What is the Niinistö – Trump Meeting About?
Finland’s super popular President Sauli Niinistö is meeting with US President Donald Trump on 2 October at the White House. The 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Finland and the United States is the reason for the meeting, according to a statement from the Finnish Presidency. European and Arctic security (code words for Russia) will also be discussed.
In our view the key points of concern here are:
- A possible new arms race in Europe
- European energy security
- Two recent nuclear-related accidents in Russia
Don’t expect much public clarity about any of these points following the meeting or afterwards. Follow Niinistö though if you’re interested in US – Russia relations. Or US – Finland relations for that matter. Also follow him if you’re enough of a politics junkie to enjoy press conferences with ultra-awkward body language.
August 2017 Niinistö – Trump press conference
Niinistö vs Trump Popularity Contest
At the least, Niinistö meeting with Trump is an occasion to comment on their differences.
Niinistö’s approval ratings have consistently been high. Nearly all respondents of a recent poll thought he was doing a good job. During a speech this week to the UN General Assembly, Niinistö focused on the need to address climate change, which is already occurring ‘from the Arctic to the Amazon,’ he said.
On the other hand, the opposition Democrats have just launched a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump. Polls show the US president’s approval rating to be about 43%. His speech to the UN General Assembly focused on threats aimed at other countries and championing nationalism.
Who is Sauli Niinistö?
Niinistö has been president of Finland since 2012 (Finland’s presidency has 6-year terms). He was reelected in 2018, notably becoming the first Finnish president to be elected in the first round of voting. During his time in office, Niinistö’s seen four different prime ministers, giving him plenty of perspective on how governments in Finland, or in the United States, can come and go. Finland’s current Prime Minister Antti Rinne has his hands full with some controversial economic reforms and the longevity of his government is under question.
On 24 September, Niinistö tweeted about meeting UK economist Nicholas Stern (someone who is very concerned about climate change), emphasising how important this issue is for Finland and Niinistö personally.
Niinistö is also not shy about meeting some of the more difficult leaders in global politics. For example:
- He held official meetings with Trump in 2017 and 2018.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Helsinki last month. Niinistö’s met Putin regularity over the years. Let’s not forget that Finland and Russia are the best of frenemies.
- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif also visited Helsinki last month, and met with Niinistö.
- In mid-September, Niinistö met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev. Zelensky is central to the current impeachment inquiry against Trump. Ukraine is also an important player in European energy security.
Personality Matters in Politics
Of course personality is what really matters in politics. Niinistö is pretty likable in the eyes of most Finns. He’s not done much that would make him controversial in Finland. He comes across as trustworthy and honest. He also shares photos of hockey games, along with images of his baby son and Boston Terrier dog.
Niinistö Walks the Line
We’re not expecting much to come out of Niinistö’s meeting with Trump. We do think that the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry will ultimately help Trump gain votes in 2020 and probably aid his reelection. That means Finland will need leaders who, like Niinistö, can have positive relationships with other politicians with whom they don’t see eye to eye on all issues.