FINALND has now taken over the revolving sixmonth presidency of the European Union and the Finnish prime minister, Matti Vanhanen, gave the European Parliament an outline of his agenda on Tuesday. Whether he was wise to mention a proposal to increase alcohol taxes across Europe must be open to doubt, but Mr Vanhanen does not touch alcohol personally and his country has rigid rules for the sale of all forms of alcoholic drinks through a state agency. A more promising line of action was Mr Vanhanen's intention to use his country's special relationship with Russia to mend some of the fences that have recently been broken between Moscow and EU members over energy supplies. For fifty years following the Second World War Finland had to tread very carefully indeed in its relations with the Soviet Union and that experience, now effectively over, will enable it to negotiate with Moscow in a more pragmatic way than comes naturally to most other EU countries. The first EU major meeting under the Finnish presidency takes place next week when finance ministers will gather in Helsinki. One item on the agenda is likely to be the SWIFT affair which concerns the access that the US government has secured to money transfers via the SWIFT network based in Brussels. Washington believes this will give it essential information for its war on terror but the Finnish finance minister has already said that he believes the intervention is illegal.
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