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Interview with Alexander Stubb

, by Juuso Järviniemi

From collective security to the centenarian Finland’s relationship to Europe, here’s what Alexander Stubb thinks about current affairs in Europe and beyond!

Alexander Stubb - photo by European Commission (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0): https://www.flickr.com/photos/europeancouncil_meetings/14484915147/

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Alexander Stubb calls himself an “EU nerd”, and the description is certainly warranted. A College of Europe graduate who has written several academic articles about the EU, Stubb served in the European Parliament from 2004 to 2008, representing the centre-right National Coalition Party. He has also held four different ministerial posts in Finland, including the position of the Prime Minister from 2014 to 2015. From collective security to the centenarian Finland’s relationship to Europe, here’s what Alexander Stubb thinks about current affairs in Europe and beyond!

Transatlantic relations and security in the age of President Trump

Donald Trump’s presidential administration is embracing values which seem strange to us as liberal Europeans. Is the United States still a friend and an ally to Europe?

The transatlantic relationship has been the cornerstone of peace, prosperity and stability in Europe and the United States for the better part of the last seventy years. One would not like to see that go to waste. As far as Donald Trump is concerned, I think all of us need to respect democracy. Obviously, he was elected as the President of the United States, and that decision shall be respected in any democracy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I personally agree with the values that he represents – as a matter of fact, I disagree with many of them. I think it’s important that the transatlantic partnership continues, but it has to be a value-based partnership as well.

One of the most important elements of the transatlantic partnership is the NATO alliance. You have become known as a supporter of Finnish NATO membership, but Donald Trump has called the alliance into question. What do you think is the future of collective security in Europe? Do you believe in European integration in the field of security and defence? What is Finland’s position in this picture?

I think that NATO has been the bedrock of European security ever since its foundation in the late 1940s and that it shall continue to be so. Obviously I believe that the United States will remain committed to NATO. What Donald Trump is calling for is the increased use of resources on defence and the military in each and every member state. I think that’s the correct avenue to take. Having said that, I do believe that Europeans need to work on their own defence as well, since we are probably going to live in a world where the United States won’t always remain as committed to defending Europe as it has been so far.

If there is a lack of American commitment and Europeans need to rely on each other, do you think that institutional reform is needed, or is the current form of Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty sufficient?

It’s unnecessary to speculate unless NATO ceases to exist. 42.7 is clearly linked to Article 5 in the NATO Charter.

Power relations in European institutions

In the context of the election of the new President of the European Parliament, there was rivalry between the EPP and S&D groups. Earlier, Gianni Pittella of the S&D group had declared that the Grand Coalition in the Parliament is dead. Do you think that these developments are going to affect the future of policy-making in the European Parliament?

As a former Member of the European Parliament, I follow the developments in the Parliament very closely. What distinguishes the European Parliament from an ordinary parliamentary structure is that it doesn’t reflect the composition of the European Commission, the Council [of Ministers] or the European Council. It’s always going to be a different kettle of fish. I think it’s very important that centrist forces, to which I consider EPP, S&D and ALDE to belong, work closely together. We’re going to see pro-Europeans on the one hand, and anti-Europeans on the other, forming coalitions more and more often.

Now that Martin Schulz (S&D) has been replaced by Antonio Tajani (EPP) as the President of the European Parliament, EPP seems to be in a rather dominant position in leadership posts in European institutions. Do you think that that can become a problem?

With the election cycles in Europe, you will never get the balance totally right. As far as I recall, EPP was strong in the member states at the end of last election cycle, and that was reflected in the top posts in Europe. The balance may have changed now, but none of the posts are up for grabs right now, and I would focus on stability at the moment.

Brexit

What are you expecting from the upcoming Brexit negotiations? What would your preferred outcome be?

The ideal outcome would be Britain not exiting the European Union, but unfortunately that’s not very likely. The second-best solution would be a soft Brexit, but that is also unlikely. The third-best option is a hard Brexit, and the worst option is a cliff-edge. We just have to take it step by step and see what the negotiations bring with them. It’s very important that the negotiations remain non-acrimonious and civil, but I’m afraid that that may be just wishful thinking. Nevertheless, I think it would be to the benefit of both the European Union and the United Kingdom to find a sensible solution for all parties involved. What that means, I don’t know, but certainly I think it’s very important that the EU and the UK continue to cooperate closely on foreign and security policy, for example.

What would be your solution for Scotland’s future?

It’s not my job to comment on British domestic politics. I follow it very closely because Scotland is a country the size of Finland, up there in the north, and it even has the same colours in the flag, but it’s up for the United Kingdom and Scotland to decide.

Finland – a European success story

This year is the centenary of Finnish independence. Looking back at Finnish history, do you think Finland has got what it wanted from Europe? What does Finland want from the EU in the decades to come?

Joining the European Union in 1995 was definitely the best decision that we have made in terms of foreign and security policy. I would argue that the success story of Finland post-Cold War is based on two things. The first one is joining the European Union, and the other is opening up our markets to the world. We have gone from success to success ever since.

What message would you like to send to young pro-Europeans in these trying times?

Stay true to your values and be noisy about them!

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