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Speech by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission, 27 August 2018

Government Communications Department 27.8.2018 14.05 | Published in English on 27.8.2018 at 16.58
Speech
Speech by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission, 27 August 2018

(CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY) Excellencies, Heads of Mission, Ladies and Gentlemen, It may be somewhat worn to say that we are living in a period of transition, yet this is still the case today. The rules-based international system is still under constant, and even increasing, pressure.

In your daily work, you, too, see how international agreements and arrangements are broken and questioned nearly every day. This is also the case for the principles and values of democracy and the rule of law. Customs walls are being built and threats of trade wars are in the air.

The world seeks to find a balance between selfish economic interests, welfare and sustainable development. The pace of events is accelerating and the world is shrinking, in every respect.

We must be prepared for the fact that trends relating to the world’s development challenges will affect our foreign policy in many ways in the coming years. We must have the capacity to act and to react quickly. We must be prepared for different scenarios and courses of events that may fall upon us at the same time.

However, our basic policy line is still clear, and it is good to rely on it. In this period of transition, it is all the more important that Finland holds on tightly to her own values. In all our activities, we promote stability, peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and equality. At every level and in every sector.

One of the basic prerequisites both of foreign and security policy and of rapid reaction is that affairs at home are in order, including financially. Fiscal sustainability serves as the base for economic sustainability. A stable economy is an important precondition for the unity of society and for public security. Finland is prepared to encounter external challenges if our own affairs are genuinely in order.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We already went through these slides last year, but repetition is the mother of all learning. We had a tough job ahead of us three years ago. We are speaking about a lost decade. Finland was on the brink of a structural crisis. It was essential to correct the downward spiral.

The five largest economic policy objectives laid down in the Government Programme were:

1. The GDP-to-debt ratio will level off by the end of the parliamentary term. This is has already levelled off. The debt ratio continues to fall. During this parliamentary term, it will reach under 60%. The Ministry of Finance predicts a ratio of 60% for the year 2018 and 59.4% for the year 2019.

2. Living on debt will come to an end in 2021. We are on the right track here. Living on debt is coming to an end a year ahead of schedule.

3. The total tax ratio will not rise. It is decreasing to about 42%, a drop of 2% during the present Government term. The predicted total tax ratio is 42.2% for 2018 and 42.1% for 2019.

4. The employment rate will increase to 72%. This has already been reached in practice. The good employment trend can be seen, and also felt, throughout the country.

5. The target for the four-year period was 110,000 more people in employment. This, too, has already been reached and even exceeded.

The Government set the target of economic growth of at least 2 per cent by the year 2019. The forecast for this year is just short of 3 per cent. The level of production in 2008 was finally exceeded during the first half of this year. Finland is finally included in the pull of the international economy. During this parliamentary term, we have taken a competitiveness leap of over 10 percentage points. Finland has again become an interesting country; one in which people also dare to invest.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We now have a good base. The strengthening of employment is today a reality throughout Finland — work brings independence, inclusion and security. Employment has clearly improved in all regions of the country. More than 110,000 people, who through work are now more closely involved in society, is a lot.

Trust, education, know-how and inclusion in society are also the cornerstones of a sense of security and functional capacity. Opinion forming and hybrid activity characterise the present. The crisis resilience of individuals and society as a whole is emphasised. Education is also an important part of this crisis resilience. We need citizens who know how to ‘read’ their environment and use their own mind critically. Education and research policy must be at the forefront of priorities in the future.

Unity is Finland’s resource. This, however, is not self-evident. Unity requires constant investment in preventing inequality and exclusion. We must look after everyone. Everyone must feel that they are a necessary and important part of this society.

In Finland we need, above all, a debate on the future of society that is genuinely based on values, not the raising of individual interest demands.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Along with geopolitical competition, confrontation has intensified also in our neighbouring areas. We have always believed in very concrete and pragmatic measures and stressed the importance of stability in our neighbouring areas. We will continue this with determination. Our relations with Sweden and Estonia are historically close. In recent years, defence cooperation between Finland and Sweden has become significantly closer. We are also actively investing in Nordic and regional cooperation.

