Pertti Torstila, Under Secretary of State, at Consular Meeting in Canberra on 31 January 2002

Changing landscape of diplomacy and consular service

Dear Honorary Consuls, Spouses,
Ladies and Gentelemen,

I wish to convey to all of you the personal greeting from HE Dr. Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, who due to sudden illness had to cancel his long planned visit to Australia. I will be representing him at the inauguration ceremony tomorrow as well as at today’s Consular Meeting.

Let me now paint before you a wider global perspective by describing briefly the recent changes in the international environment and the new challenges that the Finnish Foreign Service – alike others - has to face today.

In my capacity as the Under-Secretary of State in charge of the MFA administration, I have been deeply engaged during the past year in an operation whose results are now before us. Foreign Minister Tuomioja last June handed over to the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee a Report/White Paper titled “Challenges of the Finnish Foreign Service for the 21st Century”. The Parliament has now given its opinion and comments on these challenges among which questions of following kind were dealt with:

Why cannot Finland run its foreign policy from Helsinki now that we have internet, e-mail, faxes and teleconferencing? Why must Finland have its own expensive embassies, consulates and other representations all around the world now that we are in the EU? Why do we need fully-functioning embassies in EU countries when so much of the negotiation happens in Brussels, when Finnish Ministers and officials are in direct and regular contact with their opposite number, and when so much information is instantly available on European and global political and economic developments? Cannot our interests be taken care of by others, by joint EU-representations or perhaps other Nordic countries?

The leading theme in the Report, as well as in the parliamentary comments was the following:

“Diplomacy is Finland’s first line of defence. It is in the interest of this nation to keep its diplomatic machinery in good shape.”

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is in charge of a wide field of responsibilities. Based on the Ministry’s mission statement, the Finnish foreign service:

  • plans and implements Finland’s foreign and security policy;

  • promotes Finland’s national interests abroad, including its trade policy and commercial economic interests;

  • looks after the interests and rights of Finns abroad; and

  • promotes, by means of international cooperation, democracy, respect for human rights and sustainable development.

    Today’s Finland operates in an international environment that has changed dramatically over the past ten years. The Iron Curtain fell, the Soviet Union together with communism disintegrated, Central Europe and the Baltic states were freed, Yugoslavia exploded and NATO and EU were enlarged. But, against many hopeful expectations and good wishes, the global peace – not even European - did not break out with the collapse of communism or the fall of the Berlin Wall. The European Union and NATO are important security anchors in Europe and Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, but there are many uncertainties, many risks looming. All pieces in the European puzzle have not yet found their final places yet. New problems have appeared on the agenda. In Europe, the process of integration is deepening and enlarging, but on the fringes of the old continent and beyond a process of uncontrolled change continues. Characteristic of the new constellation is growing mutual interdependence.

    Finland in the period of the Cold War was described as a calm observer in the grey zone. Today’s Finland has turned into an outwardly oriented, active member of the European Union. As a member of the Union, Finland is stronger and more capable of action than ever before. But the change continues and the benefits of the new situation do not come to us automatically. Events concerning the environment, peace and security, even disease, far away from us, have a bearing on the quality of life in Finland. This is what is meant by globalisation, growing mutual dependence.

    The entire network and the idea of the role of Finnish missions is subject to these pressures of change, too. Not long ago, we understood an Embassy or a mission to represent mainly the Foreign Service and the political leadership of the nation. Today the workload placed on the Foreign Service has increased substantially and we see our missions all around the world – including Honoray Consuls – representing Finland as a whole, serving the industry and the entire state administration, the citizens and all political, commercial and economic, consular and cultural interest groups.


    The society changes and the consular services follow these changes. For example ten years ago matters related to inheritance questions and estates still formed an essential part of the Finnish consular services. Today these services have been widely supplemented by a variety of family law issues such as paternity, alimonies or in the worst case child abductions. Services provided by the Foreign Service abroad support citizens literally from cradle to grave – from registration of the birth of a Finnish child and paternity/child maintenance matters to arrangements made for repatriating the body of a deceased Finn.

