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Speeches, 3/6/2008

Secretary of State Pertti Torstila´s speech at the Slovak Foreign Ministry

Challenges of Modern Diplomacy and Foreign Service
Speech by Ambassador Pertti Torstila, Secretary of State of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
Bratislava 4 March 2008

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Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear colleagues and friends,

Let me start by stating how pleased I'm to be here in Bratislava and to have the opportunity to address this audience of interested colleagues at the Slovak Foreign Ministry. My subject today is a broad one. I will approach it from the point of view of a Secretary of State of a European Foreign Ministry, who as the highest permanent civil servant of his Ministry has over-all responsibility for the activities, organisation and human resources of the foreign service. I will look at the changing international and domestic environment and the impact of this change on the Finnish Foreign Ministry, as we look ahead and hope to be prepared for future challenges.

Let me begin with a few comments on the European External Action Service. One of the key objectives of the Lisbon Treaty is to enhance the global role of the European Union by reforming institutions and procedure. The new treaty contains significant improvements on how the Union will be able to project its influence through external action.

Indeed, global issues such as fighting climate change, combating terrorism and eradicating poverty through development and trade are among our core concerns. In addition to its increasingly assertive Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the EU has efficient instruments to address these global issues. What the EU needs to meet the expectations is more coherence – coherence among institutional players and Member States, and coherence among its external policies and instruments.

The future External Action Service is a central element in the institutional improvements the Treaty introduces. The European External Action Service should assist the new High Representative in all his tasks. So much says the Lisbon Treaty. Of course views differ as to the exact scope and definition of these tasks. In the light of the broad scope of the High Representative's tasks and responsibilities, we must fully acknowledge that successful performance in the job requires almost inhuman effort and energy. The High Representative, to add to the challenge, must not remain prisoner of the institutional squabbles in Brussels, with its "cuisine interne", but be a visible and influential actor on the world-scene. In this perspective, an efficient and professionally qualified External Service will be crucial to bring about more coherence and impact in the Union's external action.

It is fair to ask how broad a scope the EEAS should have for it to successfully assist the new High Representative. How robust should the Service become? A lot of work remains to be done to define the tasks and the many crucial details of the institutional machinery before the Lisbon Treaty enters into force. In the preparatory work on the EEAS, the timetable and methodology will be significant. The new Service has to be prepared as a whole. Even though the formal decision to establish the EEAS will be proposed and adopted only once the Treaty is in force, the content will have been prepared and agreed upon well in advance.

Concerns have been expressed as to the future of the national diplomatic services of Member States in this new institutional setting. It is reasonable to ask how the creation of the European External Action Service will influence the national Foreign Ministries or the embassies and foreign representations. We have looked at this seriously, as indeed Finland has been at the forefront of promoting a more efficient, visible and coherent EU external action.

First, the EEAS will provide Member States with new opportunities to contribute to the conduct of EU external affairs. Finland, for its part, is planning to offer some of its best diplomats to work in the Service and add their expertise for the benefit of European external action. Concretely, we expect to provide some 20 diplomats for the new service, on a temporary basis, during the first years of the EEAS.

Second, rather than radically changing the role or responsibilities of our embassies abroad, the future EU missions should provide us with scale benefits and develop EU action on the ground. The EU delegations will replace the current 130 or so Commission delegations and also most probably will function as part of the EEAS structure.

A lot of expectations have already been put on the European External Action Service. Let me remind however, that it will not be a new institution and neither will it change the competencies of the Council or the Commission from what the Lisbon Treaty lays down. The EEAS will be a unique structure and a new kind of a foreign affairs administration - which I hope will also become its strength.

There is also some misunderstanding as to the future scope of the EU Delegations, which will be closely linked with the EEAS. The Member States and their citizens will closely follow what added value the EEAS will give to them. If the EU Foreign Service and its Delegations in the field fail to bring tangible new benefits to Member States and their taxpayers the Union will not win new hearts on its side in the ever present popularity contest.