We staunchly support the EU common policy on Russia. I also consider management of bilateral relations with Russia and the discussion of regional issues to be important. Protection of the Baltic Sea, Arctic issues and the Northern Dimension are examples of practical cooperation that can benefit all of the parties.

Being a Nordic country is also a part of Finland’s identity abroad, and is an element of our country brand. For Finland, it is an advantage that we are recognised as a Nordic country abroad.

During my term, cooperation among the Nordic colleagues has been very close and straightforward. At Nordic meetings we have discussed all of the most topical issues, from the refugee crisis to 5G. Foreign and security policy is a constant issue on the table. The prime ministers are very active in their direct bilateral communication.

Although cooperation with the Nordic countries is close and natural, we must not take it for granted. Cooperation requires that we know each other and can learn from each other. Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation is central to us. Together we can strengthen the security of our area and our influence on international issues.

Finland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council has been successful. Finland’s visibility and international position have been raised. The importance of the Council as a forum for cooperation has risen. Arctic issues have risen to an important position also in security policy. Along with changing circumstances, new possibilities and new actors, Finland must continue to ensure that we promote the stability and security of the Arctic region.

I would also like to emphasise that, to support and accompany our streamlined EU and multilateral policies, we also have well-functioning bilateral relations with our partners. These must be fostered and developed purposefully, sometimes even selfishly. We are still preparing a visit to the United States. I will also meet with my Russian colleague during the autumn.

Excellencies, Heads of Mission, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world needs the shouldering of responsibility. I have often said that this means shouldering responsibility for ourselves, those close to us, and for the immediate environment, but also Finland’s responsibility for Europe and, more broadly, internationally.

Last November I visited the African Union–European Union Summit in Côte d’Ivoire. In conjunction with the Summit, I also had discussions with young Africans. They need hope and belief in the future.

The population of Africa will double to 2.4 billion by the year 2050. Each year, around 18 million new jobs should be created in Africa, more than 10 million more than at present. I hope that we can gradually increase the level of development cooperation towards 0.7% of gross national income when the economic base becomes stronger. However, this alone is not enough. We must think of new and innovative ways to take account of Africa more comprehensively. I hope that you will consider this issue as well during your meeting.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Brexit shook the European Union. The crisis forced us to look in the mirror and contemplate what the Union has to offer the Member States, citizens and enterprises. Despite fears, however, Brexit didn’t break up the Union, but rather united it.

This unity continues to be needed. There is no room for dissension.

For us, fundamental and human rights are indivisible. This is the common thread that connects us. Each Member State must be committed to them. We cannot accept any other development path. If necessary, the EU must also be able to adopt the principle of conditionality in order to guarantee respect for these fundamental rights.

Tooth and nail, the EU must defend the rules-based system, common fundamental rights, the principle of the rule of law, free trade and an ambitious climate policy. The European Union must be a signpost and leader in these fields. This is not just a responsibility to Europeans; it is a responsibility to humanity.

Europe must take clear leadership in climate policy. We must continue determined efforts to combat climate change domestically, within the EU and in international negotiations. I presented this claim when the United States declared its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. I also raised the issue with President Macron of France when we met in September, and I will repeat it when we meet now on Thursday. During the summer, I have become convinced that Finland has a task here that is greater than her size. With the help of Finnish technology and know-how, we can work on this tough problem.

The situation with regard to trade policy is also serious. The European Union must take the role of a promoter of free trade as a united and strong body. The world is successful and develops only as an open community. Nor is there room for protectionism in the European Union. The EU must strive to find new trade partners.

The EU’s defence dimension has developed faster than we could imagine. I personally consider it particularly important that the EU’s defence cooperation also promotes the security of its citizens, not just crisis management. After all, our aim is to create stability and security for every European. Now the direction is right and the steps are determined. I will also discuss this aspect with President Macron on Thursday.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With regard to illegal immigration, the situation in Europe has been chaotic. We must address the root causes of migration. In addition, we must create a system that eliminates all illegal activities around migration. We need a system that enables us to find those genuinely in need of help and to guide them forward in the asylum process.

