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Minister for Nordic Cooperation and Equality Blomqvist at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Missions in 2020

Ministry for Foreign Affairs 24.8.2020 10.54 | Published in English on 27.8.2020 at 13.00
Speech

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world has undergone a great transformation since I spoke on this forum a year ago. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting nations across the globe, and there is no end in sight yet. Meanwhile, Finland is preparing to take the lead in Nordic cooperation as of January. I will now share with you my assessment of the state of Nordic cooperation in the midst of the pandemic. I will also tell you about the Government’s objectives for Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers next year.

First of all, I would like to thank you all for organising the repatriation of travellers in the spring in good cooperation with the other Nordic missions. As you, the ambassadors, are well aware, the support of a Nordic colleague is often more valuable than gold in emergency conditions abroad.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Travel restrictions has chiselled at the cornerstone of Nordic cooperation, which is free movement. From time to time, criticism has been levelled at those Nordic countries, who, like Finland, first resorted to restrictions, while Sweden has been reprimanded for following a different strategy, creating the epidemiological gap between the Nordic countries. There is no denying there are differences in the Nordic countries' response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the fact is that the epidemiological situation has always been different among the Nordic countries. Moreover, we should not forget the differences in legislation, administrative procedures, and preparedness.

As you know, some people are saying the Nordic cooperation is in crisis. For my part, I have to say that there is no crisis in the cooperation itself. However, I do recognise that some of our decisions have put a strain on the public image of Nordic cooperation and they may even have scarred bilateral relations between some Nordic countries. With the sudden spread of coronavirus, governments put aside other concerns and focused on safeguarding the security of their citizens, which is, after all, their main duty. In all the haste of the start of the epidemic, political coordination with neighbouring countries was scarce, and there was little room for finding common policies.

Despite all this, the allegations of a crisis in Nordic cooperation are hasty, and they could even be inverted: cooperation and information exchange have now been more active than before the pandemic. We have had extraordinary meetings among Nordic countries, we have made better use of digital channels, and we have had more bilateral contacts than before. And this is not just among the health authorities. A good example of the more active cooperation is the ministerial meetings in new configurations. Moreover, the ministers responsible for transport and borders have talked often, sometimes weekly. We have learned a lot from each other during the coronavirus pandemic. I am convinced that once the pandemic is under control, Nordic cooperation will be valued even more than before.

 Ladies and Gentlemen,

During the coronavirus crisis, the Nordic ministers have been particularly concerned about the daily life of people living and working in border regions, such as Tornionlaakso and Öresund. Thousands of cross-border commuters have switched to remote work, and many have temporarily lost their income. This has led to difficulties in families, older people’s care, social security and layoffs, among others. We have made a list of such problems and referred them to the relevant authorities.

I myself have been in touch with my Swedish minister colleague a number of times in the past months. We have talked a lot about the Tornionlaakso region and the Åland Islands, where the Finnish and Swedish populations share their daily life and know no borders. When we in Finland closed our borders to Sweden, it became obvious to us all how much the critical sectors in Swedish border municipalities depend on commuters from Finland and how much the daily life on both sides of the border was affected. Cross-border commuters are extremely important for healthcare also elsewhere in the Norrbotten County as well as in the Åland Islands.  We try to find solutions through good dialogue and cooperation.

Excellencies,

Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers will start in January and last for one calendar year. We will take over the presidency from Denmark also in all other configurations within the remit of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and in the Nordic-Baltic cooperation. The passing of the presidency baton will take place at an important moment. So far, the coronavirus pandemic has mostly been a health issue and a crisis management issue. Now it will bring the Nordic welfare model back on the agenda. As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, it will shake our welfare systems to the core, affecting the balance of central government finances as well as social issues and education. It is a window of opportunity for the Nordic identity, and there is unequalled demand for Nordic cooperation. As you all know, climate work has not lost one iota of its importance. The Nordic countries must unite their forces so that all coronavirus recovery measures benefit the climate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nordic cooperation has a fixed long-term target. The Nordic prime ministers envisioned last year that the Nordic countries will become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. The three themes for the next four years of Nordic cooperation were set as a green Nordic region, a competitive Nordic region and a socially sustainable Nordic region. To serve the purpose of the vision, climate work has been allocated Nordic funding in larger amounts than ever before. The Nordic countries want to be frontrunners in climate work, and I believe we have a real chance of leading the way. Even in future, most Nordic cooperation will take place in the fields of culture and education. The Nordic Council of Ministers have a total annual budget of some 128 million euros, Finland’s share being roughly one sixth. For citizens the cost is less than five euros a year. Not much for something that produce so much good.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers will strive to implement the vision for 2030. We need consistent and long-term action, and as the Presidency we will serve the Nordic agenda. To achieve a green Nordic region and of a carbon-neutral society, we will focus on measures in the fields of circular economy and bioeconomy. We will also highlight issues such as sustainable food systems and dietary guidelines, promote cooperation between cities and towns, and advance local sustainability solutions. We will take Nordic climate diplomacy further, and the Nordic countries will seek to exert influence over international matters, such as the biodiversity negotiations. In our own, national Presidency projects, we will create competence networks for circular economy solutions in the construction industry.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the goals for a competitive Nordic region is to create conditions for economic recovery and to strengthen the transition towards an innovative and digitally integrated Nordic region. Transformation of work and upskilling and reskilling are among the measures that can boost new growth. It is essential to restore mobility across Nordic borders by dismantling and preventing cross-border barriers. There is a global demand for Nordic sustainability solutions, and we should find common ways to provide them together. Our national Presidency project will advance the goal of achieving the world’s simplest cross-border mobility and daily life through digitalisation and artificial intelligence.

We will strive to promote a socially sustainable Nordic region by developing the welfare state in accordance with the current Government Programme and taking into account new kinds of challenges. We will promote cooperation to boost resilience. We will improve cooperation to safeguard access to health and social services in remote areas. The Nordic cooperation in education and culture will promote practices that support competence, creativity and participation. The 50th anniversary of the Nordic Council of Ministers will highlight democracy, equality and common values, and gender equality will receive attention across sectors. Our own Presidency project will commission a study on the consequences of restrictions on cross-border mobility. It will also present to an international audience how the autonomous territories participate in Nordic cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next year, Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers will highlight the need to develop Nordic cooperation in security of supply. Safeguarding security of supply requires multi-sectoral cooperation both by the governments and by business and industry. In the Nordic countries, our societies and economies are already so integrated that it is natural to deepen our cooperation in security of supply and preparedness. Security of supply affects all vital functions of society in all situations and not just in a pandemic.

Excellencies,

Now that the world around us is shaking in one turbulence after another, we find our best friends nearby. You, ambassadors, with your Nordic colleagues are our global Nordic spearheads. Across the world, you are the representatives of Nordic values. Together we can do more, and our voices will carry farther. Many of you have received funding for joint Nordic projects in your host countries. The common Nordic brand is strong and it benefits our own country image. So, use it boldly next year, too, when you lead Nordic cooperation projects in your host countries. Let us actively seek common areas that can yield the most added value to us all.

I would like to thank you all for keeping the Finnish flag flying across the world. I wish you all strength to face the coming autumn, which still seems to be still by the pandemic.

 Thank you.

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