MPs have taken the opportunity to criticize the Finnish government for not releasing its answers to Germany's questions on the future of the EU not-a-constitution. (The article says that even the questions have been kept secret, but they leaked some time ago.) Yesterday the Foreign Affairs Committee joined in the fun, demanding that the government make its views public. Notable about the criticism is that it's coming from government and opposition MPs alike. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for example, is veteran politician Pertti Salolainen of the very much in-government National Coalition Party. I tend to agree with the criticism. All of the Parliament, not just select committees, should be able to give its input at the negotiating stage. The government should promote public discussion on the topic by being open about latest developments.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) told the Parliament that "releasing the information would weaken Finland's negotiation position at the forthcoming EU summit and that both the Grand Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee were being kept abreast of developments." It's nice to know that Finland at least has a negotiation position, but as an explanation that doesn't work very well. If it's important that other EU countries not know what the government answered Germany, why on earth did they answer Germany in the first place? The last time I looked, Germany was another EU country. It isn't an impartial outsider sworn to secrecy, but rather one of the most powerful parties in the negotiation. In truth, Germany didn't ask anything that would compromise Finland's negotiation position if it came to light. The questions deal with what Finland's starting point is, not e.g. what it wants in exchange for making concessions on some other field.

As far as Finland's negotiation position is concerned, the problem with secrecy is that as long as the public doesn't know what the government wanted at the beginning, the government has an easier time giving up on its demands because it can do so in secret - and the other negotiating parties know it. Based on previous comments from Vanhanen and Coalition leader Jyrki Katainen, I think it's safe to say that Finland wants a comprehensive treaty which is as close to the failed proposal as possible. Alas for them, the mini-treaty camp has been gaining strength as of late, notably with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as the French President. If the big countries agree on a mini-treaty, it seems obvious to me that Finland will go along with it in the end. As long as the government doesn't state publicly its goals in the negotiations, it can also back down without losing face.

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