Speech by Secretary of State Peter Stenlund
Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission, 21–24 August 2017
Distinguished meeting participants,
Is this an age of great transition or an age of unpleasant uncertainties? At the start of the year I felt I was navigating in dense fog. The fog will clear up if we are patient, and then we can go on as before. If only it was that simple.
In some ways our operating environment is more reassuring than earlier this year. Especially the outcome of the presidential elections in France has spread hope in Europe. Once again we in Europe get the chance to rely on French-German collaboration. Even transatlantic cooperation is in better shape than what the most pessimistic scenarios predicted, despite some surprising developments.
There are, however, many indisputable reasons to prepare for a long-lasting and deep transition. Climate change. Demographic change and the rapid population growth in Africa. Technology, and the rapid changes in working life brought about by robotics, artificial intelligence and digitalisation. Gradual shifts in the focus of the global economy. Balance of power and efficient arms control. These are examples of the issues we need to consider when we refocus our activities in the Foreign Service.
Last spring the Ministry for Foreign Affairs updated its strategic priorities that govern the planning of our work. The update took into account the Government's key strategic documents, including the Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy issued in summer 2016 and the Government Report on Development Policy from 2015, as well as the latest changes in the operating environment.
The strategic priorities document rejects passive attitudes. We will not take the transition and changes as given. Instead the EU, Finland and the Finnish Foreign Service can and must continue to influence the direction and consequences of development.
Our goal is a robust, united and capable European Union. This is an important signal in Europe and Finland and in our discussions with countries outside Europe.
We all can take as a guide the objective of deeper cooperation with Sweden and the other Nordic countries. And, as they say in Sweden, this cooperation can reach “beyond peacetime conditions”. We are united in our objective to ensure stability, safety and welfare in the Baltic Sea Region. Building cooperation with Russia and keeping the channels for political dialogue open serve the same objective.
We will, or at least we will try, to deepen our political and economic cooperation with the United States regardless of political circumstances. We will develop our cooperation with NATO on a broad basis. Finland is keeping open the option of seeking NATO membership, while carefully monitoring developments in our security environment.
We do our share of preventing hybrid threats by participating in the fight against cyber threats and by promoting stability, safety and freedom of interaction in the digital environment.
The Middle East, North Africa, Sahel, Central Asia, Afghanistan and the African Horn are all, in the end, our neighbouring regions. Collapsing or fragile societies in these regions will sooner or later reflect on our security as well. The murders in Turku are being treated as a terrorist incident; the tragedy reminds us all of the interdependence of security in different parts of the world. We need to participate comprehensively in promoting sustainable development, peace, stability and human rights especially in situations that may have significant effects on Finland and the rest of Europe. There are a number of ways of doing so: bilateral cooperation, supporting non-governmental organisations, working within the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe as well as through the UN.
Mediation is demanding work. There are as many approaches to it, as there are criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize. Supporting negotiations between parties to a conflict and acting as mediator, expert, facilitator, catalyst and financier often require years of commitment and both human and financial resources in significant amounts. Achieving concrete results also calls for proper focusing. This year we have the great privilege to hear the views of our colleague President Martti Ahtisaari concerning Finland’s possibilities to prevent conflicts, mediate and build peace. His thoughts are based on his unrivalled experiences.
The cooperative, rules-based international system contains uncertainties. Are states still committed to following the jointly agreed rules or are we witnessing the gradual disintegration of the system we so painstakingly created after the Second World War?
Robert Kagan from the Brookings Institution, for example, suspects that we might be heading towards the sunset of the liberal world order. The world order is facing pressure both from within the world’s democracies and without. Will even the most powerful states agree to follow the rules or will they promote their own interests by the right of their superior force? Are we entering a risky age of deals and unilateral actions? Humanity might end up paying a tremendous price if we fail to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and miss our chance to mitigate climate change. Our strategic priorities are very clear on this matter: the Foreign Service promotes an international system based on agreements. This also means that we are forced to face many difficult situations, as has already happened regarding the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), for example.
