The History of Foreign Affairs Administration in Finland

In 1858 the Russian consul in London, Counselor Kremer, asked if the consulate could engage a civil servant skilled in the Finnish and Swedish languages. The official would serve as the consul's interpreter when Finnish ships' captains or other seafarers came to the consulate on business. The consul's request demonstrates that at an early stage of the Czarist period in Finland Finns already had a presence abroad as a separate group who needed the services of a foreign affairs administration.

In the absence of their own administration Finns used the services of the embassies and consulates of the country that governed them, imperial Russia.

When Finland became independent the country set up its own administrative machinery to handle external relations. Initially it was thought that each individual branch of government would be responsible for its own particular interests. That was why, for example, the Ministry of Agriculture appointed "agrarian attaches" to Copenhagen and Rome. Soon, however, it became established policy that the Finnish state would be represented abroad exclusively by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its external representatives: ambassadors, consuls and honorary consuls.

Finland acquired its first foreign affairs senator during J.K. Paasikivi's formation of the Senate in 1918. The man appointed was a bank director, Otto Stenroth, well known for his organisational skills. Using Swedish administrative practice as a model, a decree of 28 June 1918 established a "foreign affairs bureau" with three departments and 17 civil servants.

There was much discussion of whether representation abroad should be based on embassies or consulates. Shipping and foreign trade needed consulates. It was thought that Finland did not have the type of foreign policy interests that would have justified the opening of embassies. Concrete cases showed, however, the necessity of foreign policy. Finland could not, for instance, get its postage stamps accepted for international mail without joining the Universal Postal Union and had to be a state recognised by other states in order to become a member of the Union.

One of Finland's first moves was to send delegations around Europe to seek recognition of Finnish independence. Some members of the delegations stayed abroad and were appointed Finland's charges d'affaires in a number of capitals. By the end of 1918 Finland had 12 missions abroad and 13 honorary consuls.

The most crucial and urgent issues in foreign affairs administration were the consolidation of the political position and borders of the Finnish state as well as the revival of foreign trade and shipping. To tackle these challenges the Foreign Ministry opened a political department and a trade policy department which were augmented in 1922 by a legal department. Matters of protocol were handled by a single official, the person who presented foreign diplomats to the President of the Republic.

Into the service of foreign affairs administration came people from trade, industry and the arts who had experience of working internationally. Many of them were engaged in the expanding area of representation abroad. In 1930 there were 17 missions outside Finland.

Following the Great Depression, starting in the mid-1930s, foreign affairs administration entered a period of consolidation and enlargement. In 1935 the Foreign Ministry had a staff of 77, while missions abroad employed more than 100 people. Before the outbreak of the Second World War Finland had 20 embassies, four of which were outside Europe. In addition there were six consular offices headed by consuls sent from Finland. The network of honorary consuls covered the world.

For foreign affairs administration the years of war from 1939 to 1945 meant continuous, rapid adaptation to changing situations. The Winter War of 1939-40 brought Finland, for a moment, to the attention of the whole world. That situation was effectively exploited in order to obtain aid and sympathy. Eminent correspondents gathered in the press room of Helsinki's Kämp hotel.

The Second World War brought foreign policy into the lives of ordinary people. The Allied Control Commission which sat in Helsinki from 1944 to 1947 was a tangible example of the influence that other states had over Finland's destiny. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs had to simultaneously meet the obligations of the Interim Peace Agreement and rebuild the network of missions abroad. Moreover, the country had to extract itself from economic isolation.

After the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty in February 1947 the situation in Finland gradually returned to normal and the development of foreign affairs administration could begin again. A new decree concerning the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was issued in 1951: the number of departments was to be increased by one with the establishment of the protocol department.

The duties related to foreign affairs administration increased greatly from the middle of the 1950s for three reasons. As colonialism waned dozens of new independent states emerged. Consequently, Finland began to establish political and commercial relations beyond the borders of Europe. Secondly, international cooperation started to expand from the traditional areas into science, technology, education and social affairs. The third reason was the enormous growth of multilateral cooperation. Finland's accession to the United Nations in 1955 was only the tip of the iceberg of work that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs undertook in various international and regional organisations, including economic cooperation bodies.

During the 1950s and 60s the resources for foreign affairs administration did not develop adequately and rationalisation became necessary. Offices were established within departments in 1971. The development cooperation section became a separate department in 1972 and soon had a bigger staff than any other department in the Ministry.

In the 1970s the Ministry acquired its own internal inspection system and training unit. The Department for Development Cooperation was reorganised in 1987 and the following year the press and cultural centre became a department.

Another important development was that the Ministry, which had operated at some twenty different locations, moved to the district of Katajanokka, in Helsinki, in 1987.