Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s speech at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission

Government Communications Department 19.8.2019 10.19 | Published in English on 20.8.2019 at 9.41
Speech

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This is the second time I have the opportunity to speak to you as a member of the Finnish Government, but the first time as the Prime Minister of Finland. This is indeed a great honour for me.

I have now held this post for about three months. During this time, I have already met some of you more than just briefly, such as on my first visits to European cities: Tallinn, Stockholm, Berlin and, of course, Brussels.

During the visits to your host countries, the whole mission from chauffeurs to the Heads of Mission have been there to serve Finland’s cause. This is proof of well-functioning governance and working together for a common goal. I believe, and know, that this is the case in all countries where Finland has a mission. I wish to thank all of you for this.

Dear Colleagues,

Even today, I will head to Iceland, to the summer meeting of the Nordic Prime Ministers.

There we shall adopt a joint declaration entitled, ‘Vision 2030’. What we aim for is that the Nordic countries will be the world’s most unified area that is the most strongly committed to sustainable development.

I am particularly pleased with the way that my Government’s priorities are visible in Nordic cooperation, which is in fact present in all sectors of our society. It is an integral part of our natural frame of reference - including your work in the field.

The way I see it is that the Nordic countries are like five rooms and a kitchen. There are slight differences in how the rooms have been decorated - one with Ikea’s, one with Artek’s furniture - but they still constitute a home.

The five rooms and kitchen of the Nordic countries are highly valued and admired around of world. This is something we must cherish and develop further. Investing in Nordic cooperation is worth its while.

Also on the agenda in Iceland will be Arctic issues. We are giving our strong support to Iceland during its Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Finland must continue to have a prominent role in these matters.

What we need is a strong Arctic Council. Its members must, through their own actions, show true ownership regarding the area and the shared challenges - starting from climate change mitigation. Obviously, Arctic issues are much more than what we are doing within the Arctic Council.

They touch upon a broad spectrum of societal sectors, which should also be taken into account when we start to prepare the new Arctic policy strategy. A stronger Arctic policy is also one of the key aims of the Government Programme. We must follow the impacts of global trends in the Arctic very closely.

The Nordic countries are also getting closer to each other in security policy. The Government is pushing forward stronger cooperation in security and defence policy, especially with Sweden. There is a clear and logical continuum in this work. The cooperation is now - as we could say - on a new level that is very deep while also being pragmatic. The development is very much an outcome of the change in the security situation in the Baltic Sea region.

Finland is a militarily non-allied EU Member State with a credible capacity to defend its own territory. As the Presidency of the Council of the EU we also wish to develop defence cooperation within the EU. Our NATO partnership is getting stronger. We are building well-functioning bilateral defence cooperation in Europe and with the United States.

Finland is constantly assessing the changes that are taking place in the security policy environment. Our assessment of the impacts of the changes on our position is an independent one. Military non-alliance is not an ideological but a pragmatic choice, and so is the possibility of changing this.

My Government will continue to pursue a long-term foreign and security policy. It is important that the message of the continuity of our policy is clear.

Excellencies,

The programme of Finland’s 75th Government reflects our desire to renew the welfare state and eradicate inequality.

The Government Programme was published in Helsinki Central Library Oodi, in the middle of people and culture. It won a great deal of interest abroad, especially due to the socially fair and just climate policy.

Our approach to the world is strongly based on values. This means new kind of boldness in defending the rule of law, including equality and the position of girls and women. Our perception of justice will be clearly visible in the development and asylum policy.

The years of rapid growth are now behind us. There seem to be prolonged tensions between the United States and China. Both countries are among the key destinations for our exports. At the end of October, we will know more about Brexit. The figures published last week show that growth is slowing down in Germany, which is the most important market for Finland within Europe.

Today’s trade disputes seem to involve a risk that is more permanent in nature: the risk that the very foundations of rule-based free trade may be eroded.

The Government Programme prepares us very well for economic development in the years to come. Active fiscal policy measures will be taken to react to economic cycles. The cycles should not be strengthened through even tighter fiscal policy now that the growth is stagnating. In international contexts fiscal policy has an even more important role than before.

Reacting to economic cycles means that, where necessary, total demand is supported by adjusting revenue and expenditure and the timing of investments to infrastructure projects. This is also the first time when the Government Programme sets out a mechanism by which we can react to highly exceptional economic cycles. This will only be applied in case of serious disturbances, such that luckily enough are not yet in view.

The focus on competence, inclusion and sustainable development are also clearly seen in the Government’s economic policy. We will be starting a highly significant investment programme for the future. Under the programme, resources will be directed especially to competence building and research and to nature protection and climate measures, all of which will enhance the production potential of our economy and secure a viable planet for us, also in the future. All this is concerned with policy-making with good understanding of the long-term effects.

Also at the core of our economic policy is social justice. We wish to improve the services available to ordinary people and the livelihood of people whose income is very low. Together with the employment measures, the aim is to create a safe and secure future that is full of hope for all. If we do not succeed in this, the political consequences may be very serious.