The defence and development of a rules-based international system extend also to external economic relations. The Foreign Service promotes transparent economic interaction and liberalisation of trade and, to reach these objectives, it also endorses the adoption of versatile EU trade agreements. Our treaty with South Korea shows already how these kinds of agreements can have significant effects on Finland’s economy. The new treaty with Canada is one of the most important steps forward in our transatlantic cooperation, and the preliminary treaty with Japan is an encouraging example of how to counter protectionist tendencies.
Finland is advancing with the national implementation of Agenda 2030 in a determined manner. Our way of organising the work has attracted broad international attention. It is not a simple task to ensure consistency of action, since our task is to harmonise development policy measures and trade promotion measures, among other measures.
The shift in the global balance of power is deemed to be undermining the possibilities to promote human rights and democratic values. At the same time there have been signs even in western countries of a poorer commitment to both the UN’s universal values and the values of the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe. One of the Foreign Service’s strategic priorities is to promote human rights, equality, equity and support for participation as part of global responsibility, and the efforts to end impunity for violence. Strengthening the rights and position of women and girls is an essential part of this work.
The Foreign Service serves the entire state administration, citizens, companies, organisations, the media and other cooperation partners. Since we joined the European Union, Finland’s missions abroad have served the entire state administration in matters concerning the EU. The complexity and intricacies of an increasing number of issues highlight the need for an intersectoral approach. External and internal security are more and more closely intertwined. In immigration and consular affairs we are working in close cooperation especially with agencies under the Ministry of the Interior. For example, we established without delay an intersectoral incident organisation to deal with the kidnapping case in Afghanistan.
Although we still have ministries in our government, we are working closer and closer together. Advocates of the Swedish model of a single integrated government without any ministries have claimed that it is the best way to get rid of silo thinking. You will remember that in July, two top ministers resigned in Sweden after a botched IT outsourcing agreement in the transport sector. A key contributing factor was a disruption of the information flow within the Swedish government. It was acting in silos despite its integration.
Silo thinking is, of course, harmful both within the government and within a single ministry. We must get rid of it primarily by changing attitudes and practices. The permanent secretaries at the ministries meet on a regular basis, and the aim is to give these meetings an official status to promote more efficient implementation of the Government’s strategic decisions and preparation of intersectoral issues.
From the Foreign Service’s perspective, the Team Finland reform aims to create a new operational practice and culture together with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and the export promotion and internationalisation service organisations under it. At home we will have a new Business Finland institution that will be able to adopt more efficient and straightforward ways to promote companies’ internationalisation, attract investments to Finland and promote tourism.
We want to reinforce the position of Heads of Mission in the target markets as leaders of Team Finland. The Government has been clear about this goal, and we need a cooperative approach and mutual transparency between different actors to achieve it. We intend to intensify the discussions between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Business Finland regarding the geographical and content-wise allocation of promotion measures. The resources the Foreign Service and Business Finland use in the target markets must be seen as one whole. I hope this restructuring helps Business Finland to create a stronger presence in the target markets.
Another aim of the reform is to bring different operators under the same roof in the host countries. The intention is good, but we have encountered problems with information security in some situations. Our own employees can be held liable for acts in office, and they have a security clearance. The judicial status of the Business Finland employees is different because they are often recruited in the host country. Host countries often impose different kinds of obligations on their citizens. We should not be naive, but we must take information security properly into account when we organise our activities.
We are constantly subject to different kinds of information security threats, and it would be unreasonable to assume that individual staff members are always aware of all the risks. Security risks can be direct attacks or attempts of espionage or just collateral damage. A particular focus in our internal inspections has been the arrangements and practices concerning information security in our missions.
In the future, each employee in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs will, one way or another, encounter the project to develop our work environment and its impacts. We all know that it is inconvenient when your workplace is being renovated and reconstructed, but let’s be open and active about this project. An activity-based environment will be something new for us, and it will open up new opportunities. However, it will not completely alter certain basic parameters in managing external relations. The requirements of expert work, the nature of the issues we deal with, and our information security requirements and obligations cannot be swept aside.
