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Could Finland snuff out the Lisbon Treaty?

Mark Mardell | 07:58 UK time, Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Those who want to stop the Lisbon Treaty may be in the mood for grasping, not at straws, but snus.
snus

This is what’s known as “moist oral snuff” but is basically chewing tobacco in a sort of tea bag. It seems that Finland is so exercised about a European Union ban on the product that there is a suggestion that they could reject the treaty.

Or at least the Aland Islands' government could reject it. The islands are a semi-autonomous province of Finland, which voted separately to the rest of Finland to join the EU and have special exemptions from certain European Union rules.

Now it wants more... or else.

Snus ban

Although snus was banned in the European Union in 1992, an exception was made for Sweden when it became an issue in their 1994 referendum about joining the EU.

Ships from the Aland Islands want to be able to sell it in Swedish waters. Although the Aland government could vote against the treaty and simply be outside its scope, YLE news reports that Finnish government ministers don’t find this acceptable.

I can’t see the European Commission risking the treaty over the issue, and it looks very much as if the Finns are playing hardball to get concessions, but interesting nonetheless.

Comments   Post your comment

I don't see Finland playing hardball against the EU, but of certain members of the local Åland parliament (lagtinget), where more than one third of 30 provincial legislators would suffice to scupper ratification (consent) on the behalf of Åland, against Finland.

The opposition is trying to wring concessions out of the Finnish government, although it is hard to see what more Åland could reasonably get (without total independence), being heard at every stage of preparation and legislation in EU affairs.

Two Åland issues, with the province represented by Finland, as the member state responsible, have led to defeat in the ECJ, one on the ban on 'snus' tobacco (where Sweden has a derogation) and the spring hunt for water fowl, both deeply felt local affinities.

Hounding these customs through the courts has made the EU few friends in the islands. A healthy reminder, perhaps, of catchwords like 'diversity', 'subsidiarity' and 'proportionality'.

  • 2.
  • At 01:12 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Justin wrote:

I hope they don't finnish (haha) this treaty.

  • 3.
  • At 01:28 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Liberty Valence wrote:

Excellent. Anything that makes the one-size-fits-all approach look ridiculous is a real bonus. The astonishing thing about the EU is how its officials exert the right to decide what's good for us without consulting us, & the member countries meekly oblige as if they are afraid of being naughty children by their EU teacher.

All member countries need to do is to say "NO", & that should be the end of the issue. And if it isn't, then the threat of with-holding the regular payments made to the EU would quickly bring it to a conclusion. And would with-holding routine payments to the EU actually lead to expulsion? I doubt it. And if it did, there would be plenty of EU member countries who would want to maintain contacts with the expelled country - especially if it is a major one like the UK!

  • 4.
  • At 01:41 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Ronald Grünebaum wrote:

No, Mark, the Finnish Government is not seeking concessions.

It's simple a bunch of weird islanders (sounds familiar?) who cannot look beyond their tiny speck of land. But let them chew this disgusting stuff, even if they missed to ask for an opt-out (like Sweden did) at the time of accession.

Europe is very tolerant with people like that who are strong on prejudice and short on vision.

  • 5.
  • At 01:59 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Brian McLean wrote:

Wishful thinking, Mark, wishful thinking.

After letting the French and Dutch scupper their previous attempt, there is no way the burrocrats (sic) in Brussels are going to let this fish off the hook.

For the non-Spanish speakers "burro" is a donkey and the word "burrocrat" is fairly common here and is, I feel, very apt. Though they are fa from being donkeys if they can push this constitution cum treaty through,, they will be laughing all the way to the bank to deposit their inflated salaries, ridiculously large and uncontrolled (uncontrollable?) expenses and other (ill-gotten?) benefits.

  • 6.
  • At 02:00 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Jukka Rohila wrote:

This is no news and no issue at all.

The Aland Islands are part of Finland. The islands have an autonomy and they have some special exemptions including exemption from belonging to EU tax area. They however don't have a veto nor ability to dictate on how Finland arranges its European and foreign policy. The Finnish parliament only makes the decision on accepting or not the Lisbon Treaty.