Questions about the process are many. EPC's excellent Working Paper No.28/November 2007 mentions some of them. Will the creation of the EEAS affect the core functions of our national services, either in the capitals or in the embassies? If it will, then how? If it will not, then what's new in it? EU's visibility on the field will certainly be improved, but how can we further develop cooperation between the EU Delegations and national embassies? Foreign Ministries of the Members States must be involved as stakeholders if we really want to bridge the divide and bring national and European approaches closer together. In which way will the new Service alleviate the financial and resource burden with which the national Foreign Ministries are wrestling? The External Service will be financed from the EU budget but it will not be without consequences to the national services, the personnel policy and the staffing. Will the geographic balance be respected? Will all Member States regardless of their size and power be treated evenly when distributing posts and vacancies in Brussels and the new Delegations? Will bigger countries dominate the structure? Who will draw up the concrete proposals for the EEAS and who will discuss the content? How many in the new personnel would be from the Commission, the Council and the Member States, and who would pay their salaries? How to avoid internal wrangling? Organisations resist change, and European institutions are no exception.

Dear friends,

In 2001 the Finnish MFA reported to the Parliament on the Challenges for the Finnish Foreign Service in the 21st Century. Amongst these challenges, the report listed the changing international environment, policy coherence and strategic priorities as well as coordination, management and resources. At that time it had become clear that a serious reform thinking at the MFA was necessary. We had to adjust ourselves to the changing environment and new challenges.

I will start by global trends and changing international environment, which affect in many ways the work of the Foreign Ministries all over the world, including ours in Finland and Slovakia.

The end of the Cold War stated a transition of historic proportions, opening the floodgates to what has since become known as globalisation. During the past two decades, globalisation has made constant gains through intensified movement of people, ideas and capital. In parallel, as we know, new kinds of security threats have emerged, new conflicts created, and uncertainty and unpredictability started to dominate our mindset. Let me mention some of the most immediate challenges before the foreign service.

The ground for the economic success and prosperity of our citizens is being laid, to an ever larger extent, outside our national borders. The smaller we are, the bigger the effect is. The MFA supports companies and firms abroad by helping to improve conditions for their business operations and strengthen their competitive positions. This puts great demands on the skills of diplomats in mastering complex trade policy issues. Development cooperation is increasinly based on common interests, not solidarity alone. The gap between what used to be national and global interests is rapidly closing.

The Foreign Ministry prepares international positions on major foreign policy issues. This calls for coordination with the sectoral ministries, whose international relations have also strongly developed. The Foreign Ministry serves as the information and material back-up for these ministries abroad and at home. The Foreign Sercive must actively promote the pursuit of closer interaction within the whole government administration. The foreign policy role of NGOs and the media is growing, and the MFA has to be capable of cooperating with them. Foreign policy and the MFA are also legitimate objects for public debate in civil society and in the media. This requires open and effective communications policies from the Ministry.

People are travelling in larger numbers than ever before. In 2007, Finns made almost 7 million journeys abroad. A growing number of Finns are studying, working or spending their mature abroad. Accordingly, there is increasing demand for consular services that our diplomatic representations are required by law to provide for all Finnish residents. Increasingly mobile in the world, more Finns are potential customers for the services of the MFA and we have to devote more resources to serving them. The role of the MFA in relation to citizens and civil society is rapidly changing.

A significant change in Finnish foreign policy was brought about by our membership in the European Union in 1995. In its wake, a constitutional reform in 2000 brought the Prime Minister to the centre stage of foreign policy, in tandem with the President, whose domestic powers were considerably diluted., This has led to what can be described as "parlamentarisation" of foreign policy, meaning more public debate on foreign and security policy and an enhanced role for the media in the conduct of foreign policy. This change has directly influenced the foreign service in many ways.

In a changing environment, to be able to react adequately to constant changes in the operating environment, the Ministry needs a clear mission – it needs to understand its raison d'être and its new role. It must define its values and guiding principles as the glue binding its staff together in a unified community. All this can be formulated in a coherent strategy which guides the organisation to meet its challenges.