An important part of our daily work is dealing with different kinds of problems and crises. However, we get active results by taking on international responsibilities. The trust we enjoy from the international community and our position in it are reflected in the international tasks assigned to us. We get many tasks based on the rotation of responsibilities, while other tasks are based on campaigns. Our most important campaign at the moment is the candidacy for the Executive Board of UNESCO. The election will be held in November, and the work of our Heads of Mission and our missions for our candidacy is extremely important until the end of the campaign.
Ambassador Klaus Korhonen’s term presiding over the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will end next autumn, while Ambassador Jari Luoto will take the lead of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). Both these tasks show that the international community has faith in Finland when it comes to highly sensitive arms control duties.
Finland’s two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council has started well. It may turn out to be more difficult than anticipated to achieve results in the climate and environmental protection sectors because of the policies of the current US administration, for example. While the global security policy situation also reflects on the Artic Region, already when the Arctic Council was established it was decided that military security will be kept out of the Council to ensure continued cooperation. This arrangement has been a successful one, and Arctic cooperation has achieved results and reinforced trust overall.
Finland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe at the end of this parliamentary term will be brief but potentially demanding in political terms. Considering the increasing problems with human rights and the rule of law in many of the Council Member States, the Presidency’s significance is growing.
We are already preparing for Finland’s Presidency of the European Union in the latter half of 2019. The Presidency will also call for closer relations with our Troika partners Romania and Croatia. We hope that we will be able to reach agreements on as many common priorities as possible. Preparations by public servants will play a key role since we will take on the Presidency soon after the parliamentary elections. In the first stage, which has already started, there will be impacts on personnel planning. At the moment Estonia holds the EU Presidency with the same kind of strong motivation as we had during our first memorable Presidency. It is possible that in the Europe of 2019, motivation comes spontaneously from a strong and efficient Union.
The finances of the Foreign Service are in balance this year, although we still need to make certain cuts required by the Government. For example, the slight increase in working time introduced by the Competitiveness Pact means that we have gained an extra 15 man-years, and we have to make corresponding cuts to compensate for it. However, the extra man-years are only theoretical since our staff have always had an amazing ability for flexibility when necessary. We will not be reducing our staff before the EU Presidency, but unfortunately we will be losing money immediately. At the same time, our operating expenses are under great cost pressure. For example, we do not yet know how flexibly the Ministry of Finance will be reacting to the recruitment needs caused by the increasing demand for visas: the Foreign Ministry no longer receives the income from visa fees and is, therefore, dependent on speedy appropriations from the budget. This year we have met the rapid growth in the demand for Russian visas with the help of budgetary funds left over from the previous year.
Our biggest concern in the coming years is, however, the management of our premises. We have developed new practices for managing our premises and we now have stronger capacity to plan future projects more systematically. The state of affairs is as bad as we have anticipated after years of under-funding. Our premises and facilities are in poor condition and losing their value, and we are also forced to postpone necessary transfer to new premises because of the lack of funding to cover the costs. We can barely fix urgent situations, such as the one we have now in New York. This is a serious message for the Government budget session.
We are entering the final stretch of Finland’s centenary celebrations. Because of Finland’s jubilee year, we have received several important visitors, such as the President of China, the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of the Russian Federation and all the Nordic monarchs in a historical joint visit. Moreover, the timing of the invitation to the President of the Republic to visit the White House is appropriate now that Finland is celebrating its centenary. And the autumn will bring several other important visitor exchanges. Finland’s centenary has supported our efforts to reinforce our international position. The culmination of the year, the Independence Day celebrations in Finland and across the globe, is still ahead of us. We will not be forgetting our history, however, since the Finnish Foreign Service will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year. It opens up great opportunities for making our foreign and security policy better known across the globe.
Since our previous Meeting of Heads of Mission, some of our colleagues have passed away. They are:
Carl Arne Hartman, Ilkka Heiskanen, Erkki Kivimäki, Pertti A. O. Kärkkäinen, Tero Lehtovaara, Timo Repo
Let’s hold a moment of silence to honour their memory and life’s work.