Track opened for Ashton and the EU foreign policy at Saariselkä
Led by Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, a new approach to building the EU common foreign policy was taken during the weekend. The eight foreign ministers who came to Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland, had the opportunity for once to delve into important themes without constant time pressure or unnecessary formalities. “We look so pleased not because of the skiing but because we were able to hold discussions for hours rather than minutes,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said at the good-humoured press conference that sealed the weekend on Sunday, 14 March. Throughout the weekend Catherine Ashton, the new EU Foreign Minister, played the key role. She received strong support from the participants.
According to Foreign Minister Stubb, “The harsh criticism levelled at Ashton has begun to turn against itself.” At Saariselkä, Ashton herself emphasised that we have now progressed to the stage where “discussions are already focusing on content and policy-making” and no longer revolve around the initial difficulties. Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos of Spain, the country holding the EU Presidency, also expressed staunch support for Ashton.
Foreign Minister Stubb has been a staunch supporter of Ashton and so the foreign minister, with reason, is satisfied with the trend of developments. In a relaxed but determined manner, the meeting at Saariselkä opened the track for the new, more coherent foreign policy under Ashton’s leadership.
The unhurried discussions at Saariselkä were so successful that a continuation to the informal small-group meetings was planned straightaway. Foreign Minister Stubb extended a new invitation to come together in Saariselkä a year from now. The climate of the meeting is reflected by the fact that “we sat around in our socks with our feet on the table,” the foreign minister laughed after the meeting.
The ministers’ exchange with the media was also exceptionally easy-going and free; representatives of the international media were highly satisfied with the abundant interviews they received. The Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, French, Italian, Estonian and Turkish foreign ministers all took part. The media commotion began immediately on Saturday morning when Ashton and Stubb, pushing kick sleds, arrived to meet the press.
The ministers brought their families with them; this made an appreciable contribution to the weekend’s atmosphere. A plentiful, exotic programme was arranged for the ministers, their families and the journalists. The snowmobile rides proved to be the most popular, but everything from husky safaris to cross-country and downhill skiing was tried.
The foreign ministers now resume their hectic schedules elsewhere – the pace of Catherine Ashton’s schedule is revealed by the fact that she will visit seven countries during her four-day visit to the Middle East.