After joining the European Union, Finland placed a lot of emphasis on the international role of the Union, believing that the EU is a predominant stabilizing force in Europe, politically and economically. Finns discussed joining NATO, but the majority felt that the security situation of the country was good, and no security deficit existed. It was more important that the enlargement of the EU and NATO to the Baltic States and countries in Eastern Central Europe would proceed.
Reflecting the changes in Russia, President Boris Yeltsin said that it was Finland's own business to decide what form its relations with NATO should take. President Bill Clinton travelled to Finland in 1997 to attend a summit meeting with President Yeltsin. Also First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Finland in 1997. Mrs. Clinton was very impressed by the leading role of women in Finnish society, and the number of senior positions they held.
In his New Year’s speech in 1999, President Martti Ahtisaari stated that Finland's international status is now stronger than ever, primarily thanks to its membership in the EU. In 1999, Finland joined the European Monetary and Economic Union, and that same year Finland held the European Union Council presidency. In 2002, Finland adopted Euro as its currency.
Tarja Halonen was elected President of Finland in 2000, and at the same time Finland’s new constitution entered into force. Although the President remained the leader of traditional foreign policy, in cooperation with the Government, the Government was in charge of European affairs.
Finland continued to be active in the international fora. While this had formerly been primarily a way to strengthen Finland's international position in the difficult Cold War environment, it was now more a reflection of how Finns saw the building blocks of security and stability in the interconnected world. Finns believed that the global community is bound to a joint destiny and that it is in the interest of Finland to contribute to global security and a rules-based international system even far away from our own borders. Finland played an active role in the United Nations, and focused on issues like establishing the International Criminal Court, shaping the Millennium Development Goals, as well as working on climate change and disarmament. Human rights were in the core of Finland’s foreign policy.
President Halonen opened the discussion at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 by saying, "we must continue clarifying UN’s role in the world, and we must help the United Nations follow its time through transformation."
The early 2000s were shaped by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After the attacks, EU leaders declared their sympathy and expressed strong support for the U.S. Finland joined in the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and also contributed through civilian crisis management. At its most, Finland had 350 soldiers in Afghanistan. By this time, participation in NATO-led operations had become an uncontroversial matter, the missions in the Western Balkans having been the first NATO-led operations Finland joined.
Despite the lingering impact of the economic depression, Finland had invested heavily in research and development in the 1990s. These investments paid off in the 2000s with the Finnish ICT sector booming. Finland’s economic structure developed, diversified and became basically a knowledge-based economy.
Especially Nokia was hugely important to Finland and its economy. For example in 2000, Nokia produced 21% of Finnish exports and paid €1.1 billion or 20% of all corporate tax revenue. The company was the world's largest manufacturer of mobile telephones from 1998 to 2012.
OECD published its first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000. The study assesses the learning outcome of students aged 15 in mathematics, science and reading literacy. Finland did extremely well in the ranking, being the first in literacy, 3rd in science and 4th in mathematics. In the 2003 study, Finland was first in reading and science and 2nd in mathematics. The good results proved that Finland’s education reform of 1970 had been a successful one. Education experts from countless countries started to travel to Finland to find out what were the “secrets” behind Finland’s success. Finns, true to their nature, did not quite believe that their education system was really so good, and focused on the areas for improvement.
The U.S. had been one of Finland’s most important trade partners for decades. Traditionally, Finland had been exporting wood-based products, such as paper, plywood and pulp, to the U.S. For example, in 1960 this sector comprised 84% of Finnish exports to the U.S. During the 1990s and early 2000s the Finnish exports became more diversified. In addition, Finns started to invest in the U.S., and not only the other way around.
Finland, being a member of the European Union, strongly promoted the active and close transatlantic business, investment and economic partnership between the U.S. and the EU. For the Finnish economy, which orientated itself for the global markets and competition, a rules-based and open international trade and investment environment was invaluable, and the U.S.-EU cooperation key in maintaining and developing that system.