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Honourable Deputy Speaker of Parliament, esteemed colleagues, State Secretary, ambassadors,
Usually this late in the summer we ask our colleagues if they have enjoyed their summer holiday and wish them an energetic start for the autumn months.
This year, however, even the summer months have been very busy. The start of a new government term, Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU and numerous international challenges have kept the Foreign Ministry busy throughout the summer.
I apologise for any changes you have had to make to your holiday plans on account of these reasons. I would also like to express my warmest thanks to all those who have made meeting and travel arrangements during the summer, sometimes at very short notice.
The Finnish Presidency has got off to a good start, and Finland has been both seen and heard in international circles. It is always important for a new Government to claim its place in the international arena, and build international networks.
Foreign policy involves continuity. I would like to thank the previous Government, especially Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini, Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö and other Government members for their valuable input. Cooperation between Finland and Sweden, for example, has been extremely active. This is a strong foundation for our future work.
I would also like to thank the President of the Republic of Finland for excellent and seamless cooperation. Similarly, our cooperation with Parliament has begun very well.
This summer, there has been no shortage of alarming news. Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Protests at Hong Kong airport. An accident at a weapons testing site in the Arkhangelsk region. Mass shootings on the other side of the Atlantic. Ships full of refugees in the Mediterranean. Missile tests in North Korea.
No wonder people are asking if global security has deteriorated. It seems that at least in one specific area such deterioration is, unfortunately, a fact. The current environment with regard to nuclear weapons and international arms control has become exceptionally difficult.
Never before has the established arms control system faced such challenges. Use of chemical weapons in Syria, the end of the era of bilateral nuclear arms control agreements between the United States and Russia, and the difficulties with Iran’s nuclear programme are a few examples of these challenges.
Bilateral agreements between the United States and Russia are about to expire, but a new, multilateral system is nowhere in sight. Following the emergence of new players and new technologies, a re-definition of the concept of strategic stability is called for. It is necessary to discuss ways of achieving stability in a situation where China, alongside Russia and the US, plays a growing role as a global player, and where advanced conventional military capabilities are comparable to nuclear weapons in terms of their strategic impact.
Tensions between the superpowers reflect strongly on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review process which is currently under way, and in which the P5 countries have been unable to coordinate their positions in the same manner as before. The Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to be held in New York in spring 2020, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the NPT, is expected to be very difficult.
Finland considers it fruitless to place nuclear and non-nuclear armed nations into opposing camps. Preventing the emergence of new nuclear powers, which is the key objective of NPT, will strengthen the security of all nations, including and especially those without nuclear weapons. In the 50 years of its existence, the treaty has been successful in this respect.
Finland actively takes part in initiatives aimed at accelerating nuclear disarmament as part of the NPT review process, such as Sweden’s Stepping Stones project and the United States’ Creating an Environment for Nuclear Development (CEND) initiative.
The Swedish initiative involves exploring the existing commitments to promoting nuclear disarmament. Its objective is to identify “small steps” that can help to reduce risks and build trust. This initiative was launched at a ministerial meeting of 15 countries in Stockholm on 11 June 2019, which I had the opportunity to participate in. The next ministerial meeting will be held in Berlin at the beginning of next year. Participants will include several non-nuclear weapon countries, representing various regions and security solutions. What they all have in common is active participation in the NTP process.
The current arms control agreements will require new initiatives, and Finland will also need to contribute. In the post-Cold War era, previous assumptions and forms of cooperation are being put to the test as states are repositioning themselves in the new environment. Considering that the major powers were able to agree on nuclear weapon limitations at the height of the Cold War, it is strange to think that these problems would be too difficult to solve today. Failure would affect everyone, including the superpowers.
A new wave of weapons development could lead to overreactions and an increased risk of accidents, as indicated by the recent accident in Arkhangelsk. As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, each State has a duty to take determined action to find solutions.
Is it all bad news, or is there something positive to report? Let me bring up an issue that Prime Minister Antti Rinne strongly emphasised: combating climate change.
With the announcement of Finland’s carbon neutrality targets for 2035 in the new Government Programme, we became one of the most ambitious countries in the world. Of course, as our neighbour Sweden pointed out, their climate targets are also very ambitious. Following the general elections in Denmark, the new Danish government joined the group of countries with high climate ambitions.
This is also where Finland belongs. Our climate actions will be one of the topics discussed during the UN General Assembly week in New York. Our commitment to the EU’s ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality in 2050 has already translated into actions during Finland’s Presidency. It is important to highlight the importance of the private sector, alongside national efforts and the environmentally friendly choices made by individuals. The change must be systemic and affect every sector from transport and agriculture to construction and industry.