As Finnish parliament already accepted the EU constitution, and as there hasn't been any negative press nor popular sentiment against the treaty, Finnish parliament will surely accept the treaty. It should be noted that the treaty in Finland has been seen as a very good thing as it makes the EU work more efficiently, increasing democracy, and making the decision making process more fairer to everybody.

So how does Aland Islands come up to the equation? Well, even thought Finland makes all the decision concerning EU, the Aland Islands are in the position where they dictate what directives and when they are implement in the islands. This puts Finland in trouble as when the Islands are not following an EU directive, Finland itself can be prosecuted and judged in the EU courts for not following the directives. It seems more the Islands are putting pressure on Finnish goverment to negotiate with the commission by threating to not accept future directives. So this doesn't put Lisbon Treaty in any danger, it only puts Finnish goverment in a bad position.

As a Finnish, I would have to say that sometimes it would seem a lot better and easier if the Aland Islands would separate from Finland and become independent. Unfortunately the Islanders don't have any great feelings nor need to get independence, so it seems that we just have to get along with them.

  • 7.
  • At 02:21 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Jukka Rohila wrote:

I forget to mention one thing: Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors is from the Aland Islands. So, as I wrote earlier, this is a non issue regarding the Lisbon Treaty, and seems to be more about internal issue between the Finnish goverment and administration and representatives from the Alands Islands.

  • 8.
  • At 03:24 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • szlevi wrote:

Finished the article - too bad I still don't have a clue why it's banned in the EU... how about explaining this obviously relevant information?

Aside of this shortcoming I don't really see the issue here: who cares what they chew - let them chew and that's it. (Except if EU had good reson to ban it - unfortunately it's missing from the article.)
Seriously: isn't this whole story utterly comical?

  • 9.
  • At 03:24 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Justin wrote:

Does this mean the EU Treatycould be Finnished? lol

  • 10.
  • At 03:46 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Luis wrote:

Mark - calling the Ålanders "finns" might not be very precise here.

From what's I've gathered talking with both Swedes and Finns the population of the island is almost all Swedish-speaking, and their inclusion in Findland more of an Historical accident then anything else.

As for their demands, wich I've read in some places to go as far as asking their own MEP, I hope Helsinki refuses and just lets them to face the consequences of their claims - shut up, or go the way of Greenland.

  • 11.
  • At 05:15 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

I'm not too proud to accept a helping hand from the Finns: Please, pretty please with sugar on the top - help us defeat this awful Treaty.

  • 12.
  • At 05:17 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Snusare wrote:

The issue here is that Åland's population are very much ethnically Swedish. Swedish is the sole official language in the province and they are culturally much closer to Sweden than Finland (they even watch Swedish tv rather than Finland's).

Snus is a part of Swedish life and was being sold on Åland until about a year ago when the EU court ruled that this was a breach of the EU ban on snus, which only Sweden is exempt from (having negotiated an opt-out when they joined). The Ålanders were particularly irritated by the court's decision as it was initially issued in only the French and Finnish languages. Åland feels that it needs its own representation at the EU level and its own MEP. Ålanders feel that the Helsinki government can not and does not adequately represent their views at EU level.

Åland is very sensitive to any undermining of its autonomy and Swedish language. This is why the EU has become so unpopular on Åland. Snus really could lead to Åland rejecting the treaty. I think, in such a case, Åland will likely end up like the Faroes or Channel Islands - under the rule of a member state, but outside the EU.

  • 13.
  • At 06:40 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Teo wrote:

I find it rather strange that Sweden has the right to sell snus while Finland does not, bearing in mind that the European Union should be a single market. There is a demand for snus in Finland, and the prohibition clearly contradicts the principle of free competition. In this regard, Finland is not trying to get wrongful concessions. Any member state would act similarily.

I hope the European Commission will reach a consistent stance on the issue.

PS. Snus is not necessarily consumed in a sort of tea bag, it is also consumed as a loose powder. The former is called portionssnus and the latter lössnus (in Swedish). Both are very disgusting, lössnus even more so.