We formulated a strategy for the Foreign Ministry in 2005 with a title "Finland's Interest – Global Responsibility". The strategy can be seen as a management tool, helping us to ensure Ministry's capability to serve the President, ministers and Government as well as Parliament in the best possible way. The strategy must be responsive to changes in government policies and in the operating environment. This means that the strategy should be revised as necessary. A public strategy document also serves as an invitation to intensified cooperation to the Ministry's key partners and stakeholders. It clarifies how the MFA wants to serve the society through cooperation with other actors. The crucial test of any strategy is how it is translated into practical action.

The mission of the MFA, as defined in the strategy, is to promote the security and welfare of Finland and the Finns and to work for a secure and fair world. As an organization with high professional competence in the field of international relations, the MFA prepares and implements the Government's foreign policy and brings together the expertise of different national players to facilitate the formulation of coherent policies. In all its work the MFA has to look forward and to be proactive. The Ministry aims at further increasing and deepening its cooperation with civil society and economic actors through greater transparency and new types of partnerships. The Ministry will produce and distribute information that is relevant and useful for its stakeholders and the citizens. The Ministry's values reflect what the MFA and its staff believe. The values are enduring, though the value base is subject to constant review. In the strategy document, the Ministry's values are defined as cooperation, creativity and effectiveness.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The biggest challenges of the Finnish MFA today are related to management and diminishing resources in an environment which requires more than ever before from us. In other words, the growing discrepancy between tasks and resources. I believe that this is an issue all Foreign Ministries - yours in Bratislava as well - are faced with. This brings me to the issue of the budget.

Strong growth has continued both in the Finnish and the global economy for an exceptionally long period. In Finland, total output is estimated to have grown by 4.4 per cent in 2007, predicted to slacken to 3.3 per cent in 2008. The general government surplus is estimated at 4.5 per cent of GDP in 2007. With central government expenditure anticipated to grow faster, the general government surplus is expected to shrink slightly in 2008. To safeguard a prudent long term spending policy, the Government will pursue a system of spending limits

The Government Budget for the fiscal year 2008 is 45 521 million euros, of which the MFA overall budget is 2.5 per cent, representing around 0.6 per cent of Finnish GDP. Total value of the MFA budget for 2008 is 1 135 million euros. The Ministry's operational budget amounts to about 215 million euros, accounting for about 19 per cent of the total budget. Two thirds of the operational funds are addressed to the costs of maintaining the Finnish representations abroad. The rest goes to international development cooperation, cross-border cooperation, crisis management and other international obligations.

International development cooperation appropriations cover approximately 60 per cent of the MFA budget. Total international development cooperation in the Government Budget is estimated at 830 million euros which is around 0.44 per cent of the gross national income (GNI). Crisis management – including both military and civil – covers approximately 6 per cent ( 120 million euros) of the MFA budget.

The salaries of the MFA employees are lagging behind those of other ministries. Employee surveys have repeatedly shown that salaries are the biggest single source of dissatisfaction amongst our employees. There are efforts underway to improve the situation on this regard.

Let me now turn to the question of the Finnish representation abroad. At present the Finnish diplomacy has 97 missions in various parts of the world : 76 embassies, 7 multilateral missions, 10 consulates, 4 other offices and 400 honorary consulates.

The representations abroad - our embassies - are particularly sensitive to growing costs and volatility in exchange rates in their host countries. This represents an ever growing challenge to the MFAs budget in the coming years. The MFA serves the entire society, and therefore it is crucial that conditions which make this possible are maintained. There should not be a disparity between the expectations placed on the Ministry and the financial resources allocated to it. Embassies should not be closed down because of saving money only.

The programme of the present Government states that Finland's international representation abroad will be reviewed during this year taking into account the needs of citizens, business life and the state alike. This review is led by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and an advisory body has been set up to include representatives of all relevant stakeholders. The work will focus on the demand for government related services abroad, as well as on the cooperation of various government-funded bodies. Trade promotion, technological and scientific cooperation, cultural services, and military representation abroad are the main areas of the study. At the same time there is a growing interest to attach or co-locate experts representing other governmental institutions in the Embassies.

On the basis of the review, priorities will be suggested for Finnish foreign representation. Existing resources will be judged against the demand for services, and eventual discrepancies will be analysed.

