Speech by Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the annual meeting of Heads of Mission
Prime Minister Sanna Marin's speech at the annual meeting of Heads of Mission, hosted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland on 23 August 2022.
Distinguished Ambassadors, Heads of Missions,
In July, we started our summer holidays feeling relieved. The NATO Summit in Madrid at the end of June was the culmination point of the hard work towards Finland and Sweden joining NATO, which had begun with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
Submitting our applications for NATO membership together and hearing the welcomes from our future allies was a historic moment to share with an important neighbouring country of ours. Every time our membership is ratified in any of the 30 capitals of NATO states gives us reason for joy and gratefulness.
Unfortunately, it was not all about a joyous NATO spring. Ukraine is in great distress. The war Russia launched has plunged us into a cold era in world politics.
Reaching an agreement with Sweden about applying for NATO membership and the work you did in your receiving States was a major effort for all of us. Finland was at the centre of attention and still remains there. We were praised for our decision, and the choice we made – described as bold by some – was met with understanding even in more far off countries.
Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO will be a significant step for the whole alliance, and hopefully it for its part will encourage us to stand behind our shared values and to defend them.
The ratification process still continues in seven capitals. We have responded to the concerns of our long-term friend Türkiye as best we can, since we must take the security of every ally seriously, as seriously as our own. I hope that Türkiye also feels that we have responded to their concerns.
The decision to apply for NATO membership gathered behind it the Finnish people and a historically strong majority of the Members of Parliament.
The membership in NATO gives Finland freedom to manoeuvre which we otherwise might have lost. We can assume that Russia turning into a more agreeable neighbour for us – or for anyone else for that matter – is nowhere in sight.
Had we waited for better times to come, it would have left us in a vulnerable position with Russia having become increasingly vigorous in its demands to have a say in other states’ freedom of choice.
Not only will Finland ally itself with 31 countries, but it will also build a closer bilateral partnership with each of the allies.
However, the relationship where closeness increased the most over spring was with the one future ally with whom we believed we had already gone about as far as we could. The deep trust between Finland and Sweden made it possible that we eventually made our choice – when the time was right – independently, but together. I have deep respect for the leadership of Prime Minister Andersson, with whom we very rapidly came to the same conclusion.
It is clear that the NATO membership will also bring us closer to Estonia, which, together with Canada, was the first country to ratify our membership. A new page will now be turned in our relationship with Estonia, to include even more common objectives than before.
I honestly want to admit that, over the past decades, we could have listened to our friends in the Baltics more closely along the way in questions related to our common security and Russia.
The NATO membership provides more opportunities for Nordic cooperation. Just looking at the map shows that we are so tightly tied to each other’s security solutions that it changes the situation considerably that we are getting under the same roof and covered by the same commitments, structures and plans.
In our meeting with other Nordic Prime Ministers in Oslo a week ago, we adopted a joint declaration that paves the way for making good use of NATO membership in the Nordic security and defence cooperation at all levels. Our message is that, together, we will do a lot more for the security of the entire alliance than we have before.
In the summer, we have also witnessed the unreserved support and readiness of our other future allies to provide assistance, should we need it. The presence of our partners has been visible in our ports, over the cities and on training grounds around the country. We are grateful for this, and things are better this way. The Finnish people have also welcomed our future allies. This is the family we belong to.
We have already been taking part in demanding exercises with NATO and our close partners for quite some time, which has gradually been preparing us for the membership.
For Finland, it is clear how we will operate in NATO as well. As a rule, after joining the alliance we will participate in all NATO activities.
Every NATO member is also an Atlantic state. Our relationship with the United States and Canada will become closer than ever.
The NATO membership will also emphasise the importance of the European Union as a security community and our key frame of reference.
It is in our best interest to continue strengthening the cooperation between the EU and NATO. Finland will be able to fully participate in the discussions concerning the issues related to the common foreign and security policy that are also addressed by NATO on both fora.
We are living in the middle of a major transition. The change requires perseverance and will continue for a long time. It is better to be able to affect the change as a member of both the European Union and NATO.
We must not enable or accept a world in which Russia would have won its war. After the war, we will not return to how things used to be with Russia.
By waging its war of aggression, Russia has broken and abandoned some of the key principles and commitments of the European security system. This is the reality we will be facing even when the war is over.
The European Union has responded to the war with extensive sanctions against Russia, aimed at weakening the Russian capacity to finance the war and maintain military rearmament. We are ready to impose even tighter sanctions. The tightened national restrictions Finland agreed to impose on granting tourist visas to Russian citizens last week are in fact also targeted against the Russian leadership, as most Russians support the war. This is one of the ways by which we can inform the Russians about the war of aggression Russia has started.
We must be determined in our support to Ukraine and base it on a solid foundation. The assistance given by Finland has consisted of seven shipments of defence materiel, i.e., weapons, including heavy weaponry. We are ready to continue providing this support in collaboration with our partners and according to what Ukraine needs.
An essential part of the support we are giving is of political nature. Finland was at the forefront when the EU decided to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine in spring. In spring, I visited Kyiv, and Irpin and Bucha on the outskirts of the city, where the Russian troops had committed shocking acts of crime, such as mass killings of civilians.
