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Prime Minister Orpo’s speech at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission 2023                                                          

Government Communications Department
Publication date 21.8.2023 14.46
Speech

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s speech at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission 2023 in Helsinki. Check against delivery.

Distinguished Ambassadors, dear colleagues at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs,

In August 2017, when I had the honour of speaking to you as Minister of Finance, I stressed how important it was for Finland to be able to act in the midst of constant change, so that our country’s position, security and wellbeing could be as strong as possible.

My thinking then was that when we understand the changes taking place, when we know exactly what we want and have the courage to do the right thing at the right time, we can have a great impact on our fate.

I don’t think anyone in that room could have guessed that in spring 2022, we would do the right thing at the right time so that you, distinguished Ambassadors, would be sitting here today at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission as representatives of a NATO member country. This marked the start of a new era in our foreign policy.

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 transformed Finland’s foreign and security policy environment. That was the reason we decided to apply for NATO membership. On 25 January 2022, I gave a speech to the Paasikivi Society in support of joining NATO. The strength of a small nation often lies in its agility – in Finland’s case, the ability to make our own choices quickly even in difficult situations. This is what we do as a nation, and I am proud of it. The Finnish people showed decision-makers the way to NATO.

As part of the Western community of values, we Finns strongly condemned the attack, which was a flagrant violation of international law and the principles of the UN Charter. Finland and the Finnish people were quick to show their strong support to Ukraine and the Ukrainians in a variety of ways.

The fact that 90 per cent of Finns said they continued to support Finland’s response to Russia’s invasion in the Eurobarometer published this summer – that is, more than a year and a half after the start of the war – reflects the strong principles of the Finnish people. We will continue our unwavering support for Ukraine and its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity over the long term. So far, Finland has provided around 1.74 billion euros in support to Ukraine: humanitarian aid and development cooperation support, defence materiel support and material assistance. In short, we support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people economically, militarily and politically. And we, the Finnish decision-makers, have strong support for this from the people of Finland.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

Finland’s story has been a story of survival at various turning points in history. We emerged from Russian rule as an independent state, and we made it through a civil war. We defended our country in 1939 and maintained our independence after 1945. In the Cold War, we managed to strike a balance between East and West, although we were constantly trying to integrate into the West, for example through membership in the EEC. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, our path quickly led us to the European Union and the Western structures where we belonged. Now, this path has been sealed with NATO membership. We are living at a new turning point in history. We are turning over a new leaf.

Even under these new circumstances, the fundamentals of our foreign and security policy will remain unchanged. We will continue to do what Finland has always done: we will work, above all, to promote the security and wellbeing of Finland and the Finnish people. We can now speak more frankly than before, but there is no reason to compete to see who can shout the loudest.

We will look after our independence and territorial integrity. This has always been and will continue to be at the heart of Finland’s foreign and security policy. Our NATO membership is not intended as an attack against anyone, it is about strengthening our security and that of our Allies.

And that is precisely what NATO membership means: we are now part of the Alliance. Our membership strengthens security and stability in Finland, but also throughout Northern Europe. We are a reliable partner to other NATO countries, to the whole Alliance. We are ready to give help and to receive it. I hope our neighbour Sweden will soon be sitting at the same table as a full member of NATO.

Sweden is our closest partner in all areas, not only in NATO. I have been in close contact with Prime Minister Kristersson of Sweden and will be making my first visit there as Prime Minister very soon. We will continue to work closely together with the other countries in the Nordic region and to strengthen and deepen cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic countries.

We are also developing our relationship with the United States in a broad-based and goal-oriented manner. We will intensify our cooperation, not only on defence but also in the field of technology – meaning both traditional and new technologies – and on climate. There is a great deal of interest in Finnish expertise and we have a lot to offer. We must therefore make a determined effort to advance exports to the competitive but growing US markets.

NATO membership also opens up new business opportunities for us beyond the United States. It is also part of Finland’s image in the minds of companies planning investments here.

But while we focus our efforts on the West, we must remember that Russia is our neighbour. We must continue to invest in our country’s knowledge of Russia and our ability to analyse developments there, both now and in the future.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

The European Union is Finland’s most important political and economic frame of reference and community of values. A strong, well-functioning and united EU is vital for Finland. A Union that promotes the security, welfare and economic interests of its Member States and citizens.

