Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Busy months ahead as Finland assumes presidency of EU

AP , HELSINKI

Don't call me, I'll text message you. These were the new rules of diplomatic engagement set down by Finland's foreign minister at the start of his country's EU presidency yesterday.

The latest wireless gadgets are the new modes of communication as Finland tries to bring the EU closer to its citizens, so top officials can be reached anywhere, anytime.

Ministers, including Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, have special phones equipped to handle e-mails, said his spokeswoman Sanna Kangasharju. "The prime minister prefers text messages. He doesn't like voice mail especially when he is in a meeting."

She said that texting messages was the only discreet way to keep in touch with the outside world during meetings.

It will come in handy as Finnish officials will be called upon to chair more than 500 meetings during their six-month tenure as EU chair.

It looks to be a busy six months for the Finns, whose headaches are likely to include the future of membership negotiations with Turkey. Vanhanen said on Friday the EU could suspend the talks if Ankara fails to meet EU accession requirements.

Vanhanen is also trying to forge closer ties with Moscow and has said he will invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to an EU leaders' summit in October in an effort to secure better guarantees of natural gas supplies to Europe from Russia.

Speaking on the eve of taking over the presidency, Vanhanen announced that transparency and opening up the way the EU works would be priorities

He said more previously closed-door EU ministers' talks and negotiations would be televised at EU headquarters, adding "all the names and telephone numbers [of ministers] will be found on the Web."

"I feel people don't really know at the moment what the European Union does for its citizens," Vanhanen told reporters on Friday. "We have to make the Union function more effectively. ... All these practical working methods help."

The move was seen as an effort to tackle public apathy toward European integration, notably after Dutch and French voters rejected the EU constitution in referendums last year.

That EU treaty is meant to make the 25-nation bloc function more efficiently and effectively on the world stage.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said he would also set up a special Web blog so reporters and citizens could follow his day-to-day experiences of running the EU.

The blog will be in English -- Tuomioja has been writing one in Finnish for years. "I get up to 3,000 hits a week," he said.

The move to push the EU into high tech is nothing new in the Nordic nation. Home of the world's largest cell phone maker, Nokia, Finns are crazy about mobile gadgets.

Last year, Finns talked more on mobile handsets than on landline phones for the first time since cell phones became popular, and sent a record 2.4 billion text messages.

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