The direction of the decisions taken at the June Summit is right and we are on the road to the goal, also advocated by Finland, of handling migration to an increasing extent through refugee resettlement and a refugee quota system, in close cooperation with UN organisations.

Excellencies, Heads of Mission, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The coming year is, in many respects, an important one for both the European Union and Finland. European Parliament elections will be held in May, and the new Parliament term will begin in July. The formation of a new Commission will start at the same time. Finland will be assume the Presidency in early July.

The importance of our Presidency in the preparation of the new five-year strategic programme will be significant. We launched preparations in good time last spring. Preparations for the Presidency are being made with care across parliamentary borders. The national programme for the part of this Government will be approved early in the year.

Excellencies, Heads of Mission, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want Finland to be a strong chairman who is visible and whose voice is heard. We must have the sensitivity to hear everyone and to promote reaching common decisions. We see and relentlessly advance the common European interest, but with a suitably Finnish aroma. I want our blue-and-white handprint to be visible on the European agenda in the latter half of next year.

I intend to meet all my EU colleagues, either in Finland or in their own country, before the elections next April. I will ensure that the goals of our Presidency are known to every Member State. I would like to point out, however, that nowadays communication with colleagues is very commonplace and customary. Colleagues are interested especially in Finland’s views, among others, on artificial intelligence, Russia and climate issues. Messages about series, and less serious, issues are exchanged nearly every day.

The Presidency is also a great effort for you, Heads of Mission. You play a key role. I want our communication in this regard to be seamless and straightforward. Coordination and communication must function well.

This is an important showcase for all of us. I am certain that together with this group we succeed.

Excellencies, Heads of Mission, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Agenda 2030 gives us a set of goals for addressing global threats and challenges. This year has also been a milestone for Finland with regard to sustainable development work. The Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development started its activities 25 years ago.

The Government took the national strategy dawn up by the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development and Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development as the starting point for the Agenda2030’s implementation plan. The Government Report on the Future also suggested that sustainable development could serve as a frame of reference for long-term Government decision-making.

Actions are decisive — both in wide policies and at the individual level. I have followed, with satisfaction, how the number of operational commitments is constantly increasing. During the past year, there have been some fine openings with regard not only to the commitments of individual players but also to the commitments of entire sectors. Much still remains to be done, but Finland must aim for a ‘superpower’ position in combating climate change. We have the necessary know-how, passion and will for this.

I’ve been glad to note that many diplomatic missions have made their own operational commitment. I also encourage the remaining diplomatic missions to join the ranks.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Team Finland has been criticised for being overly fragmented. The merger of Tekes and Finpro responded to this, taking a great leap towards one-stop service. The new model enables the dismantling of overlaps and frees more hands for field work. This has also been the strong wish of business life and internationalising companies.

It is hoped that cooperation in the network abroad will be intensified when the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Heads of Mission assume a strong role as engines of export abroad. Many ambassadors have already worked hard on behalf of the internationalisation of Finnish enterprises. This is now recorded clearly in your job description.

Team Finland visits have brought me a stimulating change from domestic politics. One must bear in mind why these visits are done: Finland’s growth is substantially based on increasing exports of products and services.

As Prime Minister, I have been on visits from China to Latin America. There have been nearly a couple of hundred meetings prepared merely by this Ministry, and there have been about 60 trips. The visits have been extremely rewarding and interesting. Good preparation usually means a very smooth meeting. These meetings have brought results as well as lasting friendships. Not a day as Prime Minister passes without handling international affairs in one way or another. Not to mention the all-encompassing EU agenda.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finally, I would like to congratulate the 100-year-old Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has undergone many changes during its history, yet you have always worked humbly on behalf of Finland and the Finns. I know that your life isn’t just glamour.

For my part, too, I want to express my genuine thanks to you and all the staff of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for the enormous amount of work you have done on behalf of these trips, meetings and conferences.

I wish you a rewarding Heads of Mission meeting.