Archive and Chronology of Finnish Foreign Policy

Speech by Minister Haavisto at the AGM of Paasikivi Society

Speech at the AGM of Paasikivi Society on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 by Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto

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Esteemed Speaker of Parliament Vanhanen, ladies and gentlemen,

I will begin with a small anecdote about the person to whom this society is dedicated. When my brother, Esko, began his banking career as an economist at KOP, President Paasikivi’s old study in the bank's main offices on Aleksanterinkatu was assigned to him.

A special feature of Paasikivi's study was its double doors. There was a small anteroom between the doors. The staff told my brother that the double doors were quite necessary in Paasikivi's time, as they prevented his voice from echoing too loudly in the corridors when he got worked up.

Paasikivi's old desk was still in the room. On its left side, a blackened and rotting spot could be seen in the parquet floor. According to the staff, Paasikivi was in the habit of stubbing out his cigars on the floor, finishing off with a splash of water from his jug. This is how legends are born.

Ladies and gentlemen,

during Prime Minister Rinne's first months in office, our international partners have often asked me about what has changed in Finland’s foreign policy, and what has remained the same. Many of those who ask are surprised to hear that, no matter which parties the Government is composed of, the basic outlines of Finnish foreign policy remain stable and predictable, and no heated internal debated is going on about foreign policy issues in Finland, at least not currently.

The world around us is changing rapidly, and it is unthinkable that we would remain bystanders amidst this change. On the contrary, we must ensure that there will be room for a country like Finland and our way of thinking in the world, and that we have partners who understand our mentality and interests as extensively as possible. We must also continuously consider who the partners that share our way of thinking and interests are.

There has been a great deal of talk about the return of geopolitics, but I also see many battles between ideas and ideologies in the world. Protectionism is rearing its head strongly. Democratic models of top-down leadership – if they can indeed be called democratic – are also popular. In addition, both hardcore nationalism and extremist religious movements are causing immense turmoil. The ‘borderless state’, or caliphate, formed by Isis was an example of these.

This means that we simultaneously have to keep an eye on both geography and the power of ideas and ideologies, face the challenges brought about by the changing economy, and explore the new world village which relies on information technologies and in which the trees of both good and bad wisdom flourish. Cyber and hybrid threats are examples of new means of influence added to the conventional security and military threats.

Ladies and gentlemen,

in Prime Minister Rinne’s Government Programme, the section that has perhaps raised the greatest number of questions states: “The promotion of human rights forms the central element of the value base on which Finland’s foreign and security policy rests.” Some have even asked if it is not slightly naive and one-sided to start talking about human rights in a world that is undergoing major upheavals. Human rights are experienced as a very 'soft’ issue in this tough world.

According to the Government Programme, the promotion of human rights, the rule of law, democracy, peace, freedom, tolerance and equality in all international activities forms the central element of the value base on which Finland’s foreign and security policy rests.

I reflected on this value base and human rights on Monday as I visited Belarus with Ms Ann Linden, the Swedish Foreign Minister. First of all, we should note that foreign and security policy cooperation between Finland and Sweden has perhaps never before been as close as it is at the moment. This bilateral cooperation already intensified during Prime Minister Sipilä’s government term. On out visit to Belarus, we had a common message, which we were able to pass on to both President Lukashenko and Mr Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

We were also greeted together and welcomed to Belarus as representatives of the ‘Nordic model’. According to our hosts in Belarus, this is the model they also aim for, above all when it comes to society's responsibility for its more vulnerable members.

In addition to discussing ordinary cooperation issues, we addressed both the OSCE’s critical evaluation of the country's recent parliamentary elections and criticism levelled at legislation providing for the death penalty, which is still valid in Belarus. We also met opposition and NGO representatives.

While we did not agree on all questions, the desire to continue our dialogue was mutual.

Cooperation between Belarus and the EU was found important, and we also felt that discussing the EU and its shared values was meaningful. The Belarus press asked us a great number of questions about these issues. I was left with the feeling that rather than being wasted, our visit reinforced the wish for continued cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Union is often also described as a community of values, even if the question of whether we actually share the same values has recently been raised more and more frequently.

At the Gymnich meeting of EU foreign ministers held in Helsinki this summer, we provided the participants with an opportunity to listen to and talk with human rights defenders during lunch. Female activists from Ukraine, Bahrain, Uganda and Finland came to tell the ministers about their personal experiences and work. More than one European foreign minister came to us afterwards and said this was one of the most interesting ministerial meetings they had ever attended.

