Finland suffered more than most European nations during the recession of the early 1990s. The Soviet Union broke up leaving debts unpaid, the markka was devalued, many companies closed, unemployment rose from 3 per cent to 20 per cent, and the tax burden increased alarmingly. With far less hesitation than the Swedes, the Finns voted the country into the European Union by referendum in 1994, and joined in 1995. The economy took a turn for the better: food instantly became cheaper and the country received considerable financial aid through EU assistance with regional development grants. However, the traditional market place for Finnish goods, the Soviet Union, has not been restored and Finland has had to find new markets from all over the world. In 1999 and 2006, Finland took over the EU Presidency. In 2000, Helsinki became one of the Cultural Capitals of Europe and elected its first woman president and woman Speaker of Parliament. In 2002, the Euro was introduced as its currency.
The break-up of the Soviet Union into several smaller states has considerably changed the balance of power within the Baltic region. Finland still vigorously pursues its policy of strict neutrality. It has retained commercial ties with the new republics and has offered its technological know-how in environmental matters and financial assistance to buy food supplies.