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Speech by the Finnish Prime Minister at the annual meeting of Heads of Mission in Helsinki, 24 August 2021

Government Communications Department
Publication date 24.8.2021 11.53 | Published in English on 24.8.2021 at 12.34
Kuva: Laura Kotila

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin´s speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission, hosted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland 24 August 2021. (Check against delivery).

Distinguished Ambassadors,

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission, which is hosted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

This is the second time that I have the honour to speak to you – albeit in a virtual event. I sincerely hope that we will be able to meet face to face at your next annual gathering.

Finland as a society and the Finnish people have been coping with the prolonged COVID-19 crisis remarkably well.

The Finnish economy is catching up with international growth, and the European Union as a whole shows strong signs of recovery. Europe will emerge from this crisis more united, more resilient and more capable than it generally was feared when the crisis began.

Finland’s successful management of the sanitary crisis has received positive attention internationally. It lays a solid foundation for our country-branding activities across the world.

Excellencies, you have been witnessing the unpredictable and relentless nature of the coronavirus in other countries in extremely difficult circumstances that Finland has been lucky to avoid.

While the sanitary situation still presents uncertainties, vaccinations will allow us to gradually get rid of the imposed restrictions. A better vaccination coverage is now a high priority.

Dear Heads of Mission,

An open and inclusive society is our strength. It lays the foundation for equality and confidence on which Finland’s success has largely been built.

This success story is shared by all the Nordic countries, and it is therefore important that we together send out this message to the rest of the world, thus setting an example.

Finland currently holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. I’m looking forward to soon having discussions with the other Nordic prime ministers on ways to improve our cooperation in the fields of security of supply and preparedness. This topic will be on the agenda this coming autumn, be it face to face or virtually.

We must take every opportunity to reinforce the rules-based international order. The dividing lines in the international order are real and our common set of values are being challenged. Yet failing to achieve results in fields such as climate policy or international corporate taxation would not serve anyone’s interests.

The pandemic has underscored the need for multilateralism. Everyone agrees that to ensure an adequate response to health threats, the World Health Organization needs to be strengthened. Accordingly, a new international treaty on pandemics will be discussed in the World Health Assembly this autumn.

Global inequality in vaccination coverage is becoming a major factor that deepens distrust worldwide. Vaccine production must be stepped up urgently.

Finland has a clear message to send to the rest of the world: what we now need is an ability to respond to health threats, combined with a better crisis preparedness. The economy of wellbeing is a rising topic even within the WHO.

This autumn’s major effort will be the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November. It must succeed in urging the international community to stay on the 1.5-degree pathway. To achieve this, we need ambitious emission reduction commitments from the large economies in particular. The pace must be accelerated. It is essential to give up fossil fuels, notably coal. The European Union must take the lead with its active climate diplomacy, as we struggle to reach global net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Finland’s ambition is to become the world’s first carbon-neutral welfare society by 2035. It is essential to reduce emissions in a socially just manner. Finland has new technologies and innovations that support the objective of carbon neutrality in various fields, including agriculture and energy production, and I encourage you to make them more widely known globally. Climate change mitigation means new opportunities for Finland.

Dear Colleagues,

I participated in the Generation Equality Forum hosted by the UN and the French President Macron in Paris in June. What alone mattered was that we took a stand together in favour of gender equality and the rights of women and girls in this manner.

Although the Beijing Declaration was already adopted 25 years ago, the rights of women and girls are today challenged more systematically than before. I would like us to work together to keep this issue on the agenda extensively and to think of ways for Finland and the EU to act in defence of the rights of women and girls more effectively.

Our common set of values and human rights are now called into question widely. The political change of course of the United States, prompting it to work alongside the European Union again, is a welcome development.

Finland’s action for equality and the rights and status of women and girls is wide-ranging and concrete and we pursue it at the highest level. I would like to remind you that the International Gender Equality Prize, which was founded in Finland, will now be awarded for the third time in Tampere at the end of this year. I know that many of you have worked actively to make this prize known around the world. This is another opportunity to strengthen Finland’s country brand as a frontrunner of gender equality and to promote equality globally.

Prizes, recognitions and statements in various forms also bring encouragement to those who have experienced different kinds of demoralization and silencing attempts. I met with many of them in Paris. The price of silence, of failing to take a stand, may sometimes be high. Our voice will be louder when we act together and join correct reference groups.

Finland is aspiring for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the next three-year term. The election is due to take place in mid-October. The state of the campaign now looks very favourable for us. Campaigning is also an opportunity to highlight important topics, such as the rights of women and girls, new technologies and digitalisation, climate change and sustainable development, and education and training. Membership of the Human Rights Council moreover means a growing and perhaps even a new kind of responsibility to take a stand on global human rights situations.

