Tasks of the Finnish missions abroad
The central task of the network of Finland’s missions, as part of the Foreign Service, is to build a secure and predictable future for all Finns. Finland’s missions around the world provide a broad range of services to Finns and the Finnish society.
The network of Finnish missions
Diplomatic missions refer to embassies and their separate offices in various states, and permanent and special missions to international organisations and cooperation organs. Finland has also diplomatic missions called liaison offices.
Consular missions refer to consulates general, consulates, and offices under the administration of a consulate general, headed by a career official, or honorary consulates, led by an honorary consul.
The network of Finnish missions abroad comprises 89 offices:
- 74 embassies (functions have been discontinued in Damascus and Kabul)
- 2 separate offices: Representative Office in Ramallah (Palestinian Territory) and liaison office in Minsk (Belarus)
- 5 consulates general: Los Angeles and New York (USA), Hong Kong and Shanghai (China), Mumbai (India)
- 1 consulate: São Paulo (Brazil)
- 7 permanent representations or missions in international organisations: EU, COE, OECD and Unesco, OSCE, UN, Geneva, Nato
In addition, Finland has about 400 honorary consulates.
The President of the Republic can authorise the head of an embassy or mission to serve as a diplomatic representative not only in the host state but also in another state (so-called side accreditation), which means that the head of mission is also a non-resident head of an embassy or mission in another state.
The missions’ activities are governed by laws and agreements
The international legal base for the activities of diplomatic and consular missions comprises the
- Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961
- Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
- The laws and decrees governing the missions’ activities:
- Act on the administration of the Foreign Service (Ulkoasiainhallintolaki 204/2000)
- Government Decree on the administration of the Foreign Service (Valtioneuvoston asetus ulkoasiainhallinnosta 256/2000)
- Decree of the President of the Republic on the locations of Finnish diplomatic missions (Tasavallan presidentin asetus Suomen ulkomaanedustustojen sijaintipaikoista 541/2006)
- Amendments to the Decree
Basic tasks of the missions
The Finnish embassies and consulates general located around the world promote the interests of Finland and Finns abroad in many different ways. The missions handle general political tasks as well official tasks.
In addition, they are an integral part of the network of Finnish activities in the host country.
The missions handle, among others
- foreign policy
- trade policy
- development cooperation
- Finland’s representation in other countries and international organisations
- public diplomacy
- consular services
- citizens’ services.
In principle, all of the missions have the same basic tasks, which are determined by the Act and Decree governing the Foreign Service, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations as well as traditions and established practices.
The emphasis between tasks varies in accordance with the needs of the missions’ country of location – in some countries the focus is on influencing foreign and security policy and reporting on this to Helsinki, while in other countries the emphasis is on the implementation of development policy, export promotion or, for example, building Finland’s country brand through public diplomacy.
In some countries, where many Finns live or travel, providing services for them has become one of the main tasks.
Many missions handle Finland’s relations not only with their host country but also with countries in the neighbouring area where Finland is not otherwise represented. These countries with side accreditation are a normal part of the network of diplomatic missions and make it possible to maintain relations also with countries where a mission has not been established.
Services to Finns abroad
In addition to the traditional passport issues, Finns can take care of many everyday issues in diplomatic missions. Finns are born, married and divorced, become ill and die abroad, too. In all of these situations the diplomatic mission advises, assists and acts so that the necessary matter are taken care of and, for example, the Population Information System remains up to date.
Each year the missions perform a huge amount of different tasks to assist and serve Finns abroad.
In cooperation with the diplomatic missions of other EU and the Nordic countries, the missions follow the local security situation and publish travel bulletins.
Finnish citizens travelling abroad and especially those travelling or moving to risk-prone regions to submit a travel notification at the matkustusilmoitus.fi (Link to another website.)service.
The missions also organise advance voting so that when staying abroad, those entitled to vote may vote in Finnish elections.
Finnish missions abroad are the only body able to perform the above-mentioned citizens’ service tasks from the Finnish perspective and with Finnish authority. The European Union External Action Service Delegations currently do not offer the above-mentioned consular services; instead, they are still the responsibility of the Member States.
Finnish citizens, when necessary, may also turn to the national diplomatic mission of another EU country or a Nordic country for assistance if Finland does not have a mission in the country in question.
In crisis situations, however, these missions take care of their own citizens’ affairs first. It is also highly probable that these missions do not provide service in the Finnish language.
An important role in crisis situations
Finnish missions abroad maintain a preparedness plan and practise for emergencies. In the event of a crisis, the Foreign Ministry and the mission at the site strive to determine the situation of people in distress in crisis areas and their need for assistance.
For this purpose, aside from its local knowledge, at its disposal the mission has contacts with the country’s authorities, the travel registrations made by travellers and, if the situation so requires, additional reinforcements – called the consular rapid response team – sent from Helsinki.
