Friday, September 26, 2014

The F-word

A while back, writing about the crisis in Ukraine, I made a reference to the notion of “Finlandization”, and mentioned that it’s a Cold War era term that Finns might well “bristle at”, if indeed you could detect the sometimes stony-faced Finns bristling at anything. 

Well, some “bristling”, some serious bristling, was indeed on display recently, and at the highest levels of government. 

It was all part of the fallout from a political row involving Russia, nuclear energy, and, I guess, personality politics. 

The government of Prime Mister Alexander Stubb recently made the somewhat surprising announcement that Finland will proceed with construction of its third nuclear power plant in partnership with Rosatom, the state-owned Russian nuclear-energy corporation. 

Currently, there are two nuclear plants, both in southern Finland at Loviisa and Olkiluoto, consisting of four reactors, all dating from the 70s and 80s. The construction of a fifth reactor, Olkiluoto 3, by the TVO consortium is currently six years behind schedule. 

Undeterred by that delay, TVO and another consortium, Fennovoima, have applied separately to build a proposed sixth and seventh reactor. 

Last year, Fennovoima selected Rosatom, which owns 34% of the consortium, to build its proposed reactor at a new site on Finland’s northwestern coast, pending final approval from the Finnish government. 

In its recently announced decision, the government rejected the TVO application, apparently thanks to TVO’s struggle to actually get its third reactor built. 

At the same time, the government gave Fennovoima, and its partner Rosatom, the green light -- and this despite the current uncertain atmosphere of sanctions surrounding any dealings with Russia after its annexation of Crimea and apparent interference in Ukraine's Donbas region. 

The surprise decision caused a big fracture in Stubb’s cabinet, triggering the Environment Minister, Ville Niinistö (coincidentally, nephew of President Sauli Niinistö) to lead his party, the Green League, out of the government coalition. The Greens had previously threatened to do just this if any new nuclear plants were approved. 

But Ville Niinistö was harshly critical not only of the plans build more nuclear plants, but also of the greater energy dependence on Russia that the government’s decision will bring. In an interview with the Financial Times, he likened it to Finland bowing to the wishes of the Soviet Union, back in the bad ol’ days of the Cold War. 

“There is a sense of Finlandization here,” Niinistö was quoted by the FT as saying. “We are giving the Russians the very leverage they are looking for with the west and the EU. This puts us into a very vulnerable position . . . Bluntly speaking, it is totally bewildering that the rest of the government thinks this is OK.”

The use of the word Finlandization was a bit too much for some, causing a couple of prominent politicians to question Niinistö’s patriotism. 

Whether or not there is any validity to the idea that 40 or 50 years ago Finland might have felt it necessary, quite understandably, to thread a very fine needle when co-existing with a prickly and unpredictable (and, not to mention, heavily nuclear-armed) neighbor, the criticism implied by the F-word is not taken lightly here, even now, even from other Finns.

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