"The strength of our collaboration has been visible during a time when our security policy has been under tremendous challenges. The Nordic countries have supported each other through close cooperation. The fact that all Nordic countries will soon be NATO members signifies a new era in Nordic collaboration. We must take advantage of the momentum we have gained and maintain it."
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Dear ambassadors, colleagues and friends,
It gives me great pleasure to meet you all here once again in person. After two years of online meetings, I am all the more pleased that we are now able to resume more normal activities. As we know, direct dialogue and cooperation are essential in many ways. They help us to promote our common agendas. Naturally, this also applies to cooperation between the Nordic countries.
The last time we met in person, at the beginning of the government term, I stated that one of the cross-cutting themes of our Government Programme was our membership in the Nordic community. Now, as we gather here for the last Annual Meeting of the Heads of Mission for this government term, I can state further that Nordic cooperation has become even more vital in light of the exceptional developments seen over the last few years.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions imposed to contain it challenged one of the cornerstones of our cooperation: free movement. At the same time, however, the pandemic underlined the importance of cooperation. The need for close cooperation became painfully clear when Russia attacked Ukraine, thereby changing our security situation. The strength of our collaboration has been visible during a time when our security policy has been under tremendous challenges. The Nordic countries have supported each other through close cooperation. The fact that all Nordic countries will soon be NATO members signifies a new era in Nordic collaboration. We must take advantage of the momentum we have gained and maintain it.
Freedom of movement was put to the test during the pandemic as temporary restrictions on entry and slight variations in national strategies posed new challenges to Nordic cooperation. But we helped each other in a difficult time, and the pandemic reminded us how much we depend on each other.
The current security policy situation has also emphasised the importance of Nordic cooperation: we have seen how important it is that we stand united. With the upcoming NATO membership, a new phase in Nordic partnership is beginning and it is one that will also underline the importance of Nordic integration.
According to our common vision, the Nordic Region will be the world’s most sustainable and integrated region by 2030. To achieve this objective, we must actively seek to remove border obstacles between our countries and prevent new ones.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In 2019, the Nordic Prime Ministers expressed a joint objective of making the Nordic Region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. To achieve this objective, we must deal with legal and administrative border obstacles. This objective is expressed in our Government Programme: “The Nordic countries must become the world’s best integrated area.”
In the context of Nordic cross-border work, border obstacles refer to laws, official rules or practices that prevent the free movement of individuals across the borders, or cross-border business activities. This spring, we began to prepare a report on border obstacles. The report will provide an overview of the actions taken in Finland during this government term to reduce border obstacles.
I would particularly like to mention the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the contributing factors to this report. During the pandemic, we were faced with entirely new, yet mostly temporary coronavirus challenges. With the pandemic subsiding, now is a good time to revise border practices to make sure the temporary restrictions have not become permanent border obstacles. New practices adopted during the pandemic, such as the significant increase in remote work, may have revealed border obstacles of which we had been unaware. We need, and would benefit from, an updated situation picture of the post-COVID border obstacles.
As you well know, Finland held the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers last year. One of our main priorities was to develop cooperation in the field of security of supply and preparedness. In November last year, the Nordic Prime Ministers approved a joint statement concerning cooperation on preparedness issues. The Prime Ministers stressed the importance of preparedness work and partnership in an unstable and unpredictable world.
During our presidency, a research project was also launched to assess the current situation and to identify possible new areas of cooperation in preparedness issues. The study is being conducted by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and will be published at the end of August. The study will offer interesting and useful points of view that can be used in further development work.
Last year, work on preparedness began on Finland’s initiative, and this work is being actively pursued under the current Norwegian presidency. We, the Ministers for Nordic Cooperation, have set up a contact group to monitor and coordinate work in different sectors. A progress report will be submitted to the Prime Ministers and the Nordic Council at the beginning of November, when the Nordic Council convenes in Helsinki for its ordinary session.