In many societies the dividing lines are getting stronger. The easy answer to the question “Why should we care?” is “”We have done enough for others.” Besides weakening the societies, this kind of thinking creates uncertainties relating to the multilateral system. We can hear such destructive thoughts even in European societies.

A new kind of conservatism is on the rise and may compromise many achievements, such as those of the feminist movement towards better equality, which we have assumed to be permanent. I hope that you will follow societal development in your host countries and analyse its depth and trends.

Excellencies,

My Government is starting its work in a world where the political situation is very different from that faced by our predecessor. In the final report, one of you described the drastic change in the working environment as climate change of the international political environment, which has its impacts on the multilateral system.

We will examine this environment and the state of play even more closely when the preparation of the Government Report on Foreign and Security Policy gets started in the autumn. This report will in turn lay the groundwork for the Government Report on Defence Policy.

Superpower competition is again an established term used by many countries. At the moment this mainly concerns competition between the two greatest economic powers, the United States and China.

We must send the message that Europe has understood this trend, and both the opportunities and especially the challenges it will bring. The impacts of the rise of China will extend far and wide into international relations, multilateral system, and different sectors of our societies. The European Union must continue to strengthen its unity and its independent policy in relation to China.

As an economy Russia is quite different, also in terms of its scale. In security policy, however, Russia is a key power factor – and not the least via the UN Security Council. Russia seems to be trying to strengthen its position in foreign policy. We are hoping that Russia would use its influence to promote the resolution of conflicts, in terms of both the shared goals and arms control.

I hope that Russia would seize the opportunity to build dialogue with the new Ukrainian leaders. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have had negative impacts on the security situation in the whole Europe, and led to the sanctions we have imposed on Russia. The actions in Ukraine are also one of the main causes of tensions between Russia and the United States. The implementation of the Minsk Agreements is in a key position in this respect. All members of the UN Security Council are obliged to abide by the international law and order.

Well-functioning relations with Russia are particularly important for Finland. Our relations are as good as they can be in the current situation. On the practical level they work quite well. Russia is an important neighbour for Finland. Finland’s policy towards Russia is based on the EU’s policy, and we will follow the principles set by the EU, and Finland as part of it. Thanks to the good dialogue we have had with Russia, we can also talk about difficult matters.

Excellencies,

In the present global political situation, Europe and the United States need each other. However, we must also be able to consider this relationship with a longer perspective. The ties that link us across the Atlantic are close and they cover a broad range of issues. What the United States means for Europe – and for Finland – has not diminished.

Now the United States is challenging the multilateral system we have all been building – just a few years ago in climate policy, in defending human rights and in free trade, led by the US.

There are challenges in many other important issues, including sexual and reproductive rights. Finland and the European Union must respond to the United States in a way that is both determined and patient, without compromising our own principles. Our response should include the building of long-term relations and using our influence to find a positive agenda. There is so much we can achieve together that this is well worth trying.

I have heard the views of many Americans with an open mind, and this is what Finland should also do. For example, last week when I met NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe we talked in a very good spirit, with the main focus on concrete matters. I thanked the United States for its commitment to Europe. Our approach to transatlantic relations is pragmatic.

Advanced technologies will, sooner or later, have significant impacts on our economies and the provision of basic services. We must follow very closely what is taking place in the United States and make sure that Finnish expertise gains proper visibility. It is also a question of finding a connection in terms of international regulation. The report of one of the missions abroad asked how Finland and the EU could find their place and be active in the battle over hegemony in 5G technologies between China and the United States. This is one of the themes where seamless cooperation is needed between the Government and the network of foreign missions.

For Europe, the global political situation means challenges we have never seen before. Our continent must not become a playing field for the superpowers but we must be the ones to take the initiative. What this requires is unity.

In the integrated decision-making procedures of the EU we are committed to the Community method. This has meant continuity since the very beginning of our EU membership. The Union we wish to promote is one without permanent dividing lines. We want to develop, improve and strengthen the EU so that it will produce peace and stability to the people, also in the future.

Dear friends!

Finland’s place is at the heart of the development of Europe. Finland must be strong and use its influence when the European Union is being built into an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable continent, which all takes place through competence and expertise. A continent which adopts clear leadership in strengthening and building multilateral cooperation, climate policy and promoting rule-based international trade.

I am again calling for a visionary approach to the European Union. One of the persons with such visions is the President of France Emmanuel Macron. I do not agree with all of his views, but I do appreciate his boldness in speaking for Europe and his constructive openings. Now is the time for this.

In Iceland, we will also meet the Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. Besides a multilateral approach, she has also spoken for a stronger European voice.

In your host countries you have an excellent opportunity to evaluate the European dialogue. Finland must always be capable of taking the initiative, and this is where we still need your assistance and ideas.

Excellencies,

The European Union is a community of values. Its members must respect human dignity and human rights and cherish freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. Each Member State and EU institution has the duty to protect these values.

During the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Finland has the particular responsibility to make sure that the EU’s base of common values is not eroded. During our Presidency, we want to strengthen the assessment and control of the compliance with the rule of law. The Commission Communication adopted in July gives a good foundation for this. Finland supports the idea that the implementation of the rule of law within the EU should be monitored on a regular basis.

