Address by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Address by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

25 August, 2003

Erkki Tuomioja,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me to address this year's heads of mission conference. It is a great honour for me and I am delighted to be here today.

This year, I am told, you are celebrating the 85th anniversary of the founding in 1918 of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In that year - which is a turning-point also in our own history - Germany was one of the first countries to recognise Finland and establish diplomatic relations. But the ties between us go well beyond the diplomatic sphere and date back to long before our two countries achieved statehood.

For almost ten years now Finland has been a member of the European Union. Over this period our relations have gained in depth and intensity. We admire the tenacity, courage and skill with which your Government pursues its European goals. Your membership of the EU and sound economic policy have set Finland on track for a prolonged period of economic growth.

This is all the more remarkable, considering the enormous impact the collapse of the Soviet Union and the lifting of the Iron Curtain had on Finland and its economy. Today your country ranks as one of Europe's economic "star performers" – congratulations!. The culmination of this success story to date was the introduction of the Euro. Your neighbours to the west should find Finland's example persuasive, I think, when they go to the ballot-box on this in a few weeks' time.

More than ever, our political future clearly lies in the European Union. On that we are in firm agreement. With the end of the Cold War, the world became for Europe a very different place. Both in Germany and Finland people experienced this in very tangible and direct ways. All of a sudden Europe was faced with tremendous opportunities, but also challenges. Today, 14 years later, we have come a very long way: in just nine months' time 10 Southern, Central and Eastern European countries will join the European Union. This is a milestone event, a real historic transition in European history. It marks both an end and a beginning for our continent.

It marks an end, because it means the division of Europe is over for good. What began 14 years ago in Hungary when people cut their way through the border fence will now be made irreversible. The artificial partition of our continent between East and West will become a thing of the past.

And it is a new beginning, because the ten accession countries from Cyprus to Estonia will give the European Union a new face, an entirely new appearance. The Europe of the 25 will undoubtedly look very different from the Europe of the 15. And one thing is certain: we will need to get accustomed to each other.

It is about this new face of Europe that I would like to talk to you today. But let me first make a couple of remarks of a more general nature.

Firstly, the enlargement highlights yet again the fundamental importance of the EU. The Union is the key factor for peace and stability across the continent, not least here in the Baltic Sea region. The EU's Northern Dimension, for example - an initiative in which Finland has played a leading role - is helping to promote and strengthen cooperation between all countries around the Baltic Sea: EU member states and accession countries as well as our strategic partner Russia.

Enlargement is in a sense a response to centuries of armed conflict in Europe. It guarantees democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. It will bring economic growth and prosperity. The EU's attraction remains undiminished, as is clear from the many other countries in Europe that want to join.

And secondly, there is no alternative to enlargement. It would be contrary to the spirit of the EU if it remained confined to Western Europe. Hungary and Estonia are just as much part of Europe as Finland or Germany. Only half of Europe is in the Union right now. Once the accession countries join, we will be more complete. That is something we look forward to. And that is why Germany has always been especially keen to support this enlargement.

At the same time, however, we need to face up to the fact that the enlargement poses major challenges. If the EU continues with its old ways, the result will be stagnation. Therefore, there is a clear need for root-and-branch reform. The Union must become more democratic, more transparent and more effective. Only then will it gain the confidence of our citizens, only then can it successfully tackle the immense challenges that lie ahead.

On the issue of reform we have recently taken a decisive step in the right direction. For a good year the European Convention has been pondering in fundamental yet practical terms the future of Europe and the shape of its constitution. Finland, I may point out, contributed a number of very fruitful and important ideas. Finally, on 10 July the Convention officially presented its draft constitution for Europe. That is definitely major progress. For what seemed only a few years ago a utopian dream has become in just sixteen months - an absolute record for Europe - reality. The product of the Convention's labours is first-rate and a very fair compromise, I believe.

The draft defines the EU as a community based on shared values. It envisages a bill of rights that will be legally binding. And there are two other crucial aspects. Firstly, we need to make the Union more transparent, citizen-friendly and democratic. Secondly, we need to ensure that it can act more effectively.