In parallel with this study, the Ministry continues to focus on improving the efficiency of the Foreign Service. An important part of this is to ensure that our organisation is able to adjust its functions to the changed operational environment. The organisational structure of the MFA was reformed twice in the 1990s, and another reform is being prepared at this very moment. The aim of the process is to streamline the organization and improve management as well as the organisational culture of the Ministry. Furthermore, a service centre, covering accounting and personnel administration of several Ministries is being created in Finland. Concurrently, some regional hubs (Brussels, Paris, and New York to start with) are being created to ensure the efficiency of support services abroad.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As a response to the imminent ageing of the population, the previous Government instituted a Productivity Programme. As the name suggests, the programme aims at increased productivity, which can be measured, as we know, through the relation between input and output. The programme boils down, to no one's surprise, to personnel reductions across central government agencies. Diminishing supply of labour as a result of ageing is the key factor behind the productivity programme. It is estimated that the labour supply will decrease by tens of thousands of persons by the end of the current electoral period ending in 2011, and this decrease will continue much beyond that into the 2020s.

Under these circumstances, the total amount of the labour force in the public sector cannot continue growing. The programme aims to reducing staff by approximately 9,600 person-years by the end of 2011. Government personnel are expected to be reduced during this period by a total of 23,000 people, of whom around 12,000 will retire on old-age pension.

The Foreign Ministry estimates that about 360 staff members will retire or otherwise leave the service during 2006-2011. According to government decisions already taken, we are expected to reduce159 persons out of a staff of 1650 persons during this period. Most of this reduction (117 person-years) is allocated to administrative functions, while 42 person-years are supposed to be reduced from the Ministry's core functions. As the funds for development cooperation will almost double during the current electoral period, we are faced by a tough administrative challenge: how to manage and administer a rapidly increasing development budget with less people.

Finally, I would like to address the MFA's personnel and family policy. The key to the Ministry's success is qualified and motivated staff. The MFA should be able to offer a challenging, motivating and rewarding career for its staff.

Supportive and engaging working environment is a key factor for the staff to continue being motivated and feel devoted to their work. The aim of the MFA is to promote good employer policies and to enhance the professional competence of its staff. During the past years openness and transparency have increased in the MFA which has improved the working climate.

In the Finnish Foreign Service today women clearly outnumber men. About 60 per cent of the new diplomats entering the foreign service are female. This means that a spouse is more often male. Families are of diverse types and the staff is ageing. A family-friendly foreign service supports the civil servant throughout his or her career and life cycle, paying special attention to the needs of children. A good 15 per cent of spouses are foreign born. Many children have dual or multiple nationalities, they can live apart from the family and thus have a "third culture kids" identity. The key challenges include children's education and the accompanying spouse's rights and possibilities in the labour market, including lack of social benefits in Finland or abroad.

Our officers have to ask more and more often whether their families will follow them to a posting or whether an employee moves alone. Some come to the conclusion that they prefer to leave the MFA, so that both partners can follow their own careers. All this makes good family policy very demanding. How to combine severely limited resources to practically unlimited needs? The values and working procedures of the MFA are reflected in the Ministry's Human Resources Strategy. It lays the foundation for the improvement of staff performance and development of the organisational structure of the Ministry. A motivated, committed and healthy staff is the most important resource of the Ministry.

The Ministry puts particular emphasis on good management and leadership skills. We advocate sufficient family allowances, good family practices and development of flexitime - allowing parents of small children to combine work and family life. We are negotiating with competent authorities to ensure equal right and fair treatment of our staff as regards unemployment and pension security for spouses. MFA spouses are organised in an association with which the Ministry cooperates closely, and there is a full-time family ombudsman in the Ministry. The spouses association participates in the work of EUFASA (European Union Foreign Affairs Spouses Association).

Dear colleagues,

Thank you for your attention. I'm sure that the many questions, problems and challenges facing the Finnish foreign service are familiar to you in Bratislava. Let's try to find the answers together because here too - we can do better together. I will be glad to answer any questions or comments you might have.

Thank you.

 

 

 

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Updated 3/6/2008

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