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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Soini

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Soini, Heads of Mission Seminar 27 August 2018


Dear colleagues and friends,

As a politician, I should start with the change in doing politics. I have talked about this subject before, but not yet enough. In the future, this change will significantly shape our societies and thus also your work.

Technology is moving societies forward. Nothing wrong with that. And artificial intelligence is speeding things up further. From the beginning of time, technology has also determined the pace  - and partly the rules - of war. Technology has now revolutionised politics, too. Here and elsewhere. This has brought many benefits: through the Internet, freedom of speech has made its way to remote villages and given a voice to many people in Africa and Asia alike. It has also enabled economic progress.

People are ‘living with the times’. And many are caught up  by life. You  have the whole world on  your hand – on your mobile phone. At the same time, peoples’ viewpoints  are narrowing. People get stuck in their own Face-scoop and try to find support for their own opinions. Alcohol has been replaced by algorithms as the ruler of many lives when discussing dependencies. Truth is of no  interest, it does not sell. You can say anything you like. And share it – with more people. And language gets tougher.

Populism knows how to use technology – maybe better than anyone else. There are no clear rules for doing politics. The boundaries are being tested at home front. But foreign powers are also using the ‘bots and bits’ of the social media world. Citizens’ trust in institutions is being weakened. Efforts are being made to destabilise the integrity of elections. This is eroding democracy. And increasing the feeling of insecurity. It is also crumbling support for the international system.

Election results depend on ‘triggering the quiet masses’. Now this is done through the social media. The  public opinion is powered – and exploited – by anonymous ‘thumbs up’. Towards  one direction today. And towards a different one tomorrow. The old political parties are withering. There will be a staggering increase in the share of floating voters. Election results will lead to impasses: forming governments will be an uphill struggle.

We, politicians do not understand this phenomenon – nor are we able to analyse it in depth. However, it will bring about significant changes in the way societies function and politics is done. It is already happening both in Europe and elsewhere. The change will continue, for example in European Parliament elections. I know by personal experience that the European Parliament is not the centre of the universe – even if some people over there keep thinking it is – but this institution  has enough power today to make the elections significant. Making political decisions on society’s affairs should not be too easy – not down to one click of the mouse. As a right sort of a populist, I hope we would consider the longer term impacts of this social media politics – quite seriously. If, in other words, people continue to have some appreciation of society and politics in their current forms. As I do myself. If real populists do not listen to what the people are saying, extremists will. The consequences of that can only be imagined .

Ladies and gentlemen,

we are also facing a great transformation on the global scale, which is basically underpinned by the same phenomenon. Economic globalisation enabled by technology and its uneven distribution in national states. As counter acts power politics and unilateral actions are being stressed.

However, we global security threats require  cooperation. Climate change, poverty and inequality, uncontrolled migration and terrorism. These are issues that no individual state can solve alone.

An effective, rules-based system is the cornerstone of Finland’s security and economy.
Our security is being undermined by the erosion of multilateralism  and the resulting unpredictability.
Defending this system is one of the strategic priorities of Finland’s foreign and security policy.

Success will depend on sensible actions by the European Union –  one  element of which is unity. But we must realise that there is also life outside the EU. A precondition for reinforcing the international rule-based system is cooperation with other partners in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The system is worth defending. There is some work to do  for you.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My key message today is that we cannot afford not to invest in Africa.

The geopolitical position and potential of Africa should finally be acknowledged – also in Finland.

There is an increasing willingness in African states to combine their forces and give the continent a voice of its own. In March, the African Union made a decision to establish a free trade area spanning the entire continent. The agreement has already been signed by 49 countries. Economic integration has immense potential as a driver of development. Regional integration in Africa is vital for Europe.

Talking about Africa too often invokes images of conflicts, fundamental development challenges and poor governance. Although these are true facts too. We forget that  half of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa. Africa is a market with a billion consumers. The growing youth of Africa has enormous potential.  But we must provide young people with other future visions than  Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.

I have summed it up by saying that we need  to choose between people and goods. If there are no jobs or prospects in Africa, it is obvious that young people will be on the move. We must be able to manage migration to Europe. There are no rapid solutions for this. The challenges must be addressed at their source. Well-targeted and efficiently implemented development cooperation is one instrument for doing this. Above all, however, we should guarantee African countries fair treatment in the world market and promote their integration in the global economy.

In early June, I took part in a meeting of Nordic and African ministers of foreign affairs in Copenhagen, where I had interesting discussions with my African colleagues. Good bilateral relations are the foundation of all cooperation. In the speeches, "trade instead of aid” was a recurring catchphrase.  It is up to us – the foreign service – to develop economic diplomacy with African countries. This is not enough on its own, however. For this reason, I challenge Finnish businesses to join us in considering the type of actor we could be in the African growth market. What can we offer?

There can be no trade without stability. Africa is our close neighbour. Finland promotes peace and security in Africa in such countries as Mali and Somalia and in the Mediterranean. Our contribution to mediation in Africa has grown in recent years, for which thanks also go to my excellent special representatives Mr Pekka Haavisto and Ms Jutta Urpilainen. Building capacity for mediation in Africa is an important part of our work, not forgetting our support for Finnish NGOs. Conflict prevention must be at the centre of our actions.

Promoting good governance and human rights is an essential part of preventing conflicts. African leaders must be willing to decentralise power and make room for civil society. Fortunately we have some examples of leaders who  are already doing so. This is the kind of development we wish to support. Finland has a widely recognised reputation as a promoter of women’s and girls’ situation in Africa. We are being listened to, because we speak of  our own experience.

What does this mean for the Finnish foreign service?