  • 14.
  • At 09:46 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • Denis O'Leary wrote:

The German Constitutional Court is much more likely to put a spanner in the works because of an announced action by Peter Gauweiler(CSU)and the new Links party claiming that the Lisbon Treaty would be in breach of the German Constitution.

The Court, especially its current and previous Presidents, have a long history in the matter.

The German President, incidentally, refused to sign the Constitutional Treaty, because of another challenge, although it had been fully ratified by the Lower and Upper Houses of the German Parliament (a fact little remarked upon). The Court, in its turn, refused to hear the case because of the German and Dutch negative referendums.

Curiouser and curiouser!

Watch this space.

  • 15.
  • At 01:03 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

If EU doesn't want to be snubbed it better yields on snus.

Perhaps reading history of Winter War might help them superstate bureacrats understand that Finns don't roll over and play dead.

P.S. In the worst scenario Aland can always declare independence just like Abkhazia, and thus immediately gain Russia's staunch support.

  • 16.
  • At 06:07 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Torsten wrote:

@ Denis O'Leary:

As a German law student I have to correct you on various aspects you said.

1. I don't expect our constitutional court to reject the treaty commonly called constitution simply because this treaty goes little beyond what we already have (Amsterdam treaty etc.). Further our constitutional court always critisized the lack of written basic laws on the EU-level and will happily recognize that for the first time in EU-history there will be written basic laws introduced by the "constitution". And last our federal constitution has already been changed for EU-purposes and if necesary will be changed for a second time.

2. I don't know what you mean by saying that this court had an outstanding history on that matter. Probably you mean that the court said more than once that the EU is a supranational organisation that can not substitute the existence of the country (in this case Germany). That does not make this court anti-european, we also have these conflicts all of the time within Germany between the federal level and the 16 Länder (who has the right to act? etc.), the EU-level only created one level more for these conflicts, not more and not less.

3. We have had arguments for decades whether our president has the right to refuse to sign a new law. Actually our president's only function is to represent the state (more like the British Queen, I guess, than what presidents in other countries can do).

4. There is no Lower and Upper house in the German parliament. I guess you mean the Bundestag (the federal parliament) and the Bundesrat (which consists of representatives of the Länder on the federal level). The Bundesrat has nothing to do with the German parliament.

5. German and Dutch referendums? We never had a referendum on EU-affairs in Germany, do you mean France?

I am not completly in favour of the new treaty. I fear that the EU will even be more based on economic freedoms than it is now and will give less rights to its citizens. Actually what worries me most about the EU is that people seem to be far less important than the economy and this should be changed. The new treaty will not reach that. Beyond I am normally very much in favour of our Die Linke party but in these terms I am not because I think not having the new treaty is worse than having an economy-only-based treaty. The majority of the Germans has understood that the EU is far better than what we had before, so don't count on us with your wish that anyone rejects the "constitution".

  • 17.
  • At 11:50 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Marcel -NL- wrote:

@Denis O'Leary (1)

hopefully the German constitutional court will prevent the legislative powers of the German parliament from being handed over to Brussels. Thanks to the Germans respect for regionalization of power the EU-crats centralizing attempts may be stopped.

A third hope on the horizon besides the house of lords and Ireland. Folks national parliamentary democracy can still be saved!

  • 18.
  • At 01:41 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Sylvester wrote:

.... debates like this makes me really happy to be Norwegian....

  • 19.
  • At 05:57 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Snusare wrote:

@ Jukka Rohila,
Astrid Thors is not from Åland (she's from Helsinki). She is a member of the Swedish Peoples' Party (SFP) which is a political party operating on the mainland of Finland representing mainland Finland's Swedish-speaking minority. SFP does not operate on Åland; in fact, Åland has its own political parties which are totally separate from those in the mainland. Of course, Åland does elect one member of the Finnish parliament which sits together with the SFP members to form a common group in the national parliament in Helsinki (Åland's MP has always come from one of the non-leftist Åland parties, and they've always felt it helpful to sit with the liberal SFP in the Helsinki parliament as they are obviously share common interests regarding the preservation of Swedish language rights in Finland).