It is important that the voice of Finland will be heard now that values are being called into question. Finland possesses strong credibility in human rights policy. No-one can call into question the genuineness of our concern.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

During the past week, Finland’s parliament and government and the President of the Republic have been faced with rapid decisions that have ensured that Finnish citizens and Afghans who have assisted Finland can be evacuated from Kabul. We have also assumed our responsibility as part of the European Union and the wider international community.

For the first time we resorted to legislation that was perhaps drafted with totally different situations in mind. In critical circumstances where we are faced with something new and human lives are at stake, Parliament must have a key role at the decision-making stage already. This is what now happened.

While the mission is still ongoing in the field in highly insecure circumstances, it has already turned out to be very successful. As our Minister for Foreign Affairs reported to you yesterday, over half of those entitled to evacuation had been rescued, and their number is likely to have risen since then. I would like to thank warmly the Foreign Ministry officials and the entire central government and, obviously, our soldiers who are carrying out this dangerous mission.

Our presence in Afghanistan and how we exit from the country raises questions about the distribution of responsibility and capabilities within the international community.

Many might like to think that Afghanistan and our work for the future of the Afghan people were somehow doomed to fail. In my mind, however, human rights, gender equality and access to education and health care belong to every individual, and the desire of the Afghans to continue forward and reach something better is visible to all of us. Even one girl who can go to school may bring about change – and there are now many of them.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

It is possible for us to defragment the international order through practical efforts and concrete results.

The European Union must be a constructive force that shows leadership in tackling global challenges. This calls for partnerships, and multilateral action will always be seen as the best way to proceed.

The exchange of views with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres on occasion of the June European Council this year was a promising start for closer cooperation between the EU and the UN.

The European Union as a whole has been able to respond to the new partnership offer by the United States. Constructive meetings have taken place at different levels: The European Council had a virtual exchange of views with President Joe Biden earlier this spring, and the EU leadership met with him in June. Their agenda covered trade policy, cooperation in new technologies, and defence and security issues.

I am looking forward to the new EU-US Trade and Technology Council taking up its duties without delay. While the EU must react to protectionist measures by the United States, as in the past, there is a great opportunity for collaboration between the EU and the US as major powers in new technologies and digitalisation.

China’s growing global status brings a significant change to the current international order, and it is important even for us to maintain a good dialogue with China at all levels. The same should also be expected from the European Union. We have had to resort to sanctions whenever necessary because of the human rights situation in China. This is also how we have reacted to human rights violations in many other countries.

The strategic discussion on Russia that we had at the European Council meeting last June enhanced the unity of the EU and its commitment to the five guiding principles of the Union’s policy over Russia.

The EU should also show initiative vis-à-vis Russia in engaging in selective cooperation. We are now waiting for relevant proposals from the High Representative of the EU and the European Commission. In the current situation, the Northern Dimension of the EU and the partnerships under it, together with cross-border cooperation between the EU and Russia, provide a sound basis for collaboration, and I would like to see them adequately covered in the coming proposals.

Regarding EU policy over Russia, I call for initiative that would stem from our own interests, as well as an exchange of views with Russia over global problems, including climate change. Responding to these problems must involve Russia, too.

The success of Finland policy over Russia also requires practical cooperation, and we rely on it to maintain good working relations. It is also a matter of security policy.

Finland maintains constant contacts with Russia in the fields of environmental and climate policy, people-to-people interaction, transport and arctic cooperation. It also serves our own interests. In forest policy, for example, there is room for wider discussion on issues related to our forests as well as climate policy.
While Russia currently holds the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Finland’s two-year term as chair will begin in the coming autumn. The Finnish chairmanship will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Barents cooperation.

Our policy line is consistent with the EU’s policy over Russia and its five guiding principles.

The June European Council moreover condemned the restrictions of fundamental freedoms and the shrinking of civil society space in Russia.

Being able to exchange views with Russia openly and directly even where serious differences of opinion exist between the two countries is very important for us. Finland has brought to the fore issues related to human rights and democracy whenever it has been justified. The European Union, including Finland, condemned the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and his prison sentence, demanding his liberation. Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment have resulted in new sanctions by the EU. Russia is expected to honour its international commitments in order to ensure civil rights.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

In an uncertain and constantly changing playing field, the European Union must be capable of promoting the interests of Europeans. Strengthening Europe’s capacity to act should be systematically improved irrespective of the changes that affect the political situation in other states, including our allies.

Strategic autonomy must draw on our strengths in all spheres, starting from the economy, the single market and technological knowhow. While striving to expand and diversify value chains, we also aim to prevent the emergence of strategic dependencies. As we enhance Europe’s capability, we should also step up its cooperation in security and defence.

