Archive and Chronology of Finnish Foreign Policy
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”The Case for a Stronger Europe in a Harder World” – Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Humboldt University, Berlin, 23 November 2021

Ladies and gentlemen,

”It will take twenty years before we arrive at a common foreign policy, let alone a common security policy, of the Europeans. But step by step we will have to come to it.”

This quote is from the first Humboldt Speech in this series. In November 2000, former Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt spoke here about the “self-assertion of Europe in the new century”. We now know that twenty years were not enough. On paper, a common foreign and security policy of the European Union does exist. In practice, however, there is still a long way to go.

Helmut Schmidt was famously of the view that people with visions should seek medical help. But when he outlined the major challenges facing us in the new century, his speech twenty-one years ago was nothing short of visionary. Population growth, climate change, regional and local wars – all of them leading to mass migration. New states rising to become world powers, and the global impacts of financial markets and emerging technologies – all of them underscoring the fact that no European nation can thrive on its own. This list put forward by Schmidt remains extremely topical today.

If anything, the need for a more self-assertive Europe has only become more obvious. The world surrounding us has become harder, in both senses of the word.

It is more complicated – with an increasing amount of powerful actors, with an increasing variety of technologies and methods at their disposal. And it is more ruthless – a place where beautiful statements about values and principles are often overshadowed by cynical acts creating facts on the ground.

In such a world, individual European states, even the largest ones, will not carry much weight on their own. A stronger Europe is in the interest of us all.

* * *

What does a stronger Europe mean, then? Different Europeans see the strengths of the European Union through different lenses. For some, the EU is predominantly an economic community, one that has grown from the original EEC of the Six to the world’s largest Single Market. For others, the emphasis is on the EU as a community of values, one that is based on democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Both of these assets, our economy and our values, are indeed fundamental components of Europe’s success. They have been that in the past, they will be that in the future. External challenges must not stop us from nurturing these strengths at home. If these foundations begin to fray or to disintegrate, any ability of ours to project power beyond our borders will vanish.

Neither should we shy away from being outspoken on how we seek to provide a better life for our own citizens. I believe that this narrative still has receptive audiences across the globe. Many continue to see the European model as an example worth following in their own countries.

But we must understand one important distinction here. The time for imposing a set of ready-made patterns on others is over – if there ever was such a time. Because if we are honest, the results of such a policy have never been impressive. Exported values can only have a lasting impact if the receiving end genuinely believes in them.

* * *

Unfortunately, in the world of today, not even the most affluent of economies, not even the noblest of values, will be enough. The world has become a more acrimonious and dangerous place. And the world increasingly respects power.

Therefore, we also need the European Union to take a much stronger role as a security community. Internally, we need a Europe that protects its citizens. Externally, we need a Europe that protects its interests.

From today’s perspective, we often forget that European integration did not begin with the economy and values alone. Peace and security were present at the creation. After the immeasurable suffering brought about by the Second World War, the key objective of European integration was to make another war between the members of the same community impossible. Economic integration was a means to an end. As a peace project, it has been remarkably successful.

In the field of security and defense, however, the track record has been more modest over the years. Ever since the failure of the European Defence Community in the early 1950s, the majority of EU members have mainly looked to NATO as the ultimate guarantee of their security.

A strong Atlantic alliance continues to be imperative for our security, and Finland highly values its close partnership with NATO. Much can also be done with new ad-hoc coalitions and initiatives led by Germany, the UK and France. Finland, for its part, has actively been developing its dense network of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral defense arrangements.

But at the same time, shouldn’t Europe as a whole be able to punch according to its own weight, too? There must be no doubt about European potential in security and defense. If we rely on the data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, already now the 27 EU members, put together, spend almost as much on defense as China, and almost four times as much as Russia. I also want to stress that if it fulfils its potential, the European Union is a more complete security actor than any other. Its toolbox covers a full range of assets, from civilian to military, and from diplomacy to crisis management. The tools are in place, but often the will to use them is not. This potential must be harnessed.

In the 21st century, security does not have to be, or rather, it must not be a zero-sum game. This should be true even for competitors and adversaries. It should be self-evident for partners and allies.

If we Europeans are able to shoulder more responsibility for our own security, that should only strengthen the transatlantic bond. If the European Union develops its capacity for action, that will only benefit NATO, too, given the large overlap in memberships between the two institutions.

* * *

The time for strengthening Europe is now. The urgency is in large part due to the external pressures on us. They are rapidly growing from many directions simultaneously.

On the geopolitical front, the balance of power in the world is changing. The great-power competition between the United States and China increasingly has repercussions on our shores, too. The global focus is shifting towards the Indo-Pacific region, at least in part at the expense of Europe. Without the power, both economic and military, to support our diplomacy, no amount of negotiating skills can prevent a further weakening of the European impact on the global level.

Russia’s proximity and military power makes it a force always to be reckoned with for Europe. For Finland, maintaining a functioning bilateral relationship with Russia is essential. But a constructive dialogue is in no contradiction with firmly defending our interests and principles in that relationship. The same should be possible for the European Union, too. Refusing to interact with Russia does not strengthen the EU, it only makes it look weaker and less relevant.

During the past weeks, we have witnessed very worrying developments at the borders between Belarus and EU member states. Instrumentalising migrants, pushing them to cross the border, is a textbook example of a hybrid operation. As such, it forces us to face some very difficult questions.

Faced with malicious hybrid activities like this, can we hold on to our values and our security concerns simultaneously? I believe we need a frank European discussion about this. Without one, we will be even more vulnerable to further attacks. Instead of allowing these wedges to be driven between us, we need a firm and common European reaction.

* * *

Fellow Europeans,

I will say this again: The time for strengthening Europe is now. In addition to the many dark clouds on the external horizon, there is also a more positive internal reason for this urgency. The questions concerning security and defense are finally getting the attention they deserve in the EU.

The aspiration for a stronger Europe was laid out already in the EU’s Global Strategy five years ago. There has since then been no shortage of declarations towards the same objective: a Europe that protects. But to be fair, a lot has been achieved in the intervening years, too. In addition to the External Action Service as a tool for our common diplomacy, we now also have a set of instruments to improve our common capabilities.

Acronyms like PESCO, CARD or EDF may sound terribly technical and bureaucratic. Their immediate impact on our security may seem limited. But if we take a longer view, the change is remarkable. The ways in which we look at defense spending, interoperability and industrial cooperation together would have been unimaginable at the beginning of this century.

In the coming months, we have an opportunity to take the next steps, or hopefully even leaps, forward. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has talked about the need for a European Defence Union. An EU Defence Summit is planned for next year. And we are, together, preparing a Strategic Compass for the EU.

We must use this momentum wisely and decisively. At its worst, of course, the Strategic Compass will only become yet another statement of intent. At its best, however, it can be used as a vehicle to genuinely make Europe stronger.

The problem for Europe has never been a lack of institutions or initiatives. What we have lacked has been a shared analysis of the threats we face. What we have lacked has been a strong political will to address those threats effectively together. I call upon all Europeans to seize the opportunity to correct these shortcomings now.

I am afraid that the world we live in will continue to become harder to comprehend, harder to operate in, and harder to manage. As individual nation-states, we will have to navigate these difficult waters in any case – on our own, in different partnerships, as parts of the international system.

But if we cannot rely on a common European approach, our task will be much more daunting. Positioning ourselves credibly on the changing geopolitical map, responding effectively to conventional and hybrid threats, staying on top of emerging and disruptive technologies – all of this is much more difficult, if not impossible, if we try to achieve it alone. Our security and our prosperity is at stake. We do not have another twenty years to wait. The time for a stronger Europe really is now.

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