Finnish companies represent the cutting edge when it comes to environmental and climate issues. Hopefully this will be considered an advantage in competition for new projects in the fields of climate economy, the circular economy and the green economy worldwide.
Climate change is by far the biggest and most complex security threat in Finland, Europe and globally. We are already seeing tremendous problems caused by drought and extreme weather conditions in different parts of the world, and the tensions these problems cause between countries. The water crisis is not a distant problem, but a problem we need to deal with today. In this area, Finland has considerable experience and technical expertise.
The Government’s top priority in climate change mitigation is reaching carbon neutrality in Finland by 2035. We hope that our example will inspire many other countries to set their own targets. Even small, symbolic action may be significant. As many have undoubtedly noticed, no gifts to conference participants are being given out during Finland’s Presidency; we decided to opt for an intangible climate gift instead.
With regard to foreign policy issues this summer, three visits left a special impression on me. Africa policy is one of this Government’s priorities. The Government Programme contains a commitment to the preparation of a broad strategy for Africa. This work is being conducted in cooperation with Minister Skinnari. We believe it will have an impact on the Africa debate taking place in the EU.
Conflicts hold back development, create more human rights problems, and cause migration and displacement. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to address the root causes of conflicts, whether due to the marginalisation of different groups or regions, or environmental changes. Yesterday I returned from Sudan, where I had the opportunity to take part, under a mandate from the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, in the signing ceremony confirming the principles for a transition from military to civilian rule in Sudan. This shows clearly how important it is to be involved in key processes related to peace and stability in Africa.
When the Government Programme was discussed in Parliament this spring, people would talk about migration and displacement, and with the same breath ask why the African continent was mentioned several times in the Government Programme.
My answer was: Africa is Europe’s neighbour, and it is home to a growing number of the world’s young people. Europe and Finland simply cannot ignore Africa. The underlying assumption in the Government Programme is that we want to build broader and more equal relations between Finland, Europe and Africa. Our relations are not simply based on development cooperation or immigration, but also on trade and wider political cooperation. Finland needs to establish a stronger and more active presence in Africa.
An international meeting on the situation in Ukraine took place in Toronto, Canada, following the Ukrainian presidential elections. It was also the first state visit by the new President of Ukraine, Volodomyr Zelenskyi. The meeting provided an opportunity to hear more about Ukraine’s new policy on the allocation of the economic and humanitarian aid package to the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine.
It is important to support Russia and Ukraine in taking every possible step that can reduce tension and promote the actions outlined in the Minsk agreements. We must put an end to a conflict in which lives are lost daily in Europe.
We enforce the sanctions imposed jointly by the EU Member States on Russia, because the principle of territorial integrity is one of the fundamental principles of international order. Sanctions will be lifted once the reasons for imposing them no longer exist.
Latin American affairs rarely make news headlines in Finland. The new Mercosur trade agreement is a step forward in relations between the EU and Latin America, and it provides new economic opportunities for Finnish companies as well. The agreement is even more significant than the EU’s previous agreements with Japan and Canada.
A meeting to support democracy in Venezuela was held in Lima, Peru, this summer, where we had the opportunity to meet a large group of representatives from Southern and Central American countries. Sometimes we forget the scale of the Venezuelan crisis: There are more than 1.2 million refugees in Colombia, and a million in Peru. The crisis is also putting an unprecedented strain on neighbouring countries, not to mention the hardship that Venezuela’s own citizens are facing.
But an even more confusing fact is that Venezuela is now one of the top three countries whose citizens seek asylum in the EU, immediately behind Syria and Afghanistan. The majority of these asylum seekers come to Spain. When we want to explore the root causes of the refugee crisis in Europe, the crisis in Venezuela should be addressed.
During my bilateral visit to Denmark on Friday, I was assured by my new ministerial colleague Jeppe Kofod that Greenland is not for sale. As we agreed with Denmark, Arctic cooperation plays a very important role today. Not least because the super powers, including China, focus more and more attention on the Arctic.
It is particularly important for Finland that active steps are taken to combat climate change in the Arctic environment. These include projects to combat black carbon, and ensuring international environmental financing for them.
In recent years, we have seen that trade has made its way back to the toolbox of geopolitics. The trade dispute between the US and China has expanded into a trade war and continued to spread to other policy areas.
Tensions between the major powers may change their shape and destination, but they are not disappearing. The US is trying to identify its position in relation to a new emerging power, and China is trying to figure out what constitutes a favourable and fair global order from the Chinese perspective. This also represents a competition between two different systems; a democratic market economy and an authoritarian state-led market economy.
We hope that Europe does not contribute to these growing tensions, but we cannot ignore them either. We have already seen new phenomena, such as China’s emerging interest in the Arctic and military presence in the Baltic Sea. It is in Finland’s interest to ensure the Arctic remains outside the tensions between the major powers.
