Kimmo Sasi, Minister for Foreign Trade, welcoming Ambassadors of EU countries for a visit to the Viikki Science Park on 12.1.2001

Distinguished Guests, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to welcome you to the Viikki Science Park. I am delighted that so many could accept the invitation.

We have invited you here in order to present the Finnish bid for the seat of the European Food Authority, something you all will have heard of but may not have received detailed information on, so far. We have gathered in Viikki in order to familiarise you with the environment where we wish to welcome the new Authority.

About a year ago Finland officially announced its interest to accommodate the European Food Authority in Helsinki. This was all but a rash idea. We had been considering the issue since the first thoughts of the new Food Agency were expressed some one and a half years ago.

From the very beginning Finland supported the idea of establishing a European Food Authority. The need for an independent risk assessment body was obvious after the famous food crisis in Europe. Finland endorses the principles of the role of the Authority put forward in the Commission proposal from last November.

Finland is applying for the seat of the Food Authority for three reasons. First, we are confident that in Helsinki the Authority can fulfil its duties efficiently and meet the high expectations set on its work.

Second, we consider that a neutral working environment is a benefit for an Authority charged with highly political issues. By this I mean that food safety has traditionally been one of our firm political priorities and Finland has not been a scene for food scandals. Also, food industry does not constitute a major lobbying group with great political weight in Finland.

Last, but not least, I want to stress the fact that after six years as a member of the EU, Finland is still without a common institution or agency. The principle of equality among the Member States has been a central argument when previous decisions on the location of institutes and agencies have been made. We firmly think that this principle must not be abandoned now that only Finland and Sweden lack an EU agency.

The most frequently heard argument against Helsinki is that it is too remote and difficult to reach. I question this argument claiming that physical distance has little to do with efficient and rapid action in food safety issues.

Food safety problems arise all over the EU and they require swift reaction. What is essential is the network of national food safety authorities and the most competent scientific experts. The task of the Food Authority is to produce best available scientific opinions on crisis as well as to produce important background information on potential safety problems.

I would even claim that in a crisis situation even a trip within Brussels could take too long. It is much more important to have a reliable information network and I dare to say that this is where Finland has world-class know-how to offer. Video-conferences can also provide a convenient and efficient manner for holding meetings. I see no reasons why a highly international body like the new Food Authority would not rely on the latest technology that can considerably save time and reach simultaneously experts all over the world.

Naturally experts need to meet face to face too. I am not going to go into detail about the issue of flight connections to and from Helsinki. You all have experience on that. I would only like to point out that as one of the EU-capitals, Helsinki has direct connections with almost all other European capitals. And let me point out that it only takes a quarter of an hour from the Viikki Science Park to the airport.

I mentioned that we have thoroughly considered the bid of Helsinki for the seat of the European Food Authority. That is to say that we are not eager to host no matter which EU agency in order to gain recognition within the EU. Food safety is not a new and fashionable idea in Finland. We have worked with determination to reach a high standard of food safety and we can now present convincing facts on the results of this work.

Food research has played a crucial role in this work. Here in the Viikki Science Park I particularly want to point out that the University of Helsinki has managed to provide teaching and research facilities of food sciences at a level of excellence that is internationally acknowledged. Now Finland is willing to provide this excellence in the use of the European effort for higher level of food safety.

I would also like to bring up something which is in my view essential in the work of the European Food Authority. Recent food scandals have unfortunately often been caused and accentuated by lack of openness and information. I hope this is not going to be misunderstood but I think that the Nordic tradition of open government and effective public information creates an advantageous working environment for the European Food Authority.

When it comes to living in Helsinki, you are all experts in that issue. Yet, I have to admit that we have faced the fact that Helsinki still is not as well-known as we had expected. This could be explained by our fairly recent accession to the Union and that considerable changes have taken place in Helsinki under a rather short period of time. However, there are good grounds for stating that Helsinki is one of the most international cities in Europe.

Multinational companies have recruited staff form all over the world and consequently cultural life and services in Helsinki have developed to meet the needs of an international community. Telecommunications and travelling make contacts abroad everyday routine. Here, I very much appreciate your role as ambassadors who know Finland and can therefore disseminate adequate information in your respective countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The decision on the seat of the Authority will be made in the near future. Finland considers that it should be made at the Stockholm European Council in order that the Authority could be operational from the beginning of 2002 as stated in the Nice European Council.

I have very briefly explained the reasons why Finland is interested in acquiring the European Food Authority. I am well aware that Helsinki has competitors from other Member States and we respect their aim. However, I want to stress that in this situation when there is no hindrance for the efficient operation of the Authority in Helsinki, for us this is also very much a question relating to the principle of equality among the Member States. Finland considers that this principle should be respected now as it has been respected in previous decisions concerning the seats of the European Union agencies.


Finally, let me introduce my colleagues present here. Chancellor Mr Risto Ihamuotila is hosting this visit on behalf of the University of Helsinki and he will also tell us more about the Viikki Science Park. Mr Veli-Pekka Talvela is going to introduce the Finnish offer and professor Mr Mart Saarma with his colleagues Ms Mirja Salkinoja-Salonen and Ms Kaarina Sivonen will introduce you the scientific work going on in Viikki. I would also like to introduce Mr Kai Falck, Director General of Viikki Science Park.
Also present are the persons working with the EFA-project: Ms Erja Tikka, Ms Aulikki Hulmi and Ms Katri Jalava and my advisor Ms Arja Makkonen.

I hope your visit to Viikki will be both pleasant and enlightening and I look forward to hearing your views and discussing our project. Thank you and once more, welcome to Viikki!