Hybrid threats, the Arctic and Africa on foreign and security policy agenda of Finland’s Presidency

Hybrid threats, the Arctic and Africa on foreign and security policy agenda of Finland’s Presidency

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU has meant a full calendar for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. On the other hand, it has provided new opportunities for making things happen. The Ministry’s experts have chaired some 30 EU working parties of the Council preparing a wide range of decisions on policy issues ranging from trade to humanitarian affairs. Finland’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels has borne the brunt of the Presidency effort. Experts from all the administrative branches have been involved in the daily toil of chairing the bodies preparing EU decisions. Finland’s missions abroad have also contributed to disseminating the Presidency’s messages.

Since the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is in charge of the EU’s external relations, Finland’s Presidency has played a supporting role in this policy area. Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto has stood in for the High Representative on several occasions, representing the EU in supporting the peace process in Sudan and chairing several Cooperation Councils with non-EU countries. Josep Borrell succeeded Federica Mogherini in the post of High Representative when the new Commission took office on 1 December.

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto represented the European Union at the signing of the agreement on Sudan’s transition to democratic civilian rule. Photo: Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Finland’s Presidency has worked to ensure that the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy continues to promote a rules-based international system. Finland is committed to promoting a value-based foreign policy that takes into account sustainable development, the environment, human rights and equality. Finland has worked to strengthen the EU's external action and partnerships with the aim of ensuring comprehensive security for citizens. It is important for the EU to be a strong global player.

The Presidency is a six-month marathon for the country holding it. At best, however, it may have a long-term impact on EU policy. Finland has actively expressed its views on the direction the Commission’s work should take over the next five years.

Kaksi henkilöä istumassa pöydän ääressä
In August, Finland hosted an informal meeting of foreign ministers (“Gymnich”) in Helsinki. After the meeting, Minister Haavisto hosted a lunch for the EU foreign ministers and international human rights defenders. Picture: Lauri Heikkinen/VNK

The Arctic and Africa now firmly on the EU agenda

Finland’s Presidency has put Arctic issues on the agenda of several EU meetings. It has also done a great deal of background work to pave the way for agreement on updating the EU’s Arctic policy. This goal was reached in December, when the foreign ministers sent a strong message on the growing strategic importance of the Arctic region and gave their backing to the updating of policy.

Finland has also tried to promote cooperation between the EU and Africa in a more comprehensive direction by putting Africa on the agenda of several working party meetings and organising various events focusing on EU-Africa relations.

In terms of policy, the emphasis has been on a comprehensive partnership with Africa. Finland has made sure of the Member States’ strong support for equality and measures to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Combating hybrid and cyber threats to improve crisis resilience

Finland’s Presidency has introduced a more comprehensive approach to combating hybrid threats to the EU, incorporating the topic on the agenda of several meetings. On Finland’s initiative, a dedicated working party was established to improve crisis resilience and strengthen EU cooperation in countering hybrid threats. During its Presidency, Finland held discussions on hybrid threats at meetings of foreign, defence and finance ministers as well as at civil servant level. In December, the EU Member States adopted common guidelines for closer cooperation.

Finland has also promoted the debate on climate change and security as well as on new technologies, such as artificial intelligence in the field of defence. Under Finland’s leadership, conclusions were negotiated on the importance of 5G for the European economy and of the need to mitigate the security risks associated with 5G. Finland has also supported the implementation of the EU's Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox.

Closer security cooperation

Recently, the EU has encountered major difficulties in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The formulation of common positions has become increasingly complicated. Finland believes that increasing the use of qualified majority voting in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy would add to the effectiveness and credibility of the EU’s external action.

The work on the draft decision on the European Peace Facility (EPF) for strengthening the security sector in the EU's partner countries has continued closely under Finland’s leadership. Work has also been done to enable the main partner countries of the Union to participate in the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), but the necessary consensus was not reached, so the matter remains to be resolved by the next Presidency.

Finland’s Presidency has supported the further development of EU crisis management operations. The EU’s civilian CSDP compact, adopted in November 2018, commits the EU and the Member States to making civilian crisis management more capable, more effective, flexible and responsive, and more joined up. Finland was one of the strongest proponents of the civilian CSDP compact, and continued to promote it during the Presidency.

 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been involved in organising dozens of events on foreign and security policy themes in Finland and abroad. On the margins of the informal meeting of foreign ministers, the University of Helsinki’s Think Corner hosted a debate on security policy. Picture: Helena Kiiskinen/Ministry for Foreign Affairs