HELSINKI — AS Finland moves from the Western world's orphan to son, its politicians are focusing on the European Community's plan to create a unified market by 1992. Almost half of Finland's booming trade is done with the EC. Only 13 percent is with the Soviets and only 5 percent with the United States. This rich country - it now ranks ahead of both France and Great Britain in per capita income - cannot afford to be left outside of a ``fortress Europe.''
``The major risk to our existence is no longer a new conflict in Europe'' with the Soviet Union, says Keijo Korhonen, an official in the prime minister's office. ``Our most visible question is what to do about our relations with the EC.''
Neutral Finland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It is not a member of the Common Market, and all of its politicians say that neutrality rules out the possibility of becoming a member.
``The EC is not just an economic organization, it is a political, security organization,'' says Pertti Salolainen, the Minister of Foreign Trade. ``Our neutrality is not compatible with full membership.''
The problem is that other EFTA members, Norway, Sweden, and Austria, are all more or less seriously considering joining the EC. The EC, however, has said that it won't accept any new members until at least 1993.
EFTA and the EC are engaged in tough, high-level negotiations. European Commissioner Jacques Delors warns that EFTA no longer can expect to have a free ride - access to the Common Market without paying for any of its costs.
``We know there will be no free entry, we're ready to pay for our participation,'' says Lauri Korpinen, the Foreign Ministry official responsible for EC affairs. ``We know also that we'll have to even further liberalize our trade policies.''
Already, the country has begun to adopt EC industrial standards. This raises the disturbing prospect that crucial decision-making concerning Finland will be taken in Brussels - without her participation.
One key example concerns the EC's goals for free movement of people. In the 19th century, Finland closed its borders to immigrants out of fear of being swamped by Russians. Today, an emerging labor shortage adds to the pressure to do what, almost alone among West European countries, Finland has avoided: invite in ``guest'' workers to do its menial work.
Earlier this month, Mr. Korhonen announced his opposition to loosening immigration rules, or even enlarging the small quota of Southeast Asian refugees. ``It's an important issue which we have learned to deal with,'' Korhonen says.