Archive and Chronology of Finnish Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s speech at the autumn meeting of the Atlantic Council of Finland

Chair of the Atlantic Council of Finland, Liisa Jaakonsaari, Ministers Jaakko Iloniemi and Paavo Rantanen, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Thank you for the opportunity to address the 20-year-old Atlantic Council of Finland.

It is a particular pleasure for me to have an audience from different sectors of society. There are many professionals of US relations here, including a number of ambassadors.

The ties across the Atlantic are extensive, as is your expertise. That is good, because we need a deep understanding of the state and foreign policy of the United States.

When I look at my Government’s operating environment and the key goals of my Government Programme, starting with addressing climate change, the key importance and role of the United States is integral to many of them.

Americans would likely respond that they have to meet major global challenges – particularly the rise of China.

As we well know, the greatest challenges facing us today are precisely the universal ones. And that’s why the solutions must also be universal. As we have seen, there are different points of view about this.

One could say that the United States and Europe look at the same ocean but see different horizons.

This need not be the case, however.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world order is changing and, as Europe, we have to find our place in it. The Americans, too, are looking for their role. One often hears from deep within the United States, behind Washington, that people are searching for a somehow fairer deal for them.

At the same time, societal change in the United States is visible to everyone as divisions intensify and the technological revolution poses a threat to increasing numbers of jobs. We are not immune to change in Europe, either.

I am interested in hearing today the views of members of the Atlantic Council of Finland.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finland’s relations with the United States are closer than ever. There are not many countries in the world that have received the same attention and recognition of the White House as Finland and our President have received in recent years. The fact that the President of the United States says he respects Finland reflects more broadly the attitude of the United States towards us.

Visits at all levels to the United States started off quickly in this government term and I have also required this of my ministers. An open-minded approach.
The fields in which cooperation is particularly close reflect our deep trust in each other. The 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations has been celebrated this year on both sides of the Atlantic – and for good reason, which we see in many ways on a practical level. My own approach to relations with the United States is also pragmatic.

The importance of the United States relates not only to the major issues at hand but also to practical deeds at various levels. I recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the State of Maine on co-operation in bioeconomy. On the same visit, I went to the Keflavik military base in Iceland. Another good example was meeting Google’s CEO in Helsinki when the company’s new giant investment in Finland was announced.

The United States’ commitment to the security of Europe is essential for Finland. Defence cooperation with the United States and our other partners strengthens our national security.

The significance of the United States for the Finnish economy and our future competitiveness is undeniable. When we think of the technology-based societal solutions of the future and Finland as a small, technology-driven economy, it is clear that we need to cooperate extensively with the United States.

It is a question of investing in our own competitiveness and innovation with those whose expertise is the best in the world. Despite the rise of East Asia and China in particular, the United States will long remain the world’s engine of innovation and the most important technology market.

I hope that this will also be borne in mind at the European level when we establish centres of excellence. I myself have spoken a lot about creating a European super-university, aimed at strengthening European excellence and research.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A strong and united European Union is in our interests and I hope that the United States also considers it to be in its own interests. The European Union has purposefully promoted a positive agenda with regard to the United States, even when our patience has undeniably been tested.

Confrontation between Europe and the United States will only strengthen the shift in the international order in a direction that does not serve our interests. It is hard to imagine that we could strengthen the multilateral system without cooperation with the United States. At the same time, it is essential that we act from our own perspective. I'll come back to this.

I hope that the United States will awaken to how vacuums are filled – how superpowers promoting different values will benefit if we do not succeed together.

I say this knowing that my own values do not always match those that the United States is promoting today. A certain kind of hard value-conservatism is also starting to be reflected very concretely in US foreign policy. This possibly reflects the societal situation in the country. In the UN, for example, when sexual and reproductive rights and the position of women and girls are discussed, the United States more often than not finds itself in questionable company.

If the lines of communication are open, we can talk frankly with the United States about this, and so we must. I emphasise that, as Finland and Europe, we will act from our own perspectives.

There is a lot of talk that, as Europe, we could replace the United States where it is withdrawing its considerable investments – for example in climate finance. Everywhere this will not be possible or even right. The United States is still the second largest producer of emissions globally after China, although the trend does seem better. This leaves us faced with a challenge when resources should be made available.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A superpower always views the world from its own peculiar point of view. The world has sometimes been clear. Just before President Kekkonen’s visit in July 1970, Kissinger, National Security Adviser to US President Nixon, briefed the President as follows: Finns want to show during the visit that the United States accepts Finland’s neutrality and that Finland can depend on strong friends in accordance with its choices and needs. The visit preceded a trip to the Soviet Union. The issue could not have been more clearly expressed at that time.

