Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s announcement on changes in Finnish foreign and security policy environment and in the European Union environment

Government Communications Department 31.5.2017 14.20 | Published in English on 31.5.2017 at 19.33
Prime Minister's Announcement

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Madam Speaker,

We are all well aware that we are experiencing major changes at present. The world around us has changed fast and irrevocably.

The aim of Finland’s foreign and security policy is to secure the nation’s independence, strengthen our international position, safeguard our citizen’s safety, security and wellbeing, and ensure that the Finnish society remains well-functioning. Finland promotes international stability, peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and equality. Our primary aim is to avoid becoming involved in a military conflict. These objectives and goals serve as a guideline for the leaders of the nation in all situations.

The Government's policy approach is also Finland’s long-term policy approach, and the same as the one adopted when the Government Programme was formulated. Finland is a militarily non-allied state which is engaged in a practical partnership with NATO and which maintains the option to seek NATO membership.

Madam Speaker,

One key development since the publication of the Government Report on Foreign and Security Policy was the United States presidential election. The new US administration is just getting established and the rest of the world has been waiting for policy approaches from it, but many questions remain unanswered. President Trump’s visit to Europe last week left more questions unanswered than it answered.

Earlier President Trump’s administration confirmed the United States’ commitment to the security of Europe, but during the NATO meeting last week, President Trump himself did not mention it. This omission may have left a feeling of insecurity, and last weekend Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel spoke candidly about her feelings. There is no need to dramatise this outspoken statement though.

That the European NATO countries should do more for the security of Europe has been the United States’ position for some time already. It has also been the organisation’s own objective. No major turn or changes would appear to be imminent in the bigger picture in US foreign and security policy though.

Finland is particularly interested in US strategies concerning trade policy and climate issues. US trade policy approaches are still pending, while the US position on climate policy causes concern. US commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement would be in the best interest of Finland, Europe and the whole world. We must not bury our heads in the sand in this matter.

Madam Speaker,

The European security situation has undergone no significant changes since last summer. The situation has improved neither in Crimea nor East Ukraine. The formula for the solution is obvious – implementing the Minsk agreement and honouring the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but so far there has been no progress in these areas. This is why the EU is still pursuing its policy of sanctions.

But at the same time it is essential to continue bilateral dialogue with Russia. No one stands to win if we do not talk about the problems.

The direction to which Turkey is headed raises many questions. But all the same, it is clear that Turkey is very important for Europe. This is manifested very clearly in terms of cooperation relating to migration. A European orientation in Turkey is very important to us, and it should be reflected in respect for European commitments. Rule of law is the cornerstone of order in Europe - without exception - and this also applies within the Europe Union.

Still in the first decade of this century the view prevailed that Europe is enveloped by stability. Not so anymore. Syria has been at war for almost seven years now. The activities of the terrorist organisation ISIL are casting a shadow over the whole region and they also have repercussions in increasingly alarming ways on the internal security of European nations. Finland’s continued participation in international cooperation to counter ISIL will be addressed here later today.

With their joint declaration issued last July, cooperation between the EU and NATO has got off to a good start. We have supported the deepening of this cooperation in a very concrete way by establishing the Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which brings together the EU and NATO countries in Finland.

For Finland, membership of the European Union is a key security policy solution. Its importance is highlighted especially in these times of uncertainty. Parliament issued a clear statement on the EU’s mutual assistance obligation about ten years ago.

Madam Speaker,

Questions related to sustainable development, the environment and climate issues are crucial on a global scale, and they also cut across Finland’s foreign policy themes. Now that Finland is holding the Arctic Council’s Chairmanship, we can tackle these questions from a very special vantage point. Arctic issues form part of our EU policy and are also strongly linked to Nordic cooperation.

Cooperation between Finland and Sweden has proceeded favourably this year too. Contacts are close at different levels, both political and senior official levels. Defence cooperation has progressed according to plan. Together we have gained a special status as NATO partners and participate in the organisation’s discussions related to the Baltic Sea region. A good example of this is Finland’s active initiative in improving aviation security in the Baltic Sea, which has also facilitated the dialogue between NATO and Russia.

Madam Speaker,

It was a political choice that Finland made when the decision was made to join the European Union, and it tied us more closely to the Western community of values. The most important task of the European Union is to safeguard peace, security, prosperity and the rule of law on our continent. The need to take care of these fundamental responsibilities has not changed in any way.

The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union impacts Finland in many ways. Now that preparations are under way to start negotiations on the Brexit agreement, Finland is pursuing a policy that would secure our interests while also protecting the Union. We are satisfied with the unity that the EU27 has shown in the preparatory phase.

There are no winners in this process. The UK has been and will continue to be an important partner for Finland. Only later will it be possible to see if Brexit has any negative economic, political or security repercussions on Finland.

In the wake of the UK referendum last June, we launched political deliberations on the future development of the EU among the Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States of the European Union. These led to a declaration on the future of the European Union, issued in March in Rome.  The Rome Declaration meets the objectives that we have been pursuing nationally and which we have promoted in the meetings of the Heads of State or Government. Additionally, five papers published by the Commission, dealing with the social dimension, management of globalisation, EMU, defence and the multiannual financial framework, are all linked to the discussion about the future of the European Union.