As the Prime Minister has mentioned, we are also facing difficult questions about the development of 5G networks, how we will consider the foreign policy dimension of large foreign investments, and to what extent we are ready to reform, and not only preserve, the structures of international cooperation. It is important that we address these issues jointly in the EU, as only then will the EU remain strong.
An effective working relationship with Finland’s largest neighbour, Russia, forms a part of our efforts to maintain stability. The lifting of sanctions is linked to the elimination of their causes, but there are a number of sectors where cooperation needs to be continued and intensified. For example, cooperation in the fields of environment, climate change and the protection of the Baltic Sea, along with people-to-people contacts, come to mind.
One of the most pressing issues today is the increase in tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. A fifth of the world’s oil passes through the region. While such tensions and the tactics used are not new, they are still very worrying. Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU has also highlighted the situation in our agenda. It has been important for Finland to promote the de-escalation of the tensions in the region and to support the multilateral cooperation for maintaining Iran in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Discussions on this are taking place today in connection with the visit by Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Zarif. I also look forward to hearing thoughts on the region’s situation during the Informal Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs (Gymnich) where the Middle East will be one of the topics discussed.
During my visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, I could see that these neighbouring countries had very concrete concerns about the escalation of the situation. Saudi Arabia especially raised their strong need for developing regional cooperation in the Red Sea area. My message during the visit was that cooperation and the history of the Baltic Sea region could offer lessons on building cross-border cooperation and collaboration across different ideologies and forms of society.
The situation in the Gulf cannot be solved by military means. The principle of freedom of navigation must be respected. Freedom and security of international navigation are an important principle for Finland, and I will reiterate this message to the Iranian Prime Minister today.
As we meet in Helsinki today, Finland’s new Government has just started its work in connection with its Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Surprises have always been part of the presidencies, and during our term at least one “surprise” may unfortunately materialise in the form of Brexit. As time runs out, it is even more likely to be a hard Brexit, which means that the UK will leave the EU without an agreement. Prime Minister Johnson has said that the plan is for the UK to leave the EU by the end of October. We should take him at his word and make our plans accordingly. However, Brexit does not mean an end to all cooperation. It is important to ensure that close cooperation with the United Kingdom will continue, for example in the fields of foreign, security and defence policy. For Finland, it is important to maintain close bilateral cooperation with the United Kingdom under all circumstances.
The Presidency will continue to keep us busy next week when we host the Informal Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs (Gymnich) in Helsinki. This time we will focus on hybrid threats, Arctic issues and the situation in the Middle East.
It is also important to keep in mind that while all the talk is about Brexit, we continue to address the enlargement of the EU. In Gymnich, we plan to discuss the situation in the Western Balkans with the countries in the region. Finland’s view is that as soon as a state meets the required criteria, then membership negotiations should begin. North Macedonia is a timely example of this. If the EU is not active in the Western Balkans, we can be sure that other players will seek to increase their influence in the area, and that would not always be in our interest.
I would now like to turn to this Government and to what we want to tell the rest of the world about Finland, what is changing in our foreign policy and what are the factors that can promote stability.
The transformation of international relations requires us to take a new and active role in gathering information on the changes, in understanding them and also in influencing them. The Government Programme therefore aims to make Finland globally influential. But how can we achieve this?
It is useful to begin with the values that guide our operations. The protection of human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law, sexual rights, the rights of girls and women, and equality has always been important for Finland, but in the foreign policy of this Government these values will be particularly visible. This is a scarlet thread that must be apparent in all our activities. We do not preach, but we will defend our important principles and promote them in practice. In these issues, the Government Programme gives the missions a strong backing to boldly act in support of our values.
In return, we in Finland should remember that others are allowed to criticise us. Otherwise there wouldn’t be freedom of expression. Others don’t have to like Finland and they are allowed to disagree with us. There is no reason to respond to every criticism with a full-force attack. I prefer a calm, analytical approach. While Finland holds the Presidency of the Council, we must show some resilience in tackling difficult issues, even when we are criticised for it.
A globally influential Finland also defends multilateral cooperation, a rules-based world order, and the reform of that order, although I am aware it won’t be easy. The rise of populism, nationalism, protectionism and authoritarian leaders challenges the ways in which international cooperation has been carried out for decades. However, a “me first” attitude ultimately will not provide solutions for genuine or perceived problems, but merely paint others as enemies. A small and export-led country such as Finland cannot cope in a world where everyone only thinks about themselves. Besides making speeches, we want to play our part in supporting multilateral institutions. That’s why Finland is seeking membership of the UN Human Rights Council for 2022–2024. I hope that you will be able to integrate this goal into your own action plans and that together we can run a successful campaign.