Åland's provincial parliament does have the right to approve or reject international treaties signed by Finland. When they reject them, they don't come into force on Åland. This of course makes it very problematic in this case where Lisbon has to be approved throughout the EU to come into force. The logic would probably be that if Åland "snuffs it out", Åland will have to stand outside the EU (like the British Channel Isles or Danish Greenland for example).

To everyone, note that you don't chew snus. You place it in the bit between your lip and gum.

  • 20.
  • At 08:51 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Denis O'Leary wrote:

Replying to Torsten 16# and Marcel 17#. Apologies for the error in the reference to a German referendum which obviously should have referred to France. (Preview is not working on the BBC site). Also for the lack of precision with regard to the description of the relationship between the Bundesrat and Bundestag. I should have used Senate and House of Representatives. My reference to a "long history" was to previous cases e.g. the Brunner case in relation to the Maastricht Treaty.

To more substantive issues.

I have no view on whether or not Germany should ratify the Lisbon Treaty. I was simply drawing attention to what I have been reading in the German media in the context of possible hiccups in the ratification process (apart from Finnish/Swedish chewing tobacco).

As to the attitude of the present President of the Bundesverfassungsgericht to constitutional issues possibly impacting on Germany's relationship with the EU, could I refer readers to the memorandum he submitted to the House of Lords on the Constitutional Treaty in 2003. (Google House of Lords and enter Papier in the search box).

I have also been trying to get the text of a recent speech in which he was reportedly(EU Observer)critical of the arrangements under the Lisbon Treaty for consulting national parliaments, but so far without success.

These are matters of topical interest.

  • 21.
  • At 05:44 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Snusare wrote:

@ Jukka Rohila,
Astrid Thors is not from Åland (she's from Helsinki). She is a member of the Swedish Peoples' Party (SFP) which is a political party operating on the mainland of Finland representing mainland Finland's Swedish-speaking minority. SFP does not operate on Åland; in fact, Åland has its own political parties which are totally separate from those in the mainland. Of course, Åland does elect one member of the Finnish parliament which sits together with the SFP members to form a common group in the national parliament in Helsinki (Åland's MP has always come from one of the non-leftist Åland parties, and they've always felt it helpful to sit with the liberal SFP in the Helsinki parliament as they are obviously share common interests regarding the preservation of Swedish language rights in Finland).

Åland's provincial parliament does have the right to approve or reject international treaties signed by Finland. When they reject them, they don't come into force on Åland. This of course makes it very problematic in this case where Lisbon has to be approved throughout the EU to come into force. The logic would probably be that if Åland "snuffs it out", Åland will have to stand outside the EU (like the British Channel Isles or Danish Greenland for example).

To everyone, note that you don't chew snus. You place it in the bit between your top lip and gum.

  • 22.
  • At 06:47 PM on 01 Apr 2008,
  • Michael Pacey wrote:

I live in the UK, am British and I use snus. As Snusare says it goes up between your lip ancd gum. The nicotine is absorbed by your mucous membranes and sometimes the snus is flavoured, sometimes not.

The process of creating snus differs from that of other tobacco products, including American style chewing tobaccos and cigarettes. It's steam cured. This leads to a much lower level of carcinogens. The incidence of tobacco related illnesses in Sweden is the lowest in the EU. About a third of the male population use snus, for females the figure is a bit lower.

I used to be a fairly heavy smoker, but since I started using snus I have only smoked a couple of times when I ran out of snus. I find smoking disgusting now... In my opinion and also reflected in many scientific reports, Sweden is progressive by encouraging a switch from smoking to snus use.

I get mine off the web. It's cheaper than smoking, and I can use snus anywhere I like without offending anyone or risking their health.

I wish these islanders the best of luck. The EU bureaucracy is an utter tragedy and regressive. I think it will tear itself apart by attempting to impose a monoculture on a varied people who will not stand for it. Here's to small government, may it come in my lifetime.

Poland almost has ratfied the Treaty. If the Ålanders reject this because of snus it will be very interesting situation.

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