Dr. Teija Tillikainen, Director of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats
Finland’s policy on the EU’s mutual defence clause reflects its general positive approach vis-à-vis the Union’s security and defence policy. Expectations concerning the security policy implications of its EU membership have always been high, which reflects Finland’s political culture as well as it not being a NATO member. Both the mutual defence clause and the solidarity clause (TFEU Article 222) are often mentioned as important mechanisms enshrining solidarity among the EU’s member states and citizens. Finland’s expectations concerning both clauses are concrete and there is a willingness to enhance their role in the EU’s security and defence policy.
The EU’s significance for Finland’s security policy is firmly emphasized and the country shows strong support for deepening the EU’s competence and capabilities in security and defence policy. It is obvious that its expectations concerning the EU’s tasks go well beyond external crisis management capabilities, which for a long time formed the core of the Union’s common security and defence policy. Finland stresses the EU’s need to take responsibility for its own territorial security and realises that a stronger role for the Union would also benefit its cooperation with NATO.
As a part of this ambitious policy the Finnish expectations concerning the EU’s mutual defence clause have been clearly articulated. During the early years of the emergence of the defence clause, Finland signalled its commitment to the clause in order to clarify its position. The reference that had been added to the clause stressing that ‘the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states’ would not be affected by the clause created some ambiguity about the role of the non-aligned states (Finland, Sweden, Austria and Ireland). The Finnish interpretation was that the clause created an equal obligation for all EU members: Finland would be ready to provide assistance to other EU members and expected itself to be supported if it became a target for armed aggression.
As further proof of its commitment, Finland also launched a major legislative process in 2016 to ensure full compliance with the clause. The goal of this process was to enable Finland to provide and receive international assistance in different forms including also military assistance. The EU’s mutual defence and solidarity clauses (TFEU Article 222) provided the main framework for the amendments which were, however, considered to be needed also for other frameworks of international cooperation.
The amendments coming into force in 2017 enabled Finland to provide military assistance to another state or another actor with combat forces, which had earlier not been possible. The amendments also specified the decision-making rules among state institutions when providing or asking for international military assistance.
Finland stresses the intergovernmental character of TEU Article 42(7) and the fact that, as such, it does not create competences for the EU and its institutions. When it is used, the clause implies that member states agree bilaterally on the forms of assistance. During the early years of the mutual defence clause Finland’s point of view was that due to its character an invocation of the clause would not require unanimity among EU members but that its bilateral mechanisms rather allowed for more flexibility in terms of decision-making. Currently there is not complete clarity on the official Finnish view on the means of decision-making required for the invocation of TEU Article 42(7) as this question has not been explicitly addressed in the most recent policy reports on security and defence policy.
Over the years, Finland has, however, signalled a need to specify the rules concerning the implementation of the mutual defence clause. The Finnish government has tried to steer the role of the clause into a concrete operational direction by stressing, for instance, its relation to the development of the Union’s joint capabilities or command structures including the projects of permanent structured cooperation. This reflects an understanding according to which EU institutions and structures should play a role in support of the implementation of the clause despite its intergovernmental character. Finland has also stressed the need for a stronger common preparedness for the use of the clause, for which joint exercises and practice are helpful.
The roles of the solidarity and mutual defence clauses are seen to be closely interlinked which might mean an invocation of both treaty provisions in a serious conflict situation. Finland already ensured its legislative preparedness to act in accordance with the solidarity clause in 2006 by amending its law on defence forces.
Finland, in general, has been in favour of a flexible interpretation of TEU Article 42(7). Finland supported the invocation of the defence clause in the context of the Paris terrorist attacks of 2015 and provided support to France by enhancing its participation in crisis management operations in Iraq and Lebanon. Later on, Finland has underlined the flexible nature of both the mutual defence clause and the solidarity clause as this would allow their application in the case of a serious hybrid attack. The value of both clauses in preventing possible conflicts, i.e. their deterrent function, is recognized in official documents. Finland is a strong promoter of the view that the EU should strengthen its joint policies and instruments in countering hybrid threats and should create a strong toolbox for that purpose. Both the mutual defence clause and the solidarity clause play a role in that toolbox. The more specific parameters for the invocation of the clauses are not further elaborated in governmental documents.
When it comes to the other parts of the EU’s hybrid threat toolbox a recent governmental report refers to the need to enhance common situational awareness, to improve crisis resilience, to prepare for new threats and to develop existing tools to counter hybrid threats. Tasks such as intelligence analysis cooperation, the protection of critical infrastructure, the development of cyber security standards and capacities, democratic resilience against disinformation and election interference and strengthening the security arrangements and culture of EU institutions are mentioned as well.
It is fairly unproblematic for the Finnish government to support a deepening of the EU’s security and defence policy as this enjoys broad support among civil society. The mutual defence clause has constantly been the subject of public interest not least due to the fact that it is the first post-war mutual defence obligation that Finland has entered into. Some distrust has also been voiced concerning its significance due to the lack of common EU command structures or joint defence planning.
The deterioration of Finland’s security environment has called for a strengthening of its multilateral and bilateral defence cooperation. An enhanced opportunity partnership with NATO, bilateral defence cooperation with key NATO and EU members as well as the full utilization of the possibilities provided by the EU treaties are the specific contexts in which the Union’s mutual defence clause must be seen.