“Finland will make full use of the opportunities offered by our forthcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU in the latter half of 2019 to strengthen the EU’s ability to act and to reinforce its global role…
Finland will act constructively and pragmatically as an honest broker in order to efficiently advance the finalisation of many of the important files that are being discussed within the EU at the moment.”
GDL: What are the strategic priorities of the Finnish Foreign Service?
JMP: Finland’s foreign and security policy aims at strengthening the country’s international position, safeguarding Finland’s independence and territorial integrity, improving the security and wellbeing of people in Finland and ensuring that Finnish society functions efficiently. An economy that operates on a sustainable foundation, an effective rules-based system of international trade and a sufficient level of international competitiveness are all factors that support the achievement of these objectives.
Finland pursues an active bilateral and multilateral foreign and security policy. In a world of mutual interdependencies, this fosters sustainable development and promotes international stability, peace, democracy, human rights, the Rule of Law and equality. Finland is result-oriented in its actions to influence its operating environment as part of the Nordic, European and international community. The operational priorities, that is, questions relating to the Arctic region, Baltic security, strengthening of cooperation between Finland and Sweden, transatlantic cooperation and mediation are addressed systematically.
GDL: What are the main aspects of your country’s regional foreign policy?
JMP: The aim of the Finnish foreign policy is a unified, strong and operationally capable EU that focuses especially on growth and security. Concrete results must be reached particularly in efforts to deepen the single market, promote free trade, strengthen the EU’s external action and defence cooperation and manage migration. Finland will make full use of the opportunities offered by our forthcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU in the latter half of 2019 to strengthen the EU’s ability to act and to reinforce its global role.
Finland promotes the stability, security and prosperity of the Baltic Sea region. It intensifies practical cooperation especially with Sweden and also draws on Nordic cooperation in dealing with both regional and international challenges. Stability and the economic potential of the Arctic region are promoted in cooperation with the other Arctic States. During her Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2017-2019), Finland sought to consolidate the Council’s position and advance our national interests.
Finland promotes political and economic cooperation with the United States. NATO plays a key role in the promotion of transatlantic security and broad-based cooperation between Finland and NATO is on-going.
Contacts with Russia are developed based on the two-track policy pursued by the EU. The jointly imposed restrictive measures against Russia are observed and dialogue with Russia is continued on selected matters of interest to Finland and the EU. Normalising cooperation between the EU and Russia is conditional upon finding a resolution to the Ukraine crisis and upon Russia’s compliance with International Law and its other international commitments. Finland will continue to actively influence the shaping of the European Union’s common policy on Russia.
“Leaders reaffirmed their belief that united, the European Union is stronger in the increasingly unsettled and challenging world. They agreed on 10 commitments to live up to their responsibility in this regard… Finland has consistently emphasised growth, security, the fight against climate change and common EU values as cornerstones of the EU’s future work. ”
GDL: Finland’s third Presidency of the Council of the EU will begin on July 1st 2019, only a month after the crucial European elections. How is your Government preparing to deal with the UK’s withdrawal process, the Rule of EU Law, migration and radicalisation?
JMP: As the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the latter half of 2019, Finland will act constructively and pragmatically as an honest broker in order to efficiently advance the finalisation of many of the important files that are being discussed within the EU at the moment.
Member States holding the Presidency work together closely in groups of three, called trios. The trio sets a ‘trio programme’ for a period of 18 months. Finland is in a trio with the current Presidency of Romania and Croatia, the next Presidency after Finland. This trio programme was adopted in December 2018.
Each Member State holding the Presidency also prepares its own national programme. Finland started drafting its programme in spring 2018, headed by Prime Minister Sipilä. A Parliamentary group composed of all the Parliamentary parties was involved in the preparatory work due to the fact that Parliamentary elections were held in Finland on 14th April 2019 and negotiations aiming at forming a new Government are currently on-going. The new Government will approve of the national programme. Furthermore and importantly, the Strategic Agenda for the European Union for the next five years is being discussed among the Member States.
The Prime Minister’s Office is responsible for the overall planning and implementation of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. Finland’s Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels is also instrumental in preparing and carrying out the Presidency.
The main communication channels of the Finnish Presidency are the eu2019.fi website and the Twitter account at EU2019FI. The website will include Finland’s Presidency Programme, news items and other news material, as well as contact details and guidelines for the media. Finland’s Presidency will also be on Instagram at eu2019fi. Videos will be posted on YouTube and photos on Flickr. These communications channels will open in late May 2019.