Our position as part of the European Union is very different and it is also clear. Superpower competition, however, sets its own kind of pressures and difficulties for the whole of Europe. The areas in which superpower competition is engaged are very concrete, ranging from technologies to traditional security policy issues. This requires Transatlantic transparency and close dialogue.

This also results in a difficult equation. The relationship between Europe and the United States is based on a deep trust that we will promote the same kind of world order. Strengthening multilateral organisations as well as a common agenda, for example, against climate change, for human rights and in favour of rules-based trade have, at best, been our shared goals worldwide.

Now the United States is pursuing these goals selectively and openly justifying its actions based on its own interests. The multilateral organisations that the United States seeks to shape to accord with its interests are numerous and include the cornerstones of the entire multilateral system. We sometimes agree, however, on the diagnosis and the need for reform, at least in part. For example, the UN undoubtedly needs to be reformed.

There are also treaties essential for European security and it is important that the United States abide by them. In arms control, I hope that we will find ways to strengthen arrangements and not to erode them further. For example, the Open Skies Treaty remains one of the few agreements that creates transparency and trust between the superpowers and is in the interests of both Europe and the United States. The Treaty also brings concrete benefits to all of us.

For us, the equation is particularly difficult, because we have to simultaneously work hard to commit the United States to the system and make ourselves attractive. While ensuring that we do not end up promoting narrow American interests and jeopardising the sustainability of the system when the other superpowers react. The United States often sets Europe demands in terms of choosing a side.

This demand is easy to answer: Europe chose its side a long time ago. We are on the side of peace, stability and cooperation – just as we have been up until now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The key to the equation is adequate European self-confidence. Self-confidence means a more sustainable unity in the EU than to date and clear identification of our own perspectives. Also the courage to seize opportunities.

Finland has long encouraged the strengthening of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. And we are also doing so now as we hold the EU Presidency. The Union has a wide range of tools that the Member States alone, or even the North Atlantic Alliance, do not have. At best, we are able to combine different tools to support strategy.

EU defence cooperation brings added value to both the North Atlantic Alliance and the United States. For Finland, it is essential that the EU and the North Atlantic Alliance both develop their capabilities and cooperation. The importance of close cooperation is also recognised in the EU Strategic Agenda for 2019-2024. We have contributed to this cooperation by establishing in Helsinki the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

We need the unity of Europe and the United States in response to Russia, which is violating international law in Ukraine. The role of the United States, together with the EU, in the Western Balkans is now particularly important so that integration with the rest of Europe is clearly maintained in the region – I am thinking, of course, of North Macedonia and Albania, but also the wider region. For this reason, Finland considers it important to open accession negotiations with both countries.

The Arctic is an important region where cooperation should be set in its rightful place.

The United States has made it clear it is paying close attention to the strategic interests of China and Russia in the Arctic. An important driving force, however, is the changes in the Arctic environment resulting from climate change – new sea routes and opportunities for both to increase economic influence and exploitation of the region.

Protection of the Arctic environment and the sustainable development of the region have also been strongly highlighted on President of the Republic Niinistö’s recent visits to the United States, as well as in contacts at various levels with Washington. Reducing black carbon emissions, for example, is now also recognised as an important area of cooperation on the American side.

We want the United States to commit fully to the work of the Arctic Council. At the same time, we recognise that it would be good to handle high-security issues in some setting or other – as this is not the Council’s role. An Arctic Summit could also be a creative solution to discuss these issues.

In any case, cooperation between Finland and the United States on Arctic issues is close and pragmatic in various areas, ranging from the bioeconomy and the sustainable use of natural resources in food production to telecommunications. I talked about our Arctic policy in more detail in October at the Arctic Circle event in Iceland. At that time, I expressed my wish for a stronger role for the European Union in Arctic issues, and I hope that the United States would also recognise the wider significance of this role.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The relationship between Europe and the United States is unique. I hope that the United States attaches great value to our choice – to how we in Europe have decided to share our sovereignty.

In my meetings with Americans, I have noticed that this important part of the equation is not always understood. We also have to emphasise to the United States how the European Union is not an external actor for Finland, but who we are. Criticism of the European Union and its high-level actors can also take place in Helsinki. The Brexit process has hopefully also made clear to Americans how close a community the European Union is.

