THIS weekend Finland hands the presidency of the European Union to Germany, a transition from one of the Union's newer and smaller countries to one of its founding members and a major economic and political force. Finland has conducted a business-like presidency and taken welcome initiatives in making the EU's proceedings more transparent, for instance by opening ministerial meetings to TV coverage. However on major issues little has been accomplished: negotiations on Turkish membership have stalled over Ankara's unwillingness to recognise Cyprus as a trading partner and the prospects for Turkey's eventual accession have been set back during the past six months. A more disappointing failure of the Finnish presidency was its inability to capitalise on its delicate special relationship with Russia; indeed, the decision to invite President Putin to a summit on energy issues in October proved to be a mistake by showing how divided EU members were among themselves and, how awkward Poland was proving to be over bilateral issues with Russia. It is, of course, a tall order for any country to achieve clear-cut results on any substantial matter during its short six-month presidency and Finland's incumbency has been no less satisfactory than that of many of its predecessors. Whether Germany will be able to get results on important outstanding issues, among them the revival of the dormant EU consitution, remains to be seen. In recent weeks German ministers have been trying to damp down expectations.
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