The handling of various crises means work for the Foreign Ministry continuously. For this reason, the Ministry has a number of on-call rings, which are prepared for operation around the clock and enable service not only to Finns in distress but also to meet the needs of the media.
Media inquiries about the impacts of a crisis to Finns in the area are answered from both the Ministry in Helsinki and the mission on site.
Export promotion work for companies
For a Finnish company, the most natural official partner abroad is a Finnish actor. The diplomatic missions engage in export promotion on behalf of Finnish companies, although the ultimate responsibility for exports and internationalisation naturally rests with the companies themselves.
Especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, the threshold for going international, however, is often high.
This threshold may be lowered by public activities promoting export and internationalisation, which the missions handle together with other actors promoting export and internationalisation, such as Finpro.
Finnish missions monitor trade threats and possibilities and relay information about them. They transmit information to Finland if Finnish products’ market access becomes more difficult or if new opportunities for Finnish companies are opened in the country.
Through the missions, influence is exerted so that the authorities of the host country would remove legislation hindering Finnish companies. Influence to assist Finnish companies is exerted both bilaterally and as part of the EU.
The specific added value of the Foreign Ministry’s network of diplomatic missions arises from the network’s geographical coverage as well as from the fact that the missions are able not only to produce information about their host countries’ business opportunities and possible barriers to trade, but also to provide companies with door-opening authoritative services vis-à-vis the host country’s authorities, enterprises and other actors.
The establishment of the European Union External Action Service Delegations will not affect the promotion of Finnish exports and internationalisation as in the future this will remain a national task and competence will not transfer to the EU.
The EU delegations would not in practice be able to produce services relating to export and the internationalisation of enterprises efficiently and equitably for the 28 Member States – perhaps even more in the future. The needs of enterprises in the Member States concerning access to information, trade barriers or authoritative and promotion services vary greatly and often competition for market shares is fierce.
In consequence, export promotion will continue to belong to the sphere of national competence, so Finland will continue to engage in export promotion from its own specific points of departure.
A prerequisite for long-term development cooperation
In the field of development cooperation, Finland has concentrated its bilateral operations in certain priority countries and regions. Finland has seven long-term partner countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, Nepal and Vietnam.
In addition, Finland conducts long-term development cooperation with certain countries recovering from conflicts. Small-scale cooperation is also conducted in slightly wealthier developing countries through appropriations for local cooperation.
Finland has a diplomatic mission in each partner country where long-term and extensive development cooperation is carried out, as the very good knowledge of the target country achieved through long-term presence is a prerequisite for the successful and efficient planning, implementation and follow-up of development cooperation.
Presence is also essential with regard to monitoring the use of funds, problem-solving and participation in political dialogue.
Successful cooperation also requires trust, which is built up slowly and requires presence.
Most of the world’s states are developing countries. They include both major political and economic powers, medium-sized states with several tens of millions of inhabitants, and small island states.
The political and economic importance of developing countries varies greatly.
Moreover, their weight in international politics and the economy is growing at a rapid pace. Therefore, the Finnish missions situated in developing countries also look after segments of the entire field of tasks handled by diplomatic missions and only a few focus solely on development cooperation.
Public diplomacy and communications
Competition for attention and influence around the world is becoming increasingly stiff. The Foreign Ministry, together with its partners, engages in extensive cooperation to increase Finland’s influence, appeal and visibility worldwide.
This is called public diplomacy.
Public diplomacy is based on Finland’s real strengths, which serve as the base for building a strong country brand, i.e. Finland’s international distinctive features.
In the missions’ practical work, public diplomacy includes in part daily and in part strategic communications, long-term exertion of influence and the forging of permanent cooperation networks with key players both domestically and in the host country.
This work is done above all through the media and culture but also through other means of promotion and influence.
In today’s diplomacy, it is increasingly important to be able to build and manage a variety of networks. These can be in many sectors, such as cultural exports, expertise in education, innovation policy, immigration, or even in the environmental field.
Finland is an interesting partner in many of its fields of expertise and in their public diplomacy work, the missions serve as important coordinators in many types of projects and in building permanent cooperation relations.
All of Finland’s diplomatic missions have many stakeholders in different areas of society, and these contacts are available for use by all Finns.
A unique databank
The diplomatic missions are unique databanks, as they collect information from many different sources and distribute it in various directions. The missions know their host country and its special characteristics extremely well and transmit valuable and timely information on the country’s situation for use by Finnish decision-makers, citizens and the media.
On their websites the missions provide Finns with comprehensive information packages about their host countries as well as useful information for those travelling to the country in the form of travel bulletins.
Both country information and travel bulletins are produced specifically from the Finnish perspective, for the benefit of Finns, in Finnish and Swedish.
In addition, the diplomatic missions act as an important channel of communication for various actors in the host country, introducing them to the society, people and culture of Finland and conveying Finland’s opinion on different issues.