Speech by Minister Soini at the Italian Society for International Organization

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Timo Soini at the Italian Society for International Organization (SIOI) on 22 April 2016.

Finland and the changing Arctic

Dear President Frattini, Undersecretary Amendola, Distinguished Guests, Students and Friends of the Arctic,

It is a great pleasure to be in Rome. The Eternal City is a truly special place, and it has a special place in my own heart, too. I explain why, with a very brief personal confession.

When I was 26, in 1989, I was at a crossroads. One way led to politics. But the other road I considered was in fact catholic priesthood. At the end of that road there would eventually have been this city, Rome.

To the relief of some, and to the dismay of some others, I took the first turn, and became a politician. It is an irony of my personal history that, as the Foreign Minister of Finland, here I am anyway.

It is an equally great pleasure to address you here, at the esteemed Italian Society for International Organization.

Earlier today, I met with my good colleague, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni. We are facing a worrying growth of international and European challenges, starting with conflicts in our neighbourhood, uncontrolled migration, and growing instability.

Our approaches to these issues were very similar. We also share the view that we need to face these challenges together.

During our meeting, I had an opportunity to express our thanks to Italy for bearing the brunt of the migration crisis in the central Mediterranean.

The Italian Navy and the Coast Guard have rescued thousands of lives at sea. They literally continue their Search and Rescue as we speak. The professionalism and the moral code of Italy's operations at sea will be honoured by history.

The volume of migration in the Central Mediterranean is again rising alarmingly. Earlier this morning, in the EU Navfor Med headquarters, I was briefed about the situation and met the Finnish contingent there. The situation is very worrying.

By the way, Finland has also been touched by the migration crisis. Last year, we received more than 32.000 asylum-seekers. Relative to the population, Finland was the fourth largest receiver of asylum requests in the EU. We received more applications per capita than Germany, and more than four times as many as Italy.

We have also agreed to receive hundreds of asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece as part of the EU relocation programme. Already in October, the first 49 Eritreans in the EU scheme were flown from Ciampino airport to Tornio in Finland. So far, we have received more than one fifth of all the relocations. We want to solve this crisis together.

After this warm-up – or maybe a cool-down – let me now turn to Arctic issues and start with some cold facts.

We Finns regard the whole of Finland as an Arctic country. One third of Finland lies above the Arctic Circle, but our Northern geography has always shaped Finnish culture, our way of life and our destinies.

Historically speaking Finland is the northernmost place in Europe where the western and eastern civilizations met over a thousand years ago. Both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches extended their influence to our land.

Present day Finland has a population of 5,4 million people. Nearly 200 000 of them live north of the Arctic Circle. Helsinki lies on the 60th northern parallel. Globally, if you count all the people living north of the 60th parallel, almost 30 per cent of them are Finns.

The Saami people in Lapland are the only indigenous people in Western Europe. They live in Northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. Traditionally the Saami have been known for reindeer husbandry and other nature-based trades. However, modern sources of livelihood are more and more important for the Saami, just like for the other northern communities.

Finns are well adapted to cold climates. As a matter of fact, Finland is a leading country in developing state-of the-art technology for the cold climate and for demanding Arctic conditions. Finnish Arctic cutting-edge-expertise covers areas like shipping and marine technology, mining, transport, housing and meteorology.

Finland’s economy depends on our trade relations with other countries. Since the 1960´s all Finnish harbours have been kept open all year round by Finnish-built icebreakers. Finland is the only European country where all harbours would be cut off during the winter without icebreaking. Now all of Finland is open for business, always.

Of all the world´s icebreakers, 60 per cent are made in Finland. This includes all the good ones.

Finnish icebreakers operate both in the Arctic and the Antarctic region. Two of our icebreakers have been operating off the coast of Alaska. Last October they made a demanding journey back home through the Northwest Passage.

Italy, too, has its arctic connections. It is known worldwide as a seafaring nation. Italian explorers were among the first pioneers to reach the shores of the Arctic Ocean. The story of the great Arctic explorer Umberto Nobile, who reached the North Pole in 1926 with a zeppelin, still inspires many.

Italy was also present when the Northeast Passage between Europe and Asia was explored. In 1878, Lieutenant Giacomo Bove took part in the discovery of the Northeast Passage, led by the Finnish-born Arctic explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld.

It was not an easy journey those days. Even today, it remains a challenging path. But it is opening up – for ships, men, cargo, and information.

Today, Italy is a globally recognized member of the Polar research and science community. Furthermore, Italian enterprises, such as ENI, are actively developing the Arctic economic potential.

I would like to commend the Italian government for the preparation of a national strategy for the Arctic. The Italian approach rightly focuses on the vital questions of the environment, the human activities and the scientific dimension in the Arctic. The Italian government also sees clearly the strategic importance of the Arctic.

All this underscores that Italy is an increasingly valuable partner in the Arctic. For our part, we want to take concrete steps to deepen our bilateral cooperation in this critically important field.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is increased interest in the Arctic, mostly visible in three areas: Firstly, environmental questions and sustainability. Secondly, economy. And thirdly, security. I will discuss each of these briefly.

First, the environment. Climate change in the Arctic will have a bearing on how it evolves elsewhere. In a way, climate change will form a framework for all Arctic activities in the foreseeable future.

An obvious example: if the latest worrying reports about the accelerating melt of the Polar Ice Cap are confirmed, low-lying areas like Val Padana and Venice are truly in danger.

It is also generally accepted that the Arctic region will be more affected by global warming than other regions in the world. Both mitigation and adaptation measures will be needed.

The climate agreement reached in Paris last December is of great importance for the Arctic region, its nature and its inhabitants. The critical condition for Arctic survival, of course, is the actual fulfilment of the global commitments.

