Common Foreign and Security Policy needs bold visions

In the second part of the “Sustainable Foreign Policy” series, Ambassador Hanna Lehtinen, Finland's representative to the EU Political and Security Committee in Brussels, tells about the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The persons mentioned in the news having coffee.
Tuomas Lähteenmäki interviewed Ambassador Hanna Lehtinen.

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union has meant long and busy days at Finland’s Permanent Representation to the EU even in the field of foreign and security policy. Is the European Union taking steps towards a more coherent Common Foreign and Security Policy?

“The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is a challenge, because all decisions are taken unanimously by 28 countries. In the long run, however, it is clear that the Union has taken significant steps in the past decade towards closer external relations,” says Ambassador Hanna Lehtinen on the current state of the EU’s foreign and security policy.

Hanna Lehtinen
Ambassador Hanna Lehtinen. 

Finland has five ambassadors in Brussels, and three of them work at the Permanent Representation. Lehtinen is Finland’s representative on the Political and Security Committee (PSC).

“This is my third posting in Brussels. My first posting was in the mid-1980s at the time of the free trade agreements and my second was in the early years of Finland’s EU membership and our first presidency in 1999. Times have changed for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and for the Presidency of the Council, too. The EU’s external relations are based on the path set out in the Treaty of Lisbon. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy leads the EU's external relations. As presidency our role is to support the High Representative” Lehtinen says.

Besides her EU postings, Lehtinen has also held other positions at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, including the post of ambassador in Warsaw. She sets store by Finland’s strong EU skills and competence. During the current presidency, Finland has deepened these skills even further.

“Finland has a high level of EU expertise, and we have extremely skilled officials working with EU affairs in both Brussels and Helsinki. Since the beginning of our membership, we have played an active role in promoting a common foreign and security policy for the EU,” Lehtinen says.

Changes in the global politics have made the role of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy highly topical. This is also reflected in the daily work at Finland’s Permanent Representation to the EU.

“Naturally the Finnish Presidency has affected the Permanent Representation’s work in all sectors. The Political and Security Committee is composed of Member States’ ambassadors. It exercises strategic guidance on foreign and security policy issues and assists the High Representative,” Lehtinen sums up.

Lehtinen also mentions two significant and topical themes on her desk at the moment.

“Africa affects a wide range of policy sectors in the EU. The Political and Security Committee deals with external security issues, which often have a close link to our internal security, such as the EU’s military missions and operations and its counter-terrorism activities. In addition to the Middle East and the Gulf, also Sahel and the Horn of Africa are important geographical areas high on the Committee’s agenda now. Finland has successfully asserted itself an expert on Africa, and I would especially highlight the role of Foreign Minister Haavisto when he was mandated by  the EU’s High Representative to reach out to Sudan, on behalf of the European Union

Another topical theme according to Lehtinen is a stronger common security and defence policy in the EU.

“In the defence sector, we have taken giant leaps forward in the past three years. The first instruments and programmes have focused on creating common capabilities in the EU. We are in the process of reinforcing the EU’s identity as a security provider both within and outside the Union. However, our intention is not to replace or compete with NATO.”

Lehtinen reminds that the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy requires a long-term approach. She also stresses the importance of a common vision.

High Representative and Vice-President-designate of the incoming European Commission, Josep Borrell, clarified this during his hearing in the European Parliament by stating that the EU still has a long way to go before its political weight in foreign and security policy exceeds the combined weight of its Member States. We must do better, and I believe we can,” says Lehtinen and continues,

“President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö emphasised this autumn the importance of the power relations of the EU, the United States, China and Russia, and that the EU should not  leave itself out of this great-power triangle. Finland must keep working actively to this end.”

Lastly, Lehtinen stresses the need to examine the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and its processes with a bold approach and tackle challenges actively.

“There are rarely simple solutions to foreign and security policy issues, or EU issues in general, and that is why progress in the Member States’ negotiations may sometimes seem to focus on small details. In this respect, Finland is one of the few EU Member States that would be prepared to accept qualified majority decisions in some areas of the EU’s foreign and security policy. Once the new Commission and the Parliament start their work, there will be room for new and bold openings.”

See Hanna Lehtinen’s video interview:

The “Sustainable Foreign Policy” video series discuss the priorities of Finland's foreign and security policy and the key themes of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. The parts that have been published can be viewed below:

Hybrid Influencing, Satu Mattila-Budich: In the first episode of this series of interviews, Satu Mattila-Budich explains her work as Ambassador for Hybrid Affairs and tells what Finland has done in its capacity of President of the Council of the European Union to bring hybrid threats to the agenda of EU meetings.

Sustainable Foreign Policy