Today, on 19 August, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of World Humanitarian Day. The bomb attack of 19 August 2003 in Baghdad resulted in the death of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative Mr Sérgio Vieira de Mello and some 20 other UN staff. The UN was faced with an unprecedented terrorist attack.
I visited de Mello’s office at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad a few days before the deadly bomb attack. We had a long discussion about the role of the UN in crisis areas in general, and in the difficult situation in Iraq in particular. I take my hat off to international experts who choose to work in troubled, conflict-affected areas, with all the risks involved. Unfortunately, there are still too many attacks on UN organisations, peacekeepers and aid organisations worldwide. The humanitarian rules of war, the Geneva Conventions and the symbol of the Red Cross offering sanctuary have increasingly become targets.
Over the years, we have witnessed a deterioration in the respect of humanitarian law, especially in the protracted crises in Syria, Yemen and parts of Africa. It has become more difficult, costly and dangerous to deliver emergency aid. Civilian populations in particular suffer from brutal warfare, which then hinders the crisis resolution efforts even further.
I hope that in your positions across the world you will be able to support actions promoting humanitarian law. Your work will complement the role Finland plays in funding humanitarian aid and in defending the rules-based international system.
The new Government Programme will not change everything. Finland has a stable long-term foreign and security policy which does not change rapidly. Finland is a militarily non-aligned state which participates in international cooperation and training activities on its own terms and to secure its own interests. We want to continue to deepen cooperation with the Nordic countries and Sweden in particular. That, as well, is in our own interest. In the event of a crisis in Europe, we would not be able to remain unaffected.
In addition to the Government Programme, it is important to consider the extent to which resources are available for the Foreign Service. I know that in recent years many of you have been hard hit, hearing the news about mission closures or early suspension of development projects. Some missions have not even been able to hold the traditional Independence Day celebrations.
The Government is now taking action to correct this situation. In the next few years, Finland will open a number of new missions, the first of them in Baghdad later this year. Being globally influential also means that we must be active, and seen to be active, in the world and that we have a good network of missions.
I know that many of you are working in difficult and even dangerous conditions. Difficult situations provide an extremely important perspective and experience which cannot be accumulated by other means. I value this experience a great deal, and I know that it is also appreciated in international organisations when recruitment is being considered.
During the government coalition talks, we talked a great deal about bringing labour migration up to a sensible level. The Finnish economy needs talent and people but recruitment sometimes flounders due to bureaucratic difficulties. This is now changing.
In order to address the problems in the system of work permits, additional resources will be provided. Regarding work permits, we will work closely with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. Today, the international economy requires international talent for a variety of positions, and we will be the ones to suffer if our economy stalls because of bureaucratic difficulties with work permits.
To conclude, I would like to stress the point I made earlier at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs employee event at the beginning of the summer.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I want to promote a good and constructive working environment in our Ministry and in the missions abroad in order to ensure that each employee can make the best possible contribution to Finland. No form of discrimination, harassment or bullying has a place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or in any other workplace. Heads of Missions have a great deal of responsibility in this matter and can influence the working culture of their missions. I would like to thank you for your continued efforts in this field.
If any inappropriate behaviour is brought to my attention, it will be addressed immediately. You should also know that I will personally ensure that reporting on such matters will always be considered a service to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its working environment. With regard to the working environment and the working culture, the time for keeping secrets and tiptoeing around the problems is now over.
Jenni Vartiainen sings how when you go fast enough, the speed you travel will smooth over your mistakes. Unfortunately this is not the case, not in the song or in reality. We will always need accuracy. But courage and initiative can play an important role in foreign policy when the timing and situation are right. As ambassadors, you have a key role in spotting the opportunities for exerting influence and taking the initiative. The Ministry wants to use your skills and expertise so that Finland can work successfully and efficiently in international situations. And if I may express a personal wish regarding reporting, observing what is essential and summarising it are important skills.
I hope you have also been able to read and think about new things during your summer holidays. I picked up Raija Oranen’s book “Manu” for my summer reading. Through fiction, the writer deals with the Soviet Union’s transformation into Russia – also a significant period in Finland’s history – Gorbachev’s era and the Baltic states’ struggles to gain independence.
The main character in the book is plagued by uncertainty, even fear: what would be the worst possible outcome to result from all this? The character also compares many issues with the major hardships of his own life during the war, and asks whether we can encourage others to follow a course of action if we are not ready to take it ourselves.
While we live in times of uncertainty, it is important to remember that, even in the recent past, there has been a great deal of uncertainty and big questions to solve. In fact, uncertainty is a permanent state, and we have to navigate through fog.
In particular, one quote from Oranen’s book stayed in my mind. It was the words of George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”