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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK

World: Europe

Finns take on EU presidency

Finland will be co-ordinating the reconstruction of Kosovo

By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

Finland has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union for the next six months.

Its agenda will be dominated by the reconstruction of Kosovo and the need to take further decisions on opening up to new members from Central and Eastern Europe.

Finland marked the start of its presidency in style, with Finnish bands playing in Brussels' historic centre.

[ image: Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was a prime mover in the Kosovo peace deal]
Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was a prime mover in the Kosovo peace deal
Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari - who paved the way for a peace settlement in Kosovo - will work hard to put in place a Stability Pact for the Balkans and to ensure that the EU plays a leading role in the reconstruction of the region.

Enlargement will also be a priority for Finland, which itself joined the EU only four years ago.

At the Helsinki summit in December, five more applicants from Eastern Europe, including Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, could be added to the six countries already negotiating entry.

The 'Nordic dimension'

As the only EU member state sharing a border with Russia, Finland wants to promote co-operation with Moscow as part of the Nordic dimension of the Union's foreign policy.

Among the delicate issues on the internal agenda will be greater tax harmonisation and, in the wake of the corruption scandal that led to the resignation of the European Commission, enhanced transparency in the workings of the EU.

The Finnish Prime Minister, Paavo Lipponen, has already warned that he will champion the rights of the Union's smaller Member States.

Finland - a country of five million people - is determined to prove that in politics, size doesn't matter.

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