Regarding the EU’s foresight activities, the focus is now on concrete development projects. In accordance with the Rome Declaration, four issues take priority: economic growth, social questions, security and global challenges.

A few words about the four concrete development projects mentioned above. First the economy.

A strong single market and free trade are instrumental in promoting growth. Finland is working actively to safeguard the conditions for free trade both at the European and the global levels. The effective operation of the single market requires continuous work to fully harness the potential offered by digitalisation, for instance. There is much to do and to be gained from single market energy markets too.

Influencing climate and energy policy is topical and important. Being forerunners is in the best interest of our nation. In this context, the sustainable use of forests must not be hampered with theoretical accounting rules by the land use sector.

Our point of departure is that the United Kingdom’s withdrawal will be taken into account in the overall financial framework level in full. For us it is important that the financial framework can continue to boost economic growth, job creation and competence. Finland’s remote location and sparse population density must be taken into account in regional and structural policy. Conditions must be safeguarded for agriculture to be practised in a profitable way in all EU Member States. And, at the same time, responding to migration issues and strengthening defence cooperation, for instance, are new areas where EU funding is necessary.

In the wake of the financial and the debt crises, the European Economic and Monetary Union has been developed in many ways in recent years. Member States must comply with commonly agreed rules and each country must implement its own structural reforms to consolidate their general government finances. It is now paramount to complete the work done to create a banking union in particular and to implement reforms. Finland does not advocate greater shared responsibility or augmented sharing of risks in the banking sector. We must keep to investor responsibility.

Another important policy area is the social dimension. We must be able to create a fairer and more equal Union for example by improving the position of women and formulating models to help reconcile work and family life. No new EU-level instruments or processes are required to strengthen the social dimension in the EU. Finland does not advocate the creation of income transfer mechanisms between EU Member States.

The third theme is related to security – both internal and external. To counter cross-border threats to internal security, especially terrorism, we must work even more closely together, put in place better systems of information exchange and find new solutions. A good example is the promotion of defence cooperation, which brings added value without requiring any changes to the Treaties. All the right conditions are already in place, and multi-speed if necessary.

Closer European defence cooperation is a natural step in development. Europe must be able to manage its security and defence more effectively together and to engage in securing stability in its neighbouring areas.

We must all assume responsibility for our own part. Finland is strongly committed in this area of work. The purpose is to agree on closer cooperation regarding resources among willing and capable Member States by means of ‘permanent structured cooperation’, examine together the development of national defence capabilities, establish a military staff for own training operations, as an initial stage, and improve the EU’s capacity to operate in crisis management.

In the context of permanent structural cooperation, concrete project proposals put forward by Finland include cooperation in space matters, maritime defence, logistics corps, and improving the EU’s cyber defence capacity. Together with potential partners we will examine possible fields for cooperation and continue our national efforts. I last talked about cyber security with Swedish Prime Minister Löfven at the meeting in Bergen. I discussed the matter earlier with the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.

The fourth key theme consists of global challenges. Globalisation and, in particular, digitalisation are transforming the economic operating environment and the basis for growth, even beyond the sectors that have traditionally engaged in foreign trade. Globalisation does not merely bring greater competition but is profoundly reshaping international markets, business structures, operating models and the basis for value creation. Within the EU we must be capable of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation to defend our values and interests and to achieve sustainable growth and employment.

Managing migration and responding to it is one global issue where immediate situations must be addressed in the EU while also creating more permanent solutions. We must be able to impact the root causes of migration more effectively, improve border security and ensure equitable burden-sharing between all Member States.

Madam Speaker,

Finland must be prepared for EU regeneration to make a start, even a bumpy one at first. We will be active participants in this work. According to the current Government Programme, the Union needs reforming and its functioning must be improved, but the Government does not consider changes to the Treaties to be topical at present. The premise for the deliberations on the future of the EU has been that no changes to the Treaties will be discussed at this point. The EU has the potential to become more effective without a process that could take years even decades. As an example, qualified majority voting could already be used more widely.

The EU should be developed above all by fostering unity. While it is not necessary to always proceed at the same pace, the provisions of the Treaties should nonetheless be observed, and doors should be kept open to all Member States and at all stages of the process. Finland participates in all important EU projects when it is in our national interests to do so and when justified for reasons of influence. Decisions are always made on a case-by-case basis.

The EU must focus on what is essential, implement decisions and cut red tape. It should play big in big matters and small in small matters.

Madam Speaker,

We are experiencing a significant period of transition. What characterises such periods of transition is that many rules of the game are no longer relevant or respected. But transitions do not last forever either; they inevitably lead to the strengthening of common rules or the creation of something new. This is why we should never give up hope in the midst of historical transitions.

Finland is not a bystander in this transition either but an active contributor. It is important that we exercise active foreign and security policy and play our part in building a more stable, secure and just world.