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Speeches, 8/22/2017

Minister Soini's speech at the meeting of Finnish heads of mission 2017

Minister for foreign affairs Timo Soini's speech at the meeting of Finnish heads of mission 21 August 2017.

I am not here for the first time, but now I am in a new situation. Previously, I have worn many hats – Prime Minister’s deputy, Minister for Europe, party leader, chair of a ministerial working group. Now I am wearing only one – Minister for Foreign Affairs. 

Foreign policy is of great significance. The world is undergoing intense change and transformation. Developments cannot only be viewed with the eye of an optimistic. There are risks. 

The violent acts in Turku show that terrorism is also in Finland. With solemn thoughts, I feel speechless sadness.

Our century-old country has been built on the foundation of law. Finland is a rule-of-law state. Only through the rule of law will we defeat terrorism, and in this way we will surely defeat it.

I express my condolences to the close friends and relatives of the victims.

Everything changes and nothing stands still, said the Greek philosopher. Change is constant. But in what direction we are going is a difficult and topical question. An occupational challenge.

There are obvious changes – those that make the headlines – but slower, gradual changes can change the world and its power relations even more permanently and strongly. We must consider these changes in this meeting of heads of mission.

Power relations in the world are undergoing powerful change. Russia has become a challenger to international order. China has been rising strongly for a long time now, but what kind of place will it take – and receive – in the international system? 

Climate change will have unexpected and sudden effects. 

Population growth is setting us challenges on a new scale. I myself was born into a world of three billion people. Soon there will be eight billion of us.

It has often been the case that when power relations change, then the world experiences upheaval and power seeks a new path.

The world needs to be seen as a whole, and we need to understand how long the chains of cause-and-effect relationships are. The chain of events in which a refugee arrives in Finland over the Haaparanta bridge begins very far from our borders. The person is never the problem; his or her situation is.

And change is not only about security. Technology will revolutionise things, both internationally and within societies. Artificial intelligence will change working life. 3D printing will change industrial production. Energy systems are undergoing potent change. The Finnish economy must constantly seek new direction and be ready to renew itself. This will not be easy, but it is essential.

It goes without saying that you, heads of mission, have a vital role to play in observing and analysing this international change. In this role, you will be invaluable for Finland and will have much to do. I thank you for your excellent work.

But, at the same time, I issue a challenge – understanding is important, but anticipation is even more valuable. Opinions and questions are always welcome. As the world changes, it is not always possible to rely on past patterns of behaviour.

Century-old Finland must be even more agile, because the rate of change is accelerating. 

By agility, I do not mean unprincipled opportunism. In an uncertain world, it is even more important that we have our own values clearly in mind. Without this compass, we will find ourselves adrift. 

These values can be summed up as well-known European principles and the Nordic system of society – democracy, rule of law, human rights, equality, humanism.

Christian values did not receive a mention in the EU Constitution. This, in my view, was a mistake. 

I will not give you a long sermon, let alone a presentation on the international situation. I will focus on change and risks, but at the same time also on what we can do. We are not onlookers in international politics; we are active players. We may play hard, but always according to the rules.

When one looks at the world with European eyes, it is obvious that the challenges are tough. Europe’s neighbouring regions are no longer the ring of stability and circle of friends we could recognise at the turn of the millennium.

The war in Syria continues, and the Middle East is in many ways more volatile and unpredictable. Russia, in turn, has challenged the established order and the ground rules of European security. Libya’s instability is reflected in Europe. The war in Yemen has caused much suffering and may have repercussions further afield. ISIL is under pressure, but not defeated. The list is long, but not endless.  

The challenge of our neighbouring regions requires that, as Europe, we have a better capacity to influence the outside world – to consolidate and develop, but also to respond to power politics using its own means, if necessary. This is the key issue. This will be the connecting thread when the EU’s foreign, security and defence capabilities are being built. Work that Finland wants to be at the forefront of. 

Europe will not, however, compete with the USA. There is never a dull day in Washington’s politics, but our common foundation must not be forgotten – USA and Europe are connected by many ties. It is better to face the challenges of the world together rather than separately. Nothing is ever dependent on one person, nor on transient political circumstances.

Europe’s own capabilities will not be developed by competing with the USA, but by finding a common understanding.

The EU’s growing capabilities will take nothing away from NATO; European increased preparedness will also serve as a fairer sharing of the burden. It is not in the long run sustainable if Europe is economically strong but militarily weak.

Brexit will not make Europe’s challenges any easier. It must be handled well. Without any spirit of revenge. With fairness towards everyone. A strong foundation, not small-minded deception, will generate employment and economic growth.

For Europe, one fateful issue is Africa. How Africa is to be helped on to the path of sustainable development.

We have as a neighbour a continent whose growing population will be numbered in billions. Just over a billion people will become more than two billion in only a few decades. Climate change will adversely impact living conditions in Africa. Population growth is strong. Conflicts plague many countries. In Egypt alone, the population is growing by the size of Finland’s every two years.

Without development and security, there is no real prospect that migration pressure, for example, will ease. This pressure will not be reduced by damming the flow. It will find a path sooner or later. We must go to the root of problems.