In June, my ministerial colleagues and I approved a declaration in which we underlined the importance of including a Nordic perspective in all decision-making, and our responsibility for bringing it to the forefront. In this declaration, we agreed that in the event of a crisis, the presidency at the time will, either on its own initiative or at the request of another Nordic country, call a meeting of the Ministers for Nordic Cooperation to ensure good and effective communication and to make sure the Nordic perspective is considered as far as possible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In my role as the Minister for Equality, I would like to bring up a few aspects concerning equality. During this government term, we have carried out significant gender equality projects, such as the family leave reform, which entered into force in August. Another major project was the comprehensive reform of the legislation on sexual offences, which was approved by Parliament in June. These reforms are part of Finland’s efforts to become a leading country in gender equality. Perhaps some of you have already had the opportunity to talk about these reforms in your host countries.
In June, the Finnish Government adopted a Report on Gender Equality Policy; the second of its kind ever. The report outlines Finland’s national and international gender equality policy until the end of the 2020s. The report contains seven strategic objectives, which are based on the current state and anticipated future of gender equality issues.
The first broad objective is to make Finland an equal society that has zero tolerance for gender discrimination. Regularly monitored, gender equality is a nationwide priority that cuts across different policy areas. Legislation, policy measures and services support gender equality and the full realisation of human rights. In Finland, everyone can safely express their gender without fear of discrimination. The report also fully embraces gender diversity.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the anti-gender movement is still very strong. It is, therefore, very important that we continue to unwaveringly pursue our goals both in domestic and foreign policy matters. Similarly, it is important that we promote the exchange of information between the authorities and build stronger alliances with organisations that foster the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. We must step up to keep the promise made in the gender equality report, namely that Finland will systematically promote gender equality and human rights in international arenas.
In March, I attended a session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that was held in New York. The main theme of the session was achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes. Together with my Nordic ministerial colleagues, we made a commitment to build a green and equal Nordic Region.
Our strong message was that climate change is a gender issue. We must take determined action to ensure that the gender perspective is included in all climate, environmental and disaster management policies. Finland advocates for an approach that reconsiders gender constructs. Adaptation to climate change must be based on a gender impact assessment. I hope that you will spread this message and incorporate it into the projects you are working on in your host countries.
In this context, I would like to draw attention to the successful brand of the Nordic Region and our seamless collaboration. Reports from many host countries indicate that the Nordic countries are regarded as an increasingly interesting and inspiring region. Our ambitious climate objectives, our technology innovations and our social welfare model attract positive attention. I encourage you to seize this opportunity to further strengthen Finland’s country brand and the image of Finland as part of the Nordic community.
Nordic collaboration is something well worth sharing with the rest of the world. Financial support is available from the Nordic Council of Ministers for joint projects conducted by Nordic embassies and for Nordic Talks events. Nordic Talks collaboration supports international brand-building and communication projects outside the Nordic countries. To be eligible, projects must be linked to the Vision 2030 priorities: a green Nordic Region, a competitive Nordic Region, and a socially sustainable Nordic Region.
In times of uncertainty, Nordic cooperation on a wide front has become more salient than ever. War is raging once again in Europe as a result of Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine, the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are still affecting us, and the gender equality work and the rules-based multilateral system are being challenged. We cannot afford to fail in the green transition. This is the time when our shared Nordic values and alliance are needed.
We should bear in mind that even when faced with tough challenges, the other Nordic countries provide a close reference group that shares our values. One might even say they are our family. Together we are stronger as we seek sustainable energy solutions and ways to mitigate climate change.
Together we are better equipped to prepare for the next crises. The past few years have underlined the importance and value of Nordic solidarity. We can draw on our past experiences, both positive and negative, as we forge our relationship and develop our partnership. This work is already under way.
Nordic cooperation has been particularly close during this government term, and it has proven its effectiveness. This is the time to actively continue developing it even further. For this, we have the full support of our citizens. A survey conducted in the summer of 2021 showed that 86 percent of the Nordic population considered Nordic cooperation to be important or very important. Altogether 60 percent wanted to see more, and only one per cent less cooperation. According to surveys, areas in which the citizens of the Nordic countries would welcome closer cooperation include security issues, climate and the environment.
Together we are stronger and able to achieve more. We are taking determined steps to make the Nordic Region the world’s most sustainable and integrated region.
I want to express my deep appreciation for your invaluable contribution to Nordic cooperation and gender equality over the years. I wish you all a very productive and rewarding meeting.