    People travel more and more and new threats appear. The Finns made some 6.5 million journeys abroad last year. Our role in travel security is mainly preventive and we’ll help when accidents occur. Following the hostage crisis in the Philippines and the New York terrorist attacks focus on travel information has been continuously upgraded. We give travel information on our web pages (avautuu uuteen ikkunaan) based on studies of our own missions. We also provide links to travel information from other countries including travel pages of the FCO for instance. Individuals as well as companies have appreciated this service. We don’t compete with others. We have our own role in giving material for the traveller to take one’s own decision to travel of which he/she remains responsible for. If something then goes wrong consular assistance is provided.

    The September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington made us to further improve our services in crisis situations. We have upgraded our security and emergency plans all over the world. Since the events there has been a boom of registrations of personal data in our missions abroad. When the attacks were made the MFA organized an emergency service for those who had people missing. Some 3500 calls were received.

    Also the EU is improving its cooperation in crisis situations in third countries. The EU Member States in high risk areas hold security meetings and exchange information on the situation including travel advice. In times of crisis EU missions exchange information on the situation and on the nationals, coordinate dispatch of consular and medical support teams and inform each other on evacuation. Evacuations are still a matter of national decision but in practice other EU-citizens are taken aboard if the situation allows, as was the case in Sierra Leone.


    Honorary consulates are a traditional form of representation complementing the actual network of missions. Today Finland has some 400 honorary consulates around the world, while we have altogether 97 missions with personnel from Finland and led by a career diplomat or consul.

    The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations still remains the cornerstone on which the traditional, official role of honorary consuls within the network of governmental representation is based. But the role of honorary consuls has changed in a number of respects. In the early years of the foreign affairs administration, honorary consuls’ main clients were shipping companies, ships and seamen, and only occasionally Finnish tourists. With increasing commercial and economic activity, the role of honorary consuls has altered, and it now covers also such vital aspects as export and import promotion.

    Honorary consuls constitute a natural and growing part of the modern network of missions within the Finnish Foreign Service. In the countries of their duty station, Finnish embassies naturally function as the main actors. Honorary consuls complement the picture of representation by offering their own local expertise, using their own networks of contacts and, most importantly, giving their own personal contribution to the management of the relations between the two countries.


    An honorary consul is either a citizen of the host country, with business or other links to Finland, or a Finnish citizen living in the host country able to offer consular assistance in Finnish. The usefulness of an honorary consul springs from his/her familiarity with local conditions and personal contacts.

    Honorary consuls of Finland are not civil servants, and they do not receive a salary or allowance for their contributions. In exceptional cases the Foreign Service may finance the facilities and a paid assistant for the Honorary Consulate. Such arrangements have existed mainly in the touristic areas of Spain and Greece, but also in one place in Australia, namely in Melbourne where Finnish migrants’ need for consular services is exceptionally high.


    Based on the changes and requirements of our time, certain significant legislative amendments have been carried out in Finland. A new Constitution took effect two years ago

    As the new Constitution became effective, a host of lower level legislation became subject to adjustment so as to meet the requirements of the new Constitution. That is why the legislation pertaining to Foreign Service has also been amended in its entirety. Both the new Foreign Service Act and associated Decrees, and the new Constitution became effective on 1 March 2000. The new provisions on Finnish diplomatic missions abroad and the position of state officials are more detailed, more explicit and more comprehensive than the old provisions were.

    The legislative reform affected to some extent also the regulations concerning the honorary consulates. No changes were proposed to the actual types of missions, because they are based on the customary law codified in the Vienna Convention. Finland still has honorary consulates-general, honorary consulates, honorary vice-consulates, and honorary consular posts headed by an honorary consular officer. But the procedure relating to the opening of an honorary consulate has changed.

    The Ministry for Foreign Affairs now holds the decision-making authority in all questions relating to opening a new honorary consulates and the appointment of honorary consuls. In the old legislation, the President of the Republic was in charge of the setting up of honorary consulates-general. The new legislation requires that the candidate to the post of honorary consul undertakes, in writing, to observe the provisions and regulations concerning honorary consulates. Another new point is that the appointment to the task of an honorary consul can be made for a restricted period of time.