As far as the first point is concerned, the parliamentary element will be strengthened, making the Union more democratic. The powers of the European Parliament, elected by all EU citizens, are to be increased. The draft also stipulates clearly who is responsible for what, a matter of great concern especially to our Federal Länder (or states). For example, national parliaments will have the right to scrutinise proposed European legislation.

It is important of course that every member state really exercises this right. The draft ensures, moreover, that decisions are taken as close to the citizen as possible. It provides for citizens' initiatives, a procedure by which ordinary citizens across Europe can invite the Commission to propose legislation on a matter of concern.

As regards the second point, enabling the Union to act more effectively, the draft contains a number of proposals designed to strengthen the institutional triangle. Notably those institutions that represent the interests of the Union as a whole - namely the Commission and the European Parliament - will see their powers increased.

From 2009 onwards the Commission will become a smaller and more powerful body. And although I know our smaller partners tend to dislike the idea, I personally am convinced that this particular proposal is very much in their interest.

In my experience the large member states are happy enough with a Commission that is rather weak, but for the smaller member states it is really important that the Commission is strong, effective and powerful. As the Convention's Vice-President, Jean-Luc Dehaene, has pointed out, those who want to see a stronger Commission must also be in favour of a smaller one. The proposed compromise is, I am convinced, the best option available. To unravel the compromise as it now stands would inevitably be to the smaller member states' disadvantage.

In addition, all procedures and instruments are to be significantly simplified. We in Germany had hoped for rather more in this respect, but the proposals on the table represent what could be distilled from a wide variety of positions. Decisions can be taken by qualified majority in many more areas in future. Finally, the appointment of a Union Minister for Foreign Affairs and the creation of a European External Action Service should help to make the common foreign and security policy more coherent and effective.

To draw up a constitution for Europe is an ambitious venture, a once-in-a-century project. That the Convention has produced such an outstanding result is, I believe, a truly historic achievement. And that the draft could not reflect in equal measure all wishes and suggestions – we had a lot more – lies in the nature of things. Given the 28 countries participating in the Convention's work and the many other players involved, that was bound to be the case.

But the present draft amounts to far more than the lowest common denominator, as it were. It is a very well balanced compromise, a compromise that represents a fair give-and-take between all member states of an enlarged EU. That is my firm and honest conviction.

As far as I am concerned, the idea that the smaller countries in the EU are constantly overridden by the bigger countries has no real basis in fact. With its impressive strength of purpose and staying power, Finland has got its way in the EU on numerous occasions.

On 4 October the Heads of State and Government will begin considering the Convention's proposals. We must do everything possible to ensure that the intergovernmental conference will be short, intensive and results-oriented. The compromise must be treated as a package, so clearly the rule is this: anyone challenging the consensus on a particular issue is then responsible for finding a new consensus. If we agree on this basic principle that we will never oppose an improvement, we will have a successful IGC.

The Enlarged Union's citizens for their part need reasonable time to become familiar with the proposals before the elections to the European Parliament take place in May 2004. That means the work of the intergovernmental conference must be completed as soon as possible. We need to keep to a tight schedule. To insist on "quality rather than tempo" would be quite misguided here. It would be best if we could conclude the conference during the Italian Presidency, but definitely in March 2004 at the latest.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now make a few brief comments on the European foreign and security policy. This is a subject, after all, on which we diplomats spend a great deal of time and energy.

The past few months have clearly shown how difficult matters get when Europe fails to speak with one voice. It is no use denying it: the common foreign policy did not work where the Iraq crisis was concerned. Let me add: The old Europe was not designed to deal with war and peace-questions. Here there is still much to be done to convince people that it can work, but that we need to go about it in a different way. Clearly, Europe must learn in this area in particular to speak with one voice. The common foreign policy needs to be strengthened.

At the same time, however, I strongly disagree with the sceptics in this regard. A common European foreign and security policy is no utopian vision. Quite the opposite, in fact. The past few years have seen an amazing development of the ESDP, which is very much alive and well. We need only look at the EU police mission in Bosnia and its military operations in Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Such missions would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Moreover, these missions also strengthen the transatlantic relationship, for they demonstrate that the ESDP and NATO are indeed highly compatible. Your country has set a splendid example of constructive cooperation under ESDP and NATO auspices - despite its traditional neutrality. This year Finland is the first non-NATO member to contribute troops to the NATO operation in Kosovo.