We must be able to act when it is deemed necessary. Europe appreciates the value of partnerships, and we, for our part, try to become a better partner through strategic autonomy. The capacity to act goes hand in hand with greater European responsibility.

Finland’s long-term policy approach has been to promote the coherence, visibility and effectiveness of the EU’s external action. It should also mean not pursuing consensus at any price. The European Union should speak with one voice even when the member states do not agree on everything internally. The EU must not be paralysed or become a playing field for power politics. A more effective external action requires stronger political solidarity, and that is something we now have to build up.

At present, the EU is targeting its attention on our neighbourhood that also presents many sources of instability, ranging from the Central Asia and Caucasus region to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, and further to North Africa.

The coming months will show what kind of impact the tougher policy pursued by the EU will have on the leadership of Belarus. In June, the EU introduced sectoral sanctions on top of the sanctions against individuals and entities already in place. The Belarusian opposition and civil society have considered extensive sanctions very important, because flagrant persecution continues to be targeted at the opposition, independent media and civil activists. The EU has given a coordinated response to attempts by the Belarusian administration to use the refugee crisis to put pressure on the EU. The EU was able to rapidly launch a Frontex border control mission at the Lithuanian border, and it also involved Finnish participants.

Our security environment has been undergoing a process of change ever since Russia illegally invaded Crimea in Ukraine. Finland does not acknowledge Crimea’s annexation to Russia. In the inaugural summit of the Crimean Platform in Kyiv, Finland was represented by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö, and this also gives weight our support to Ukraine. The objectives of the newly established Crimean Platform conform to ours.

The Eastern Ukraine conflict remains unsolved. The Minsk agreements await full implementation, and there seems to be no desire for genuine dialogue. Russia bears prime responsibility for solving this situation.

We support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, who today celebrates its Independence Day.

In this context, the role of the Eastern Partnership in promoting stability and reforms has become even more pronounced. The Eastern Partnership summit will take place on the 15th of December this year.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

The Finnish Government has now reached its midterm point. We have been implementing the Government Programme determinedly despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy was submitted to Parliament last year. Because of the pandemic, the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee was able to issue its relevant report by the end of June this year only.

The Government Report on EU Policy was completed on schedule early this year, and it is currently discussed in the Grand Committee of the Parliament.

The Government Report on EU Policy moreover provides useful points of reference for the ongoing civil debate regarding Europe’s future. The Conference on the Future of Europe, which will convene in a plenary until early next year, gives Finnish citizens an opportunity to express their ideas and expectations on the European Union.

Like the Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, the Government Report on Defence Policy is prepared under the guidance of the President of the Republic and the Cabinet Committee on Foreign and Security Policy, in close consultation with a parliamentary monitoring group. Such procedure will secure wide agreement on Finland’s foreign, security and defence policies.

The Government Report on Defence Policy will be discussed in a joint meeting between the President of the Republic and the Ministerial Committee on Foreign and Security Policy. Following that, it shall be adopted by the Government and then submitted to Parliament.

Finland’s defence capability will also be impacted by the HX fighter project which is now in its final stages. The matter will be resolved within the Government this year.

Among the policy documents that play a major role in your work, I would like to highlight Finland’s Strategy for Arctic Policy that was adopted early this summer. I shall submit it to Parliament a Prime Minister's announcement in the coming autumn.

Being an Arctic country, Finland has a specific responsibility for promoting the viability of the region for the coming generations. The Strategy sets out our objectives up to 2030 in climate change mitigation and adaptation, promotion of the wellbeing of the region’s population, Northern livelihoods, leading-edge research, infrastructure and logistics. The growing security policy interest in the Arctic region and the interlinking of changes in the security environment are also appropriately addressed in the Strategy. Involvement of the indigenous Sámi people in Finland’s Arctic cooperation is an essential element in all these efforts. I hope that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Sámi, mentioned in the current Government Programme, will be able to take up its important work without delay.

Finland’s Africa Strategy was published recently, and I urge the entire public administration to contribute to its implementation. Furthermore, Finland’s Governmental Action Plan on China was completed last spring, and it has also been well received.

In its report on the Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee justly underlined the importance of this Government Report which is submitted once during each parliamentary term. Finland’s foreign and security policy line draws on Government reports and subsequent parliamentary replies.

Distinguished Ambassadors, I hope that the approach thus defined will provide you with the necessary national guidance. As the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out, this is an important message to the rest of the world. The policy we pursue has a strong parliamentary approval, and it is a consistent policy that makes Finland a trustworthy partner in an increasingly uncertain world. There is not too much trust in the international order right now.

Thank you for your attention.