GDL: What is Finland’s contribution toward the ‘Future of Europe’?
JMP: Finland has participated actively in the debate on the Future of Europe. The EU Member State Leaders had an important preparatory discussion about the Strategic Agenda for the EU for the next five years at the Sibiu Summit in early May. The Leaders reaffirmed their belief that united, the European Union is stronger in the increasingly unsettled and challenging world. They agreed on 10 commitments to live up to their responsibility in this regard. At the European Council meeting in late June, just ahead of the new institutional cycle, Leaders will adopt the EU’s new Strategic Agenda, setting out the overarching priorities that will guide the work of the EU over the next five years. Finland has consistently emphasised growth, security, fight against climate change and common EU values as cornerstones of the EU’s future work.
“Finland considers it important that the CoE concentrates on its core tasks and has consistently sought to strengthen the organisation’s human rights role and tried to safeguard the operation of the European Court of Human Rights…
With hard work and the desire to cooperate, the Council of Europe will continue its work united and strong.”
GDL: Please can you tell us about the results of the Finnish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe (November 2018-May 2019); did it achieve its priority targets?
JMP: Finland held the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which is the highest decision-making body of the Council of Europe (CoE), from 21st November 2018 to 17th May 2019. The weekly meetings in Strasbourg were led by Finland’s Permanent Representative to the CoE. The annual Foreign Ministers’ session was held on 16th-17th May 2019 in Helsinki, chaired by Mr. Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland. At the same time, the 70th Anniversary of the Council of Europe was celebrated, cherishing all the great things that it has brought to Europe.
The priorities of Finland’s CoE Presidency were prepared in cooperation with different ministries and in dialogue with civil society representatives. Various events were organised under the selected priority themes of the Presidency: strengthening the system of human rights and the Rule of Law in Europe; supporting equality and women’s rights; openness and inclusion – as well as focus on young people and the prevention of radicalisation.
Finland has been actively involved in the promotion of human rights matters in the CoE and is known for its strong contribution to the development of human rights. The impacts of artificial intelligence on human rights, for example, were discussed during Finland’s Presidency.
Finland considers it important that the CoE concentrates on its core tasks and has consistently sought to strengthen the organisation’s human rights role and tried to safeguard the operation of the European Court of Human Rights.
Finland has been among the ones in the front line in nearly all topical human rights issues that have been raised in the CoE, especially in the promotion of the human rights of the most disadvantaged groups, including women and the Roma. The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights has been established on Finland’s initiative and Finland supports the work of the Commissioner.
With hard work and the desire to cooperate, the Council of Europe will continue its work united and strong. The Finnish CoE Presidency made headway in addressing the political, economic and institutional challenges the organisation is facing. The Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Helsinki on 16th-17th May agreed on the Helsinki Political Declaration recommitting the CoE Member States to human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law. Furthermore, the meeting agreed upon important decisions on civil society and human rights defenders, artificial intelligence, freedom of media and safety of journalists.
“Finland promotes open economic interaction and solutions that support trade liberalisation and will support measures that boost the EU’s ability to act in trade policy.”
GDL: What is Finland’s position with regard to international trade? Will it support trade liberalisation, EU trade agreements and promote open economic interaction?
JMP: As a small, open economy Finland has always promoted open economic relations that foster Finland’s growth and will support the involvement of Finnish companies in international trade and value chains. Finland promotes open economic interaction and solutions that support trade liberalisation and will support measures that boost the EU’s ability to act in trade policy. Finland also supports EU trade agreements with third countries. These form a part of globalisation management and are also important for Finland’s expanding international trade relations and for the country’s wellbeing in the changing international operating environment. Efforts are made to improve Finnish companies’ awareness and use of existing free trade agreements. Exports are promoted by encouraging favourable business environments and seeking the removal of trade barriers. Attention is also paid to attracting foreign investment to Finland.
Furthermore, the aim is to promote the effective utilisation of Finnish expertise in the bio-economy and clean solutions sectors, including in energy-efficient renewable energy solutions and the opportunities provided by the circular economy. Through all of these commercial and economic activities, Finland seeks to promote sustainable development in Finland and globally – strengthening sustainable development in developing countries also by focusing on the economic foundations, job creation, business and livelihoods and taxation capacity.