When we wish to defend those values, principles and democratic operating methods that are important for us, foreign policy based on human rights is about factual and reasoned discussions rather than shouting into a megaphone. In such discussions we can bring up difficult issues rather than skirt around them. We do not talk down to our partners, however; we have a dialogue in which those issues that may have room for improvement here in Finland can also be brought up.

Ladies and gentlemen,

personally, I see foreign policy based on the values of human rights as a way of structuring today's large global trends: by looking at the situation from the perspective of the individual and the realisation of the individual's rights.

This is not a bad viewpoint in a world where various authoritarian trends which belittle the individual’s rights have gathered strength, and in which conflicts or lack of development keep too many people from the realisation of their fundamental rights.

The crisis between Ukraine and Russia, the occupation of Crimea, and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine are also about the realisation of fundamental human rights. A ceasefire on the front line of Donbass makes a difference in the daily lives of ordinary Ukrainians. When I visited this front, I heard how older people cross the border to collect their pensions, and families make arrangements for the next time they will see each other.

Finland has supported the ceasefire, for example by providing assistance with demining. Progress with implementing the Minsk agreements would now be crucial. The news of a Normandy Four meeting in December is hopeful, even if peace is still a long way away.

The wars leading to the breakup of Yugoslavia shadowed the positive development of Europe in the 1990s. When I visited the Western Balkan countries this autumn, it brought home to me very strongly how important European integration would be for these countries today.

As no solution for the issue of EU expansion could be found for Northern Macedonia and Albania during Finland's Presidency, all we can do now is double our efforts regarding the entire Western Balkans. The risks include problems with these countries’ internal development and general disintegration, which many forces would be only too happy to exploit.

As the EU has been living through its own struggles with Brexit in recent years, we have been inclined to overlook such regions as Latin America, where many types of upheavals are currently under way – we only need to think about the situation in Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile or Ecuador. Once again, using human rights and the realisation of fundamental rights as our value base provides us with at least one indicator for monitoring the situation and development in these countries. I am perhaps not the only one in this room whose political awakening was strongly influenced by the situation in Chile in 1973. Venezuelans currently are one of the largest groups of asylum seekers in the European Union. This is not particularly obvious in Finland, as most of the pressure focuses on Spain.

Our ability to analyse major trends in Asia or Africa has not always been very good, either. The USA and China emerge as competitors in many sectors and geographical areas today. China’s long-term goals also include achieving economic supremacy.

We should thus pay more attention to the internal dynamics and development in Asia. The events in Hong Kong remind us that once again, human rights and civil liberties are critical factors also for the development of great powers.

Extended conflicts sap the life force of entire nations. The situation in Afghanistan is an example of this. While Afghanistan is one of the largest development cooperation partners for Finland and while we have also participated in military crisis management in that country for a long time, no end to the conflict is in sight.

Possible negotiations between the Taleban and the USA could bring new openings and solutions. At the same time, we should make sure that the progress made in women's and girls’ rights over the last decades will not be undermined in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Finland is also always prepared to offer its good services if required.

We do not really expect good news from Africa. In our news broadcasts, Africa is often presented as a continent with multiple problems, and these problems are seen in Europe above all as potential growth in migration flows and refugeeism. A much more in-depth analysis is needed, however.

Recent development in Ethiopia and Sudan, for instance, is extremely interesting – it is as though we are seeing a new Arab Spring in countries which missed the previous wave clamouring for civil liberties. Will it have more durable effects than the first wave? On this is a question we, too, can have some influence.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I speak of human rights and civil liberties as part of a world order that was created step by step after the Second World War. This world expanded as the Berlin wall crumbled and the winds of freedom blew in Central and Eastern Europe.

If the ‘continent’ of human rights and civil liberties in this world is reduced and weakened, Finland will also lose out. Our room for manoeuvre becomes smaller if those upholding opposing values gain more influence. This may also affect adversely our ability to maintain an open economy and profit from our exports.

Values and national interests can also be combined in foreign policy, and this is how I personally see the value base of human rights. We are defending a world order in which we have room for manoeuvre and in which we can maintain peace, stability and prosperity in our own country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

we engage in human rights based foreign policy because it is in our interests to live in a world that is slightly more predictable, peaceful, democratic and equal. These policies will also be seen in the Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, which we started preparing this autumn.

Values thus no longer are a post-script to our activities; they are at the core of every decision. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, this has also been my message to the staff of the ministry and foreign missions. We can and we must defend the values that are important for us. We should actively seek opportunities for making moves that promote international cooperation.

Thank you.