The trade and investment relationship between the European Union and the United States is the largest and most important in the world. In terms of volume, trade is double compared to trade between the United States and China or between Europe and China. Hopefully, this will position us correctly in the eyes of Americans in superpower competition.

In Finland, too, we have to be able to present the benefits of open, rules-based trade in a very concrete way. I have noticed that others are drawing attention in Washington to the jobs brought by their investments. Nokian Tyres’ new investment in Tennessee is an example worth highlighting. It is good that Europeans carry out such work deep in the United States.

The tariffs on steel and aluminium are still in force, however. The Airbus retaliatory measures imposed in October strained relations. President Trump is expected to decide by 13 November what action, if any, the US will initiate to curb car imports. In December, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organisation will cease to operate, as the United States is blocking the appointment of new judges and only one judge will remain.

The European Union has consistently sought a positive agenda in relation to the United States also in this situation. We have been looking for negotiated solutions.

The European Union is not a party to the US-China trade dispute, but we cannot be completely indifferent to it. The outlook for the global economy is deteriorating. The trade dispute must not be allowed to spread. The cost of it is already considerable for everyone.

The United States and China are unable to find solutions to the systemic problems associated with China’s unfair trade practices. Cooperation has been sought on a tripartite basis between Japan, the United and the EU to enable us to reform, at a later stage, state-aid rules, for example, within the sphere of the World Trade Organisation.

In technologies, we need an EU-wide approach to security challenges. This would be the best basis for cooperation with the United States. In the new world, technology is one of the most important areas of superpower competition. The technology value chains are threatening to break down. Future rules are already being hammered out in the UN specialized agencies. It is clear that the United States cannot respond to superpower competition in technologies alone, just as Europe cannot.

Electronic information networks are also increasingly significant in strengthening – but also in restricting – human rights and democracy. Finland and the United States are already promoting the realisation of human rights and equal access on the internet, for example via the Freedom Online Coalition. Europe should seek positive areas of cooperation like these.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United States is a diverse country. This means there are also opportunities for the kind of cooperation for which there is no demand on the federal level.

Our societal model has a very special connotation in the United States. At the same time, however, concrete societal solutions developed in the Nordic countries are of interest throughout the United States.

On the state level, moreover, there is great interest in circular economy solutions and green economy ideas. The fight against climate change and the transition to a cleaner economy are progressing. Parties from states and hundreds of cities have committed to implementing the Paris Climate Agreement at the same time as the Federal Government is planning to withdraw from it next year.

Finland is consciously striving to strengthen partnerships with states and cities in order to support implementation, for example.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The multilateral system must be strengthened – not exposed to superpower competition, the objectives of which are not known, not even to the competitors themselves.

I have openly said this to American visitors and have found the discussions that followed to be constructive. I admit that I learned something.

The United States no longer seems to have faith in this operating model as much as before. Of the major global changes, the rise of China, along with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, has tested American confidence. Americans seem to believe that their country has given too much to others – that others, China in particular, have benefitted at the Americans’ expense.

Many of the Americans born today have no European family roots. The polarisation of society is a poor basis for foreign policy which, in this geopolitical context, would need stability, long-term vision and the compromises that are an intrinsic part of multilateralism. It is precisely a willingness to compromise that is an essential part of multilateral action and creates the trust that builds partnerships.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the same time as the Atlantic Council was founded in Finland,  the foreign minister of the world’s only superpower happened to remind us of the guiding principle “speak softly, carry a big stick”. This principle supported the rise of United States at the beginning of the last century.

When the activities of your organisation were launched, the multilateral system was strengthened together with and led by the United States. Frustratingly, this is nowadays presented on the other side of the Atlantic as some kind of debt of gratitude. We are grateful, of course, but I would point out that the Americans, too, have needed – and increasingly need – a strong Europe. We have to look forward.

Strengthening multilateralism requires new justifications from us in addition to those that already exist. It also requires that we be honest with ourselves. Power relationships within the multilateral system are changing. Our population is ageing. Technological change is taking away jobs also on our continent. We have to seek partnerships in Asia, where there is significant economic growth. Future generations will see our relationship with the United States from very different perspectives than I see it. 

I have spoken about finding a positive agenda with the United States but also about realism: of the need to find a greater healthy European self-confidence by which we, too, can speak softly and convince others of our common values.

Convince others that when we look at the same ocean, the horizon can also be the same. This is a good foundation for the Transatlantic relationship.

Thank you.