Member states’ EU political directors met to discuss hybrid threats in Helsinki
Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU kicked off on 1 July 2019. One of the first events arranged by the Presidency was an informal meeting of the political directors from the member states’ foreign ministries. Sustainable development is one of this Presidency’s priorities. The meetings held in Finland will therefore be concentrated in a single venue, Helsinki’s Finlandia Hall. This was where the political directors met on 9–10 July.
Each Presidency customarily organises an informal meeting for EU political directors, who are senior officials of their country’s foreign ministry. The political director’s tasks include helping ministers prepare for meetings and discussions of specific agenda items. As a result, the political directors have a profound understanding of their ministers’ work.
“Political directors are among the most important operating officials in their ministries. They are most familiar with their minister’s way of thinking and with the broader picture of ministry work and foreign policy,” said Matti Nissinen, head of unit for European common foreign and security policy (CFSP) at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Attendance is typically limited to the foreign ministries’ EU political directors and European correspondents. The Finnish participants at the meeting were Nissinen and Mikko Kinnunen, director general of the political department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Finland ’s priorities at the meeting
The European External Action Service sets the agenda for the political directors’ meetings and chairs the meetings. “The agenda tends to be dictated in part by the international situation and topical issues,” Nissinen said.
The meeting in Helsinki included a scenario-based discussion on hybrid threats. The EU defence policy directors had also had a similar discussion at their meeting on 7–8 July. Hybrid threats are a priority of Finland's Presidency.
The agenda also included enhancing the effectiveness of the EU’s common foreign and security policy. “We had a very comprehensive and fruitful debate on the subject”, said Kati Temonen from the CFSP unit. The EU political directors picked up the discussion where the foreign ministers had left off at their meeting in June. The informal setting enabled a freer exchange of views in Helsinki.
Discussions will resume in the autumn both in full session and in smaller working groups. Some of the issues discussed at the political directors’ meeting may crop up again on the agenda at the informal meeting of foreign ministers (also known as the ‘Gymnich meeting’) in August. “The Presidency hopes that many of the issues raised at our meeting will continue to be discussed at ministerial level,” Nissinen said.
Foreign Ministry is linchpin for meeting arrangements
The unit for the common foreign and security policy was in charge of the meeting arrangements. This meant playing a dual role. On the one hand, the CFSP unit’s tasks included assisting and communicating with the European External Action Service, which was responsible for the agenda; on the other hand, it coordinated the logistics and other practical arrangements together with the Presidency Secretariat under the Prime Minister's Office. As Temonen put it, “the Foreign Ministry played a key role in coordinating everything. Since the political directors’ meeting was one of the first to be held under Finland’s Presidency, there was an element of suspense for the organisers.”
All went well, however, for the guests seemed delighted with the arrangements – and the cool weather in Helsinki gave them some welcome respite from the sweltering heat wave that had settled over other parts of Europe.