The coming autumn will be hard for Europe. The reduced energy supply and rising costs place many decision-makers in a position where the citizens of their countries get to feel the indirect consequences of war in their everyday lives. At the same time, we need to be ready not only to continue the sanctions against Russia but to impose new ones and to strengthen our support to Ukraine.
I believe that, as far as the energy choices are concerned, all Member States have accepted the fact that there is no return to the pre-war times. We must fully detach ourselves from Russian fossil energy. In autumn, we must strengthen the joint understanding in Europe that the final detachment is possible only through major investments in the green transition.
We have a lot to learn from the situation in which we find ourselves. First the pandemic, then the Russian invasion of Ukraine have revealed Europe's vulnerabilities. We have finally taken seriously the dependencies we have on authoritarian countries and their capacity to control, for example, data networks and access to technologies, which are issues of vital importance for business, health, security and citizens’ rights.
It is natural for us to use the European Union for addressing these vulnerabilities. The EU must become more self-sufficient and ready to act than it is today, regardless of the leverage of the kind of countries that do not share our common values.
Through improved capabilities and self-sufficiency, the EU's strategic autonomy also essentially means that we make better partners. The capacity to function independently, if necessary, does not mean turning our back to a friend, but quite the opposite. Democracies must cooperate even more closely than before, and in this matter, a strong Europe is in everyone's best interest.
Another side of strategic autonomy is solidarity. As I said in my speech at the last year's meeting of Heads of Mission: “A more effective external action requires stronger political solidarity, and that is something we now have to build up”.
Are the migration flows, the pandemic and, today, the energy crisis caused by the Russian war finally waking us Europeans up to seeing solidarity in a new way, as something other than income transfers and comparisons of who pays what?
One part of the lesson learned from the situation in Europe is that even the wealthiest Member States may need to wait to gain some solidarity and understanding. We are all learning something new here. Finland has also learned new things about our eastern neighbour, who we thought we had always known well.
The EU has a unique opportunity to emerge from the ongoing transition more united, more capable and stronger than it used to be.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought us closer together as a community of values.
The winter ahead of us, the economic circumstances and the energy crisis will bring us closer together in many practical ways as well, as long as we have the leadership needed for seeking solutions together. I particularly want to highlight the significant role Poland has played in both supporting Ukraine and building unity within the EU family in a wider sense.
Esteemed Heads of Missions,
The demand for an effective multilateral system and the UN at the core of it may now be greater than ever before.
We must enhance the international community's capacity to defend democracy, while simultaneously building a kind of multilateral system where everyone can find their place around the same table.
This is a matter I have discussed with many European leaders over the spring, but also when I have met other leaders, such as Indian Prime Minister Modi. India is the largest democracy in the world, and we should congratulate the country for its 75-year-long journey as a nation. Our relationship with India has deepened considerably over the past few years. At the same time, we have even been able to discuss some quite difficult issues in a direct and constructive manner.
Another memorable encounter this spring was my visit to Japan in May, when I was visiting Prime Minister Kishida in Tokyo. Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari took part in the visit accompanied by a high-level business delegation. We were there to enhance cooperation between Finland and Japan in fields such as transport connections and new technologies in particular.
New technologies will come to define the basic solutions our societies will be using in the future. The struggle over the choices and standards regarding quantum computing, the artificial intelligence and 6G networks and the underlying values has already begun. In this process, we need seamless collaboration between the US and the EU to, for example, establish common rules within the auspices of the EU-US Trade and Technology Council (TTC), set up a year ago – but, unfortunately, this will not be enough. We must find a common ground also with countries that greatly differ from each other.
Finland must have a clear presence in the world and build genuine partnerships, and you, dear Heads of Missions, have the most important role to play in this. I am also looking at Africa in particular, where we have strengthened Finland's contributions during this government term.
We cannot afford to and we should not leave any of the international organisations as a playing field for authoritarian states or ignore a single partnership at the expense of another. We promote equality, compliance with human rights and democracy. That is also a strong message in today's world.
At the same time, we must boldly offer cooperation to those hesitant to join in and show that countries and leaders who think progressively will eventually find each other, if necessary. We must resolutely defend international law and expect our friends to do the same.
I began my last year's speech by referring to Finland’s successful management of the pandemic. The European economy was showing signs of recovery. Now great uncertainty is prevailing in the whole world economy, as well as in the whole world.
Still, Finland’s situation is better than that of many of our partners. For example, the exceptionally good development of the employment rate speaks in favour of the Government's economic and employment policy. Active counter-cyclical policy and reacting to changes in economy have proven their strength – even in the middle of crises.
The economic growth will slow down in Finland as well due to the uncertainty, inflation and rise in energy prices caused by the Russian war. Our confidence is being tested. In this autumn's government budget session, we will soon decide on future measures to be targeted in a fair manner to those needing assistance. The measures and investments decided upon for accelerating the green transition, amounting to more than EUR 800 million, will be implemented.
We have a busy autumn ahead of us, and we are proceeding towards parliamentary elections in spring. I would like to thank warmly all of you and the whole Ministry for Foreign Affairs for your cooperation, which will continue. On my recent visit to the Western Balkans – Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia – I noticed how relieved I felt about visiting countries that we have failed to take into account to a sufficient extent from our Helsinki perspective but where they still have nothing but positive feelings towards us. This would seem to be the case in other areas as well. It tells me that you have succeeded in your work and that the long-term policies Finland has been pursuing have been successful.