As a concrete programme, this means economic growth and security, and above all hope for the young people of Africa.

We are talking here of making an impact on a massive scale. It is not enough for a single country – such as Libya – to be put back on its feet. As Europe, we must support Africa more purposefully than we have to date.

When I speak to you of threats and risks, I’m not talking theory. There are plenty of concrete examples. 

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile tests constitute a tangible and obvious threat. It is a problem shared by the international community. This is a good example of an issue that cannot be solved without China. 

North Korea’s actions are, in turn, a good example of unpredictability. I believe and trust that reason will prevail. There are real risks.

Nuclear weapons are the scourge of mankind, but the situation will not be affected by wishful thinking. We made a logical – if not necessarily an easy or popular – decision when we remained outside the negotiations seeking an agreement on the prohibition of the nuclear weapons. We are interested in concrete results, not point-scoring. No nuclear weapons will be removed without the nuclear powers.

Disarmament and weapons supervision is a field in which we are constantly finding an influential role.

Our realistic and pragmatic line is reflected in the many positions of trust that we have received, whether in connection with an arms trade agreement or nuclear terrorism, to which Secretary of State Stenlund referred in his speech.

How do we work? How do we influence?

When I started as Foreign Minister, I specified certain priorities for our activities: (i) closer cooperation with Sweden, (ii) security in the Baltic Sea region, (iii) transatlantic relations, (iv) peace mediation, (v) Arctic policy. 

The presidency of the Arctic Council is a good example of an excellent influential role. The USA will remain involved in cooperation relating to the environment and climate policy. Through the Council, Russia has committed itself to constructive regional cooperation. The EU will also be more actively involved in the development of Arctic policy. 

Finland’s leadership role in the Arctic Council will be extensive and it must be used vigorously to strengthen Finland’s international position and to promote Finland’s competence in getting things done. 

Combating black carbon is a good example of this – making concrete advances for the climate, bringing countries of the region together, offering Finnish expertise.

Peace mediation is a concrete activity through which we seek solutions to crises and, above all, try to prevent them. I am delighted that Member of Parliament Jutta Urpilainen has accepted the position as the Foreign Minister’s Special Representative on Mediation.

She will focus on key issues for sustainable security – the role of women, and the young people of Africa. Pekka Haavisto has done impressive work in peace mediation and I thank him.

We can with satisfaction state that Finland has promoted peace mediation on a really long-term basis. Now it is a mainstream activity of the UN and a priority of the new Secretary-General. Domestic actors – such CMI and Finn Church Aid – represent the international peak of their field and we are proud of them. 

Security of the Baltic Sea region is vital to us, but tension in our own neighbourhood has increased because of Russia’s actions. We do not approve of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. 

At the same time, there is a need to find measures that promote European security – in this, the initiative of the President of the Republic on improving aviation safety in the Baltic Sea region has yielded a lot of results and recognition.

One important channel through which we influence the stability of the Baltic Sea region is the cooperation, together with Sweden, in which we are engaged with NATO. This 29+2 cooperation has progressed particularly well and we can be satisfied with its establishment. Through this, we are at the right table. 

The difference between a member and a partner is clear. Through cooperation, we are involved in discussions that affect us.

One fundamental goal of our foreign policy is to be heard and to influence. To be at the table, not on the porch. Not to mention in the yard.

As I stated earlier, transatlantic cooperation is vital to Europe. I will not dodge nor evade the fact that the Trump administration is new to us. In relations with the United States, we should rather seek what unites us than what separates us. We have much in common. An important approach is to be seen and have influence in Washington, alone and together. The Nordic countries are an excellent reference group.

We have no closer partner than Sweden. We were once a single country. Ultimately, it was the Swedish Crown and the Church of Rome that made Finland into Finland. 

That we are West, not East.

In defence policy, the cooperation of Finland and Sweden is a good model. If we cannot rely on each other in times of trouble, who can we rely on? But this cooperation also needs to be strengthened more broadly over the whole spectrum of foreign policy.

With my Swedish colleague Margot Wallström, I am strongly committed to this. Tillsammans, as in our 100th anniversary celebrations.

Finland’s and Sweden’s cooperation is concretely evident with NATO. We also seeking a deeper common understanding both in the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and in Russia policy. Finland’s and Sweden’s foreign policy cooperation is being stepped up strongly.         

This year, we celebrate the centenary of Finland’s independence. As a nation, Finland has made a wonderful journey, from difficulties to victory. From poverty to the forefront of development. We have built a good society and have achieved a stable international position. No achievements are ever permanent, however. They have to be worked on. Our field is Finland’s foreign policy.

This year, we laid to rest President Mauno Koivisto, a major leader and pathfinder of Finland’s foreign policy. President Koivisto was at the helm when Finland faced the post-Cold War upheaval. Wisdom and sophistry after the fact are always amongst us. We can be sure, however, that the best efforts were made. Many things could have gone badly wrong.

Koivisto’s hand was sure and his direction clear. The man who had fought in the war knew the realities of the world. Koivisto found for Finland a strong position in the West. We still draw on this legacy today.

This document

Updated 8/22/2017

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