With this in mind, I am pleased that my Government has taken a forward-looking approach to EU affairs. As outlined in the Government Programme, Finland’s EU policy priorities include boosting economic growth, strengthening competitiveness and developing the single market, deepening defence cooperation within the EU, promoting clean energy investments and the sustainable use of natural resources, advocating for national-level decision-making in forest policy and safeguarding self-sufficiency in food production.

We must take a more strategic view of the EU, as all of Europe is now at a crossroads. We are entering a new phase, with an aggressive Russia, a rising China and a multipolar world. Closer cooperation is essential if Europe is to succeed. Europe must take greater responsibility for itself and for its security. Fortunately, we are now moving in this direction.

Europe’s success is also Finland’s success. Our future wellbeing will depend on how Europe as a whole succeeds in the global competition. Going forward, we will inevitably make up a smaller share of the global population and economy. In this situation, the EU must strengthen its economic security, its resilience and its position as a geopolitical actor.

The EU’s strategic agenda and the priorities of the next Commission are issues on the lips of all EU decision-makers. Finland is and will continue to be an active player in defining the future of EU policy. We must focus on the basics: Europe’s strategic competitiveness and our security.

This means clean energy production and replacing industrial energy sources with fossil-free ones – both in Finland and in the EU. Our self-sufficiency and security of supply are improving, and we are no longer as dependent on the energy resources of authoritarian states as we once were.

Europe’s competitiveness must be based on well-functioning markets and businesses. Dismantling barriers to internal trade must once again be the basis for the Commission’s work. We must prevent unhealthy state aid policies. Although voices emphasising state aid in Europe have recently taken on more weight, we cannot sustain our competitiveness by pumping tax revenue into business subsidies or other aid packages. This is also our message to the Commission.

Europe must gain back the industry that has left our borders by promoting high-level education and skills, investing in clean energy and fostering a competitive operating environment. At the same time, we must secure critical supply chains and the availability of raw materials by strengthening existing partnerships and forging new ones.

The signs are already in the air. Authoritarian countries have been recognised as a risk to business operations, and companies are seeking new, safer investment targets around the globe. In this arena, our main competitor is the United States. We in Europe must be able to attract the brightest minds in the world if we are to maintain our high level of expertise in science and technology.

When it comes to our foreign and security policy, the need for stronger joint decision-making is growing. The EU must be able to formulate common policy positions on crucial issues. Our Government Programme supports this.

We need to strike a balance between reducing risks and dependencies and safeguarding free trade. We must not be starry-eyed, but at the same time, we should be careful not to erect new walls. Tackling a challenge like climate change is not possible without broad international cooperation.

The Government is committed to enhancing Finland’s ability to exercise influence within the EU, including in advance. You are all important partners in this work.

We want to be an active, reliable and solution-oriented Member State that works constructively and proactively and takes initiative to advance its objectives together with its partners.

One of our Government’s goals is to prepare a resolution on improving Finland’s ability to exert influence on EU policy in advance, and we have decided to launch a programme aimed at increasing the number of Finnish public officials working in EU positions and improving their ability to advance within EU institutions. With this in mind, too, I hope the close contacts between Helsinki, Brussels and the other EU capitals will continue to intensify during this government term.

Dear Ambassadors,

Our Government will begin its actual work in the next few weeks. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you a bit about what this Government will do. Because you will certainly be asked about this in your host countries.

A strong and committed Finland. That is our goal. Finland is currently facing enormous challenges. It is difficult to predict what will happen in the world around us. With this Government Programme, we will respond to the challenges Finland faces.

A strong and committed Finland can weather the world’s storms. A strong and committed Finland can look after its security and that of its people. A strong and committed Finland – with a healthy economy – can take care of its citizens.

Finland has become the nation you represent abroad through work, entrepreneurship, diligence and expertise. A strong and committed Finland is built on work done by everyday Finns. This work is essential for our welfare society. That is why our Government will conduct an ambitious labour market reform to make work more profitable – it is the only way we can provide our essential basic services. We do not have an unlimited amount of money; in the name of honesty, we must acknowledge this fact. We will need adaptation measures, structural measures and employment measures, some of which will be painful. There is no other option. However, I repeat: we will look after our most vulnerable.