What we need within the Union, however, is a debate on our security policy strategy. Let me give you at this point a personal view. If there was one thing we should have done differently, it was this: after 11 September the EU partners should have immediately discussed the issue, agreed our positions and started a dialogue on that basis with the United States. Within the Union we need to have a clear idea of our goals and how we should respond to threats.

A first important step in this direction has already been taken. In May the EU foreign ministers proposed that an EU Security Strategy should be drawn up, the first draft of which was presented by Javier Solana to the European Council in Thessaloniki.

The Heads of State and Government tasked the High Representative to further develop the strategy in close consultation with the member states and the Commission. By the end of the year a consolidated version should be available, which will be finalised at the European Council in Rome.

Solana's document raised three questions: What kind of threats does Europe face? How should Europe respond? And what are the EU's strategic objectives? It listed three main threats to our security and stability: terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and failed states - those are the dangers Europe must confront over the years ahead.

The Union must respond to these threats actively and coherently, using a range of different instruments. Particular emphasis - and this I feel is very important - is placed on prevention. The crucial thing is to take appropriate action to defuse tensions before it is too late, before conflicts escalate and crises get out of hand.

The Union's response must be in keeping with the three strategic objectives Solana has outlined:
- We must extend the zone of security along Europe's periphery by providing support for the EU's neighbouring countries in Eastern and south-eastern Europe and around the Mediterranean.
- We must strengthen international institutions and international law, above all by strengthening the United Nations.
- We must take prompt and resolute action to uphold international law, using political, economic, humanitarian and - as a last resort, and I emphasise, as a last resort when all else has failed - also military instruments.

Solana's paper is so convincing because it is based on a comprehensive understanding of security. A concept of security that looks beyond the purely military and police aspects and addresses the whole spectrum of possible threats and responses.

The paper makes a crucial contribution to the transatlantic relationship. The United States security guarantee has been of enduring importance - and in an enlarged EU, too, that will and must remain the case. However, the bridge across the Atlantic needs to be resilient and strong. That is why it is not a stronger Europe but a weak Europe that would pose a problem. And clearly, as far as relations between democratic partners are concerned, there cannot be just one partner calling the shots. As in any functioning family, we need to find ways of resolving our differences. We are equal partners. The draft Solana has presented is an important step forward towards realising this goal.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I do not want to conclude without making a few comments on our bilateral relations. Not only, as I recalled, is your Ministry 85 years old this year, but it was also exactly 30 years ago - 1973 in fact - that Finland and the Federal Republic of Germany resumed full diplomatic relations. This was due also to the far-sighted strategy of two very Europe-minded statesmen, Finland's President Kekkonen and our former Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt. It was the same strategy that helped make such a success of the CSCE - a process inseparably bound up with the name of Helsinki.

Today we Germans view Finland as a powerful economic player. We admire its superb design and advanced telecommunications. Economic factors play a key role in our relations. Some 60,000 Germans work for a Finnish employer and a large number of German companies - especially in the car-making industry - invest in Finnish manufacturing plants.

We are highly impressed, too, by your country's excellent education system. Education is crucial, we realise, if a country is to remain competitive. The high standard of education and training in Finland is one of your greatest assets. Here there is clearly a good deal we could learn from you.

We are delighted, on the other hand, that the German language is so popular with the Finns. There are few other countries where people learn German with such enthusiasm!

Ladies and gentlemen,

German-Finnish relations are excellent and the truth of this - if you will allow me to say so - is even visible: Helsinki's wonderful skyline is largely the work of Carl Ludwig Engel, an architect who originally came from Germany. And the German Embassy here is the work of one of your star architects, Juha Leiviskaä. It is considered a real masterpiece not just by his fellow architects.

The close and long-standing ties between our two countries are built in stone, so to speak. We want these ties to remain as strong as they are now Therefore, continuing commitment will be required from both sides. I am sure that we will invest in this common future in the European Union.

Thank you very much.