Sustainable development means, in the northern context, making effective plans to keep the Arctic region habitable and prosperous. It also means protecting Arctic nature from degradation. This connects well with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals approved last year.

The bottom line is that the Arctic should remain a place for people to live and prosper. At the same time, threats to the Arctic environment and nature need to be taken seriously. I believe we can promote growth, stimulate local economies and safeguard the environment of the Arctic at the same time.

Finland has been active in the protection of the Arctic environment and improving the living conditions for the northern and Arctic communities. At Finland’s initiative, the Arctic countries decided to make environmental protection a centrepiece of their cooperation in the early 1990s.

Environmental protection and sustainable development continue to be the two pillars of Arctic cooperation. Finland is committed to them also in the future.

The economic dimension of Arctic cooperation has so far been less developed. Sustainable use of natural resources and the increasing opportunities for transport and communication will require new steps. Finding the right balance between economic development and the protection of the Arctic environment will create enormous business opportunities.

Finnish companies and researchers have developed world-class innovations in cleantech, and solutions for the cold climate. These business areas include, for example, arctic infrastructure and ports, special vessels and offshore systems and solutions.

An interesting example is also the cooperation between the Finnish meteorological institute and e-GEOS, an Italian company. The two are operating a joint satellite receiving station in Sodankylä, in Lapland, that provides high-quality satellite data on the Arctic. This information can be used to facilitate arctic navigation, for instance, and it allows authorities and researches to better monitor ice movements and changes in the Arctic area.

Let me underline this: the industrial profiles of our respective countries are ideal for the Arctic opportunities. I am convinced that Italian and Finnish businesses will find great matches. This is the message I brought here, and it also is the message I will take back home.

Now, a word about security issues. The whole Arctic region is currently a convincing example of international cooperation. The Arctic remains a peaceful region, where the risk of military confrontation is low.

The question is often asked, whether Arctic cooperation can remain immune to rising international tensions. This is an understandable question. Of course, the risk of a spill-over must be taken into consideration.

So far it seems that there is a will to tackle Arctic issues together. My experience is that all Arctic states are committed to constructive cooperation.

Last August President Obama and Secretary Kerry convened the CLACIER conference in Alaska, to discuss climate change and the Arctic prior to the Paris Climate Conference. And just six months ago I handed over the Chairman’s gavel to Foreign Minister Lavrov in Oulu, Finland, when Russia succeeded Finland as the Chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.

Discussions with both Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have boosted my optimism on the prospects of cooperation in the Arctic. They both confirmed that Arctic questions must be tackled together. Conflicts in other regions should not hamper constructive cooperation in the Arctic.

Now a few words about the European Union and cooperation opportunities within the EU.

As members of the European Union, Finland and Italy have much to gain when the EU develops its Arctic policy. The Union is a major actor in the Arctic region, and it should fully realize its potential.

At the moment, the European Union is about to launch its third Arctic Communication. Finland regards the European Union as a central Arctic actor. There is still room for making the EU’s commitment more concrete and focused. We would like to see a strong text that takes the cooperation forward.

Finland has emphasized the need to focus on jobs, growth, and the development of infrastructure in Arctic Europe. Northern Europe could become a hub for communications and maritime transport between Europe and Asia. It should be well-connected to the networks of the rest of Europe as well.

I look forward to fruitful discussions on the Arctic orientation of the EU. I expect Arctic issues to be put on the agenda on the Foreign Affairs Council in the coming weeks, and will particularly look forward to the Italian contribution to the discussion.

Finally, I would like to concentrate on the cooperation that takes place in the circumpolar Arctic Council.

It is generally recognized that the Arctic Council is the most important international forum dealing with topics of relevance for the Arctic, such as safeguarding the fragile environment and promoting sustainable development in the region.

The work of the Council is also highly regarded in promoting scientific and environmental cooperation. The coming September the Arctic Council will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Economic cooperation was never included in the Council’s mandate. Now, at the initiative of the Arctic Council, the Arctic Economic Council is taking its first steps. Finland supports close cooperation between the Arctic Council the Arctic Economic Council.

Let me highlight one pragmatic example of Arctic Council’s recent achievements: the establishment of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum last October. It addresses challenges specific to the region, such as search and rescue and the response to oil spills.

Safety can only be achieved through cross-border cooperation. It should be noted that the Arctic Coast Guard Forum was launched in the middle of a deep crisis in the international relations. It clearly shows that progress can be made in Arctic cooperation in spite of difficulties elsewhere.

The United States will chair the Arctic Council until May 2017, and then hand over the chairmanship to Finland. Continuity between chairmanships is necessary. Finland is preparing its chairmanship program for 2017 to 2019, and we want it to benefit the region and its inhabitants in the long-term.

As an active Observer country of the Arctic Council, Italy is most welcome to participate in the work of the Council. Arctic issues were already on the table earlier today, when I met with Foreign Minister Gentiloni. During the Italian participation in the Arctic Council, we have learned to genuinely appreciate its contribution.

It is important that the voices of indigenous peoples are heard in Arctic cooperation. The Arctic Council benefits from the active involvement of those peoples who have always called the Arctic region their home.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to commend president Frattini and the "SIOI" for creating the new Master's program in "Sustainable Growth, Geopolitics of Resources, and Arctic Studies". The program demonstrates that the growing importance of the Arctic has been actively recognized and acted upon here in Rome.

I want to conclude by thanking you again very much for the opportunity to speak in this great institute. Seeing what you do and talking to president Frattini, I am already convinced that we are about to find new ways of co-operation between Finland and Italy.

The Arctic is a beautiful place. It is also a concentration of major challenges and enormous opportunities. These challenges and opportunities range from environmental protection to sustainable resource management, and from infrastructure and communications to research and development.

I look forward to taking our cooperation further.

Thank you very much.