Although we have to take painful savings measure, we will continue to safeguard education, culture and the future. We will especially work to strengthen primary and lower secondary education, which we are known for around the world. We will make historical investments in research and development. We will increase RDI investments to four per cent of our GDP by 2030. We want to be global leaders in the future, too.

As I hope I have made clear, Finland is not going anywhere – quite the contrary, we want to strengthen our role and position on the international stage. We want to make Finland a clean energy superpower. We can cut our emissions quickly and efficiently by investing in diverse forms of fossil-free energy: nuclear power, solar power and wind power.

We have already planned 100 billion euros in clean energy and hydrogen economy investments. We must set our sights on the smokestacks, the major sources of emissions. This way, we can be an attractive target for investment in Europe and an interesting, solution-oriented partner globally. I am genuinely excited about this. In July, I discussed this topic with Federal Chancellor Scholz in Berlin, and he showed great interest in Finland’s clean energy solutions.

At the EU-Latin America-Caribbean Summit in Brussels, several Caribbean and South American countries also expressed interest in Finland’s expertise. Our expertise opens up doors around the world, leading to mutually beneficial relationships.

At the same time, we must make sure that Finland remains open – that people can come to Finland to work, study and build a good life. We will make sure that companies have access to skilled labour and that work-based immigration is not hampered by unnecessary bureaucracy. There is no room for arbitrary treatment. At the same time, it is clear that immigration must be well managed. We will tighten our humanitarian immigration policy to the general Nordic level.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

This summer, an important topic – racism – has sparked discussion here in Finland. Just so it is clear to everyone: our values are defending democracy, the rule of law and human rights, both in Finland and globally. The Government I lead is committed to this, and we will adhere to this. I say this as Prime Minister and as a Finn: I condemn racism. I will work to find solutions to things that are not right. That is my way of working.

I welcome the start of this debate on racism. And it is important that we conduct this debate thoroughly. Because our work on important issues is never done. Society changes when racism and discrimination are brought to light. Society changes when public debate leads to political action. The only way to tackle racism is by making it visible.

Many want to know more about what the Government plans to do address racism. We are working on our response: right at the start of the autumn, the Government will submit a statement to Parliament on promoting equality and non-discrimination and reducing racism in Finland.

But that statement is just the beginning. Of course, one government statement will not solve everything. We have to work for this. The statement will be followed by an action plan, which will provide more concrete information on what we intend to do.

We will make sure we have the resources needed to implement the measures. We will make sure that equality and non-discrimination are key priorities on this Government’s political agenda for the duration of our term.

In an open and democratic society like Finland’s, we must be able to engage in discussion – even critical discussion – on all topics, including immigration. It is everyone’s right in a society like ours. At the same time, we must exercise this right and freedom responsibly, in a way that respects everyone’s dignity. And while we are proud of Finland and Finnish society, we must also recognise that we still have a lot of work to do to make everyone feel safe and accepted in this country. So that we can be an interesting target for investments, both now and in the future. So that that experts their families will want to come to Finland, both now and in the future. So that we can make a Finland better place.

Distinguished Ambassadors,

I have only had time to meet a few of you as Prime Minister, but I know many of you from before I took up the position. I know I am working with experts. Finland is one of the best countries in the world in many respects, and I know we also have the best public officials.

I know the people at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Finland’s missions put their hearts and souls into their work. We also acknowledged this work and its importance in the negotiations on the Government Programme when we decided that the operating appropriations for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs would not be cut. That said, there will be reforms to the Foreign Service. These will be implemented under the leadership of Minister for Foreign Affairs Valtonen.

I have a great deal of confidence in your expertise. Sometimes when you look at things from a distance, you can see them more clearly. I hope you will highlight your observations in your reports and meetings. We cannot build a strong and committed Finland by turning inwards. We should learn from others, too. I also hope you will share your views on how best to implement the Government Programme. Let us work together so we can continue to be proud to represent Finland.