    A new feature in the Finnish legislation is the fact that aliens with a permanent residence in Finland are considered as equals to Finnish nationals. The Consular Services act(of 1999) applies to all aliens with a legal and permanent residence in Finland. In the case it is ascertained that the client is a permanent resident of Finland, he or she may, provided that the rest of the preconditions are met, be entitled to receive the services provided by law.


    There are more than 1.3 million Finns living outside our national borders. For instance at the Finnish Embassy in London, consular affairs have doubled in a few years. There are already nearly 20,000 Finns living in Britain and the number is still growing as more and more Finns are studying or working in the country. There are now a couple thousand Finnish nurses working in Britain. In Germany, Frankfurt and its surrounding areas have a community of thousands of Finns. There are a great number of similar examples in other countries, not least in Australia. Finnish expatriates have integrated in their new home countries and achieved positions and duties that are often important from the former home country’s point of view.

    Expatriates support Finland’s aspirations with their work. They play an important role in channeling and spreading information about Finland in their countries of residence. We in Helsinki see the Finnish expatriates as an important national asset.

    One of the biggest coming changes in the field of consular services concerns citizenship. A new law on citizenship is being prepared in the Ministry of the Interior. The new law would echo the requests inter alia by the Finnish expatriates who, when applying for foreign nationality, have been forced to renounce the Finnish nationality. The new law will accept dual nationality but the scope of the dual nationality is still under consideration. It is still uncertain for instance whether the Finns who have lost their citizenship will be able to have a simplified procedure to recover their citizenship. In any case the Government will propose that a Finn would retain his/her citizenship if foreign nationality is sought for. The motion on the new law on citizenship is likely to be presented to the parliament next autumn. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has been speaking for the reform even though it will mean great increase in the amount of citizenship services in our missions abroad. The dual nationality reflects a globalized world and it will ease integration of foreigners. It will also encourage and support Finnish expatriates to maintain their relations to Finland and facilitate their remigration to Finland.


    Finns are given consular assistance by other EU missions. The EU consular protection is quaranteed in the Treaty establishing the European Community. The detailed rules on the practice and coverage of the protection are established in the Council Decision of 1995. Following these instruments the citizens of the EU travelling outside the territory of the European Union are entitled to consular services at any diplomatic or consular mission of a Member State of the EU if their own country does not have a mission in the country in question. The EU-consular assistance and protection is a feature that brings the EU closer and more concrete to its citizens. This becomes more relevant when we are thinking how to increase the legitimacy of the Union.

    Although the EU consular protection is not yet in force it has been working quite well in practice. Finns have received consular aid for instance in Western Samoa and Sierra Leone by the British High Commission and in Oman and Cuba by the German Embassy. It is likely that the full implementation and awareness of the EU consular assistance and protection will gradually ease the need for consular assistance of the Finnish honorary consuls in third countries.

    Cooperation between the missions of EU member states in all fields, including consular services, must be welcomed. Yet the idea of joint EU missions, which has come up in the public debate, is not feasible in the foreseeable future. Globalization and EU membership have not made the network of Finnish missions less important in today’s world; quite the contrary. In this respect also the role of honorary consulates tends to grow and becomes more important.

    I would be very interested to hear your personal comments on your experiencies regarding the growing EU cooperation in the consular services field.


    At the outset of my presentation I mentioned the Parliament’s response to Minister Tuomioja’s Report on the “Challenges of the Finnish Foreign Service”. The Parliament is of the opinion that “diplomacy is Finland’s first defende line” and stresses that:

  • Foreign Service posseses the unique expertise in international knowledge in the Finnish state administration. Finland’s international challenges and opportunities are increasing. MFA is the national coordinator of Finland’s international activities.

  • The network of Finnish missions abroad is of right size and will most probably be enlarged in the coming years. Its operational capability must be ensured. Embassies should not be closed down for reasons of saving money. Joint EU missions may be feasible in the future. They are not the solution for today’s problems. Only Finland’s own missions can fully represent our country and pursue Finnish interests.

    Dear Consuls,

    In this all, representing and defending Finland’s interests you have an important role. I would like to conclude by thanking you for your valuable work and the deep commitment you have shown in your manyfold area of activity.