Finland to strengthen ties with Russia during six-month EU presidency

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said on Friday that he hoped his country's leadership would bring fresh air to the EU, currently in the doldrums.

He vowed to offer "more transparency" to the EU to help it reconnect with its citizens, especially after France and the Netherlands voted last year to reject the bloc's constitution.

Finnish officials said they would push more open access to EU minister's meetings, and public access to documents.

This will be Finland's second turn as EU president, since it joined in 1995. Its 1999 chairmanship saw the EU declare Turkey an official candidate and open talks with Romania and Bulgaria.

The Finnish premier said the EU will decide in October whether to let Romania and Bulgaria in as planned on Jan. 1, or to give them a one-year delay. The two countries were warned last month to show results in fighting corruption and organized crime if they want to join on time. The EU has the power to delay their entry by one year.

Vanhanen acknowledged that his tenure would be dominated by trying to avoid the collapse of membership negotiations with Turkey.

Turkey has so far balked at implementing the deal signed last year, and Cyprus and France among others have warned they will freeze future negotiations if Ankara does not budge by the end of this year, the AP reports.