Finland is very serious about its duty as the Presidency to defend the rule of law. Our aim is to strengthen the dialogue concerning the principles of the rule of law. We will try to take effective action against any attempts to erode the rule of law. Here we have strong support from the other Member States.

Broad understanding is being created on linking EU funding to compliance with the rule of law. This is also where we are showing moral, value-based leadership. If we did not do this as the Presidency, who would?

The negotiations on the EU’s financial frameworks are also related to migration and the reception of asylum seekers.

The EU has for many years tried to agree on asylum policy reforms that would ensure free movement within the area, efficient processing of asylum applications, burden sharing in the reception of refugees, and effective return policy.

In the past few weeks, Finland has tried to promote a temporary arrangement where a sufficient majority of the Member States will participate in the reception of asylum seekers and in processing their applications.

The next European Commission is expected to give new proposals on migration policy. Even before that, decisions on fair and just distribution of the reception costs and contributions by the Member States have to be made in the context of the negotiations on the financial framework.

The aim for the Finnish Presidency is that the Member States would agree on the financial frameworks during the autumn. We are ready to do all that it takes so that the European Council, led by the new President, will reach the necessary solution in December. However, what is even more important for this process is to find the right balance between the EU’s traditional policies and the resources we need to respond to new challenges. The agreement must be such that we can all live with it. The financial frameworks and their priorities must strengthen the confidence in a progressing and ambitious Union. 

Excellencies,

The autumn ahead of us is going to be a heavy one. For what is happening in the UK, a no-deal Brexit seems an even more likely way to proceed. The EU has stated that the Brexit agreement negotiated earlier will not be reopened. What is important even now is to stress the big picture, especially in the capitals outside Europe. The EU has stood as one throughout the process. In fact, we may ask whether Brexit has brought the continent even more closely together. I wish from all my heart that the atmosphere in Europe will stay as good as it has been.

Working together with the UK, as closely as possible, will continue to be important, including in light of the global political situation. Our common voice will be heard even louder in international security and transatlantic relations, in defending a multilateral approach, and in responding to common challenges. We must not remain prisoners of our internal disputes and processes.

Excellencies,

Finland is widely known as one of the world leaders in sustainable development. In comparisons between the UN Member States, we are among the tops in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Finland’s climate policy is also among the most ambitious ones in the world. Finland’s objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 is exceptionally clear. This has also been noted by the UN Secretary-General, and I hope that in your host countries you will take forward the message of Finland as a trailblazer.

The fact that our own home base is in order makes us a credible actor in our role as the Presidency of the Council of the EU as well. This requires harmonised policies and strategies, and I believe that we can achieve this during our Presidency. We also give our full support to the Un Climate Summit to be hosted by the Secretary-General in September – what we are facing is the future of our planet and competition against time. We are also looking forward to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development next summer.

Excellencies,

Many of you are active as Finland’s permanent representatives in multilateral organisations or follow such organisations in the host country. We hope that our message – a multilateral approach at the core of our policy – comes through at all levels of these organisations and that you can tap into my Government’s priorities as a resource.

Reforming and strengthening of the UN system is an important objective for the Government. In order to change the global policy we must be awake and try to be not only present but also able to take the initiative in places where we may not always have succeeded.

At the same time, I call for a shared ownership of the Government in multilateral issues, which also applies to making good use of our network of foreign missions and recruitment of Finnish experts to international organisations. Similarly, we will mobilise the whole Government in advocating our membership in the UN Human Rights Commission in 2022–2024 and UN Security Council in 2029–2030.

Excellencies,

To conclude, I wish to talk about Africa. What we know about Africa is still quite superficial, at least in Finland. The old Africa is also a continent for the young. What I am thinking about is the demography of the continent and its great challenges. The problem for Europe has been to see Africa as a single entity and the neglect of its diversity, with an approach often characterised by focus on European concerns.

However, today we are seeing that many African countries are very well aware of the challenges. In a recent interview the President of Niger, which constitutes one of the hubs of African migration, told that the country’s population doubles every 18 years, pointing out that this trend cannot be sustained. In 2050 Niger will have the second-largest population is West Africa, still far behind its neighbour Nigeria, the African giant. I believe that, despite the problems involved, both Europe and the African countries are now ready to aim for a genuine partnership.

We must continue the good dialogue with the African Union and its Member States and find new stakeholders who are committed to supporting our efforts. Africa is hungry for investments. When Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU has ended, Africa will be the destination of my first long export promotion trip.

Africa is also hungry for positive messages. Young people living in the continent are not just figures in demographic statistics. I want to meet them and give them faith in the future of Africa.

Excellencies,

I have a good feeling that our relationship is built on mutual trust. The present global political situation requires seamless collaboration. It requires good understanding of the big picture and a long perspective. In this respect, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its network of foreign missions has a unique position in our central government. As you have noted, the Government Programme prepares for expanding our network of foreign missions.

I have been happy to see how our missions abroad are understood to serve the government as a whole and vice versa – I hope that we are giving all the support you need for your important work. I think we may be heading in the same direction.