Commish Rehn's prospects

Recent signs point to Olli Rehn (Centre Party) continuing as Finland's EU Commissioner for the next term. Earlier this week Social Democratic Party chair Eero Heinäluoma said (fi) that his party is prepared to back Rehn, which means that Rehn shouldn't have trouble getting two of the big three to support his candidacy. He has been getting some good reviews and the calculation is that he might get a more important post than a less experienced candidate. I also have the impression that Rehn isn't seen as a particularly partisan figure, which makes his easier for the Social Democrats to swallow.

For some time now I've thought that Rehn has some of the qualities usually looked for in the President of Finland: experience relevant to leading Finnish foreign policy and a certain aura of broad acceptability. The downside is that he's a bit too liberal and pro-EU to have much of a constituency inside the Centre. He also isn't as well-known to the general public as some other prospective candidates like Speaker Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party). Starting another five-year term as Commissioner in 2009 would complicate the matter further, as the next presidential election will be in 2012. Nevertheless, if Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen doesn't want the Centre nomination, Rehn would be a fairly obvious alternative candidate for the Vanhanen camp to push.

To get a feel for Rehn's thinking, I've been reading his 2006 book on the EU, "Suomen eurooppalainen valinta" ("Finland's European Choice"), wherein he presents pro-EU arguments from several angles. For example, he sees Finland's current EU policy as a continuation of the active neutrality pursued during Urho Kekkonen's presidency. According to Rehn, Kekkonen's policy "involved an effort to build such an international system that it would restrain the great powers' aspirations for supremacy" and "to remove Europe's border fences and build security by opening doors." (Rehn's propensity for saying nice things about Centrist icon Kekkonen is the main tip-off that the book's author is a Centrist - aside from the obligatory chapter on the importance of agricultural subsidies, natch.)

On foreign policy matters, Rehn adopts a moderate if always pro-EU approach. He's very supportive of further EU enlargement, as you might expect, and generally wants the EU to use its "soft power" to advance all the usual nice things. He criticizes Russia's approach to the EU for trying to divide EU members for power political purposes and thus missing the opportunity for deeper cooperation, but is very conciliatory about it. He doesn't appear to be much of a fan of the Bush administration, faulting "the [American] hard right borne out of religious fundamentalism" for not properly appreciating the UN. On the other hand, he has mostly positive things to say about NATO, calling for more civilian and military cooperation between it and the EU.

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