Finland. At the turn of the year, Finland was the only
Nordic country to enter the Economic and Monetary Union
(EMU). Among the eleven countries that shaped the euro area,
Finland was among those who best met the participation
requirements. But even though the Finnish currency was now
strong after many crisis years, unemployment was still high.
Despite some decline in 1998, it was estimated at 10% during
the year. Growth slowed slightly, but was nevertheless
estimated to be 3.8%.
In the campaign ahead of the parliamentary elections on
March 21, the government was accused by opposition leader
Esko Aho, Center Party, of going too far in privatization
tendencies. Aho said that there was no counterbalance to
market forces, that the cuts created increased social and
regional injustices. The Center Party went from 44 to 48
seats in the election, while Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen
and the Finnish Social Democratic Party lost 12 seats and
stayed at 51. A fierce battle during an exciting election
night ended with the Social Democrats being half a
percentage point larger than the Center Party, 22.9 against
22.4%. As a result, Lipponen's condition was met that his
party would have to be the biggest if he were to re-form
For the first time in Finland's history, therefore, the
same party constellation remained seated after an election.
Countryaah official website, Lipponen continued with its rainbow coalition consisting of
five parties from right to left. The Social Democrats'
largest coalition partner was the National Assembly Party,
which in the elections went from 39 to 46 seats. The Popular
Party's popular leader, Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö,
received by far the most votes. The Left League lost two
seats to 20 and the Swedish People's Party retained its 11
seats, while the Green League went ahead with two seats to
10. The turnout was record low, 65%.
In the June European elections, only 31% of Finns voted.
The Assembly Party and the Center Party became the largest
with each having their 4 seats. The Social Democrats made a
bad choice, ended up just under 18%, lost a mandate and
stayed at 3%.
But despite the low voter interest, Finland had gained a
reputation as a reliable EU member. During the spring war in
Kosovo, internationally experienced President Martti
Ahtisaari was appointed EU mediator. He quickly achieved
results and got Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević to
agree to NATO's demands for a bomb stop.
It was therefore with international prestige that Finland
took over the EU Presidency on July 1 for six months. The
reconstruction of Kosovo, the enlargement of the EU and the
development of the "Northern Dimension" were Finnish
priorities. Through the northern dimension, Finland wanted,
among other things, creating greater understanding in the EU
of the security and economic importance of integrating the
Russian Federation into regional cooperation.
During the autumn, Finland hosted a number of prominent
ministerial meetings, including in October on EU asylum
rules and on police cooperation against international crime.
Finland's presidency culminated with the meeting of EU heads
of state and government in Helsinki in December.
The campaign for the presidential elections in January
2000 discussed, among other things. the sensitive issue of
possible Finnish membership in NATO. Opinion surveys did not
show a majority for NATO membership, but 58% said that
Finland will join NATO.