Interaction with African states, also outside our partner countries, should be stepped up. We should expand our focus from development and trade to genuine partnerships. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs should conduct a thorough analysis of its to enable more comprehensive action. After talking to Minister Virolainen, I have  requested a reportin this issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the world is undergoing a dramatic transformation, the key drivers of which are the changing landscapes of the world economy, strong population growth and technological strides. This is reflected on global power relations.

Security policy is also highlighted as Russia’s occupation of Crimea breached the foundations of European security. These are vital principles on which we cannot compromise – in Europe, you cannot take another country's territory without consequences.

However, this does not mean that we would turn our backs on Russia. In the big picture, Russia should seek to collaborate with Europe. When examined against the backdrop of global drivers, Russia is an underdog – a weakening economy, a contracting population, and a narrow technological spearhead in the military sector. These are fundamental problems that Russia cannot solve alone.

However, a change is a precondition for cooperation. Russia must play by the rules.


For Finland, the EU is a key security community. I will say it as it is: over the last three years, I have myself been forced to change my earlier assessment of the additional security provided by the EU. While more knowledge means more grief, fortunately it also brings more understanding. This is about promoting Finland’s interests – as cleverly as possible.


However, Finland also needs stronger EU policy. Finland’s interests cannot be promoted by focusing only on EU Councils’ agendas. Europe is regionalising. Different groupings and a bilateral approach are becoming prominent. This can already be seen in cooperation on the defence field . We must have  an active foreign policy with the European countries. Above all, we must formulate our own positions based on national interests and strive to obtain the backing of our EU partners for them. This is vital especially now as the common security and defence policy projects are being considered.

Dear colleagues,

it is not yet time for personal legacies, as a lot of work remains to be done. But I think a small interim evaluation is in order.

When I started in my role as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I reduced my goals to a few of the most essential ones: how to support stability in the Baltic Sea area, deepen foreign and security policy cooperation with Sweden, strengthen the Transatlantic connection and make progress in mediation and in the Artic policy.

Great progress has indeed been made. Thanks to you.

The Baltic reagion plays a key role for us. The tensions have not gone away, but we have been able to intensify cooperation and build trust, including in the field of aviation safety. Finland has played an important part in the United States’ and Russia’s efforts to re-establish their dialogue.

As hybrid activities are increasing in our reagion I decided to appoint an Ambassador for Hybrid Affairs at the Ministry. Cooperation with different branches of the central government and the private sector as well as with the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats is important. Raising our profile in hybrid issues is a deterrent as such.

NATO cooperation between Finland and Sweden is an important Baltic dimension. NATO is a key player in terms of European security, and close cooperation with the organisation is in our interest. It is pointless to try and brand NATO actions provocation when it responds to Russia’s power policy as a defence organisation.

Finland and Sweden's cooperation with NATO has been useful – we participate in the discussion on our security policy environment and are capable of taking joint action, should we choose to do so. This does not mean an alliance. We are advancing Finlands’s interests. Simultaneously with this collaboration, European security cooperation is taking welcome strides.

Our foreign policy cooperation with Sweden has intensified and even become routine. Strengthening foreign and security policy cooperation is particularly important when progress is being made on the defence policy track. Hardly any decision on major issues would be considered in Stockholm or Helsinki without consulting the neighbour. It is a good idea to have friends close by, and we are unlikely to find a better friend than Sweden.

Transatlantic relations have been in the limelight lately. Mr Trump’s style of behaviour has stolen most of the attention. But  it is  time  to stop gaping and look at Mr Trump’s goals and achievements. Otherwise we will be unable to defend interests that are are being attacked. My personal opinion continues to be that the United States and Europe are each other’s most important partners. If cooperation between us flounders, we are playing into the hands of China and Russia.


Being partners does not mean abstaining from criticism.The United States is short-sighted and makes a mistake if it turns its back to the multilateral system or is driving  to a trade war. I have said it out loud. The fact that the United States has pulled away from certain international treaties and arrangements and questioned the multilateral system has been hard for Europe to take. But there are many power centres in the United States, and the picture of the country is not all black and white.

We can be happy with the progress achieved in mediation – it has been made a priority of the UN system, as Secretary-General Guterres told us on his visit to Finland this summer. We should now focus especially on paying more attention to women and young people in mediation.

The importance of the Arctic Council in terms of the economy and security policy continues to grow. Finland’s Presidency of the Arctic Council is well underway. While the Arctic Council has potential, it cannot be exploited at the cost of the environment. Combating black carbon is an important part of this pragmatic policy. The Artic Council has also been a good way of ensuring Russia’s commitment to constructive cooperation.

My friends,

this will be my final address to the Head of Missions Seminar as a minister – during this government term, I mean.

For three years, it has been my pleasure to direct great and knowledgeable people. It is impossible to thank each one of you individually - or even all of you at once. But as the folk wisdom puts it, there is never any harm in telling the truth: without you, I would not have coped with my duties as a minister. Helsinki2018 was the latest demonstration of this. We set the wheels in motion and sorted out speeches, flags and social media content. In two weeks. And there was no shortage of volunteers. A magnificent achievement!

You, the ambassadors, are the ministry's ‘spearhead’. You have ventured to advise me - and also correct me, even if I have not always let myself to be corrected  - and never will be in some matters. You have carried the flag of our country bravely – and I hope you will continue to do so. It is the task of a minister to keep the machinery oiled, not to put spokes in the wheels. Diplomacy is our most important tool in this unstable world. It will win the day for us. Keep up the good work. It will not be easy, but after all, diplomacy is not all about glory. The 100 years history of the Ministry has made it clear.

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