GDL: According to a Stanford University study published by the US National Academy of Sciences in its recent prestigious journal, PNAS, Finland is one of the few countries to benefit economically from climate change in recent decades. Can you tell us more about this, and if true, is it in your country’s interest to promote climate change during your tenure as the Presidency of the EU Council?
JMP: The said study has been commented by a Finnish researcher saying that while the results of the study seem convincing, they are not to be seen as a reason for Finland to celebrate. The events or chains of events that climate change triggers are not known and cannot be completely predicted. On the other hand, while living in a world of interdependencies, the effects of climate change globally have an indirect impact on Finland: increased possibility of conflicts due to effects of climate change, for example, and consequently migration, impact Finland, as well.
The European Union is the key actor in pushing actions in tackling climate change. Our EU targets are innovative and ambitious. But, however, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that they are not clearly ambitious enough. Finland will definitely drive this agenda, fight against climate change, forward during our Presidency of the EU Council.
GDL: Your Excellency, in your opinion, what are the most important foundations of the Finnish society?
JMP: Education, guaranteeing equal social and economic rights and opportunities to all citizens including furtherance of gender equality and consensus-spirited trust in institutions and amongst the population are, in my opinion, some of the most important factors which our society and our way of life are based on.
“Finns are the happiest nation in the world”
GDL: Finns are the happiest nation in the world, according to the United Nations World Happiness Report for 2019, and tied with Sweden and Norway for the freest, according to Freedom House. Boasting serene lakes and islands, forests and modern infrastructure designed with a deep connection to nature perfectly blending with the more classic buildings. Finnish food is also gaining momentum as the new wave of New Nordic cuisine wins favour all over the world.
As a result of such glowing recommendations, has tourism increased with people eager to experience the uniqueness of Finland?
JMP: Yes, tourism in Finland stays on a record level. In spite of the challenging world situation, the nights spent by non-residents in Finland has continued to grow. The travel industry is growing fast and Finland has major potential to become the most attractive travel destination among the Nordic countries. Diversity attracts people and creates competitiveness.
The Finnish travel industry has been able to maintain – and also to increase on – the new level in travel demand it reached in the centenary year of Finland’s independence in 2017. This shows that the achieved growth is structural. The credit for this belongs to companies in the travel and tourism sector, all over Finland, that have taken a strong growth-oriented role in international markets.
The last year’s results also reflect long-term efforts: systematic marketing in the target markets and global sales promotion, the nationwide development and internationalisation of the offering of the regions and companies in the travel and tourism sector. The key to success lies in national cooperation.
Finland’s main market areas in terms of tourism remain the same: Europe is Finland’s key market area, since more than half (53%) of the people spending the night in Finland still come from the European Union; the share of Asian people staying overnight was 16%. Finland has four major tourism regions that are unique even in global scale: the Helsinki region, Lapland, the Finnish Lake District and the coast and archipelago, each with vast potential to attract growing numbers of tourists. I would be extremely happy to see an increasing number of Greeks visiting Finland!
“What I would like to be able to do as Ambassador of Finland to Greece is to facilitate the entry or re-entry into the Greek market of an increasing number of Finnish businesses, for example, in fields like circular economy, energy, health, education and digitalisation.”
GDL: This year, Finland and Greece are celebrating the Centennial of Diplomatic Relations between the two countries. How would you describe the level of bilateral relations between the two countries including economic and commercial relations? In what areas could the two countries cooperate more extensively and what policies could they promote within the EU?
JMP: The bilateral relations between the Republic of Finland and the Hellenic Republic are very good. Both countries are democracies that share common values of human dignity, human rights and Rule of Law. The Accession Treaty of Finland joining the European Union was signed at the EU Summit in Corfu under the Greek EU Presidency in June 1994.
As Members of the European Union, both Finland and Greece endeavour to find responses to the topical challenges of our times, be it further developing the internal functioning of the Union, facilitating sustainable growth, countering security threats, fighting climate change or managing migration flows. We are largely like-minded in various multilateral fora. Cooperation and collaboration exist in many fields and levels but there is plenty of room for further development of the relations.
For decades, Greece has been amongst the top travel destinations for Finns abroad. Your natural beauty, hospitality, great food and wine and your magnificent historical reality all over your country keep fascinating us Finns.
What I would like to be able to do as Ambassador of Finland to Greece is to facilitate the entry or re-entry into the Greek market of an increasing number of Finnish businesses, for example, in fields like circular economy, energy, health, education and digitalisation.
Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life