Speech by Mr. Pertti Torstila, Under-Secretary of State: "Challenges of the Finnish Foreign Service for the 21st Century", information meeting with the Diplomatic Representatives, 12th June in Helsinki

MFA, Press and Culture Department,
Helsinki, 12th June 2001

Mr. Pertti Torstila,
Under-Secretary of State
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

”Challenges of the Finnish Foreign Service for the 21st Century”

Report by Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament, 12 June 2001

Information meeting with the Diplomatic Representatives in Helsinki
Introduction by Under Secretary of State Pertti Torstila

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my capacity as one of the four under-secretaries of State at the MFA I have been deeply engaged during the past months in an operation whose results are now before you. FM Tuomioja today handed over to the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee a Report/White Paper titled “Challenges of the Finnish Foreign Service for the 21st Century”. I am happy that I can today share with you some central points of this Report.

“Why can’t 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 such regular direct 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 joint EU-representations or perhaps by other Nordic countries?”

The leading theme of the Report is:

“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 conclusions of the Report can be presented under the following five (5) headings:

1. The challenge of the changing international environment

The world has changed. Finland’s immediate political and economic landscapes have also changed dramatically. The profession of diplomacy is equally changing. In tomorrow’s – and today’s - world , stability and prosperity at home will depend on the ability of the international community to act together in pursuit of interests that transcend national borders. No single government – or government department – could on its own deal with climate change, drug abuse and trafficking. Close international cooperation is needed, and yet - while integration proceeds and EU and NATO get more members, nation-states will still remain central to the conduct of international affairs. The state is still the key actor and the final guarantor in providing security to the nation and its citizens.

2. The operational challenge

While the fundamental foreign policy goals of creating a secure, prosperous, and democratic world for the benefit of our citizens remain, new technologies, geopolitical transformations, new array of threats – environmental degradation, ethnic and religious conflicts, organized crime and drug trafficking, to mention just some of them – challenge also Finland’s security landscape and our interests. Finland is no more “on the flank” in a remote northern part of Europe. Obstacles created by geographical distance have diminished. The world has become more interdependent, and the consequences of political, social, economic, military, scientific and technological developments are more interrelated than ever before. The MFA faces a complex and growing web of foreign policy challenges. Membership in the EU has not diminished but - to the contrary – has increased these challenges. More is wanted, more is expected from us, both in quantity and quality.

3. The challenge of other domestic operators : coordination

Number of various national operators in the international field has grown – to a great extend owing to the Finnish EU membership. This membership, more than anything else, has shaped the expectations and priorities of Finland during the last five years. The coordination of EU affairs is a central topic inside the state administration. The MFA does not have – if it ever had - the monopoly of Finland’s international relations. New global challenges require the specialised skills of all government departments and the innovative involvement of non-governmental actors in business and civil society. But the MFA is still the lead institution for the conduct of the Finnish diplomacy and the owner of the global net of Finland’s diplomatic missions; Finland’s 101 antennaes in the world.

The MFA exercises policy leadership, effective interagency coordination, and management of resources for the conduct of our foreign relations. The MFA can explain the international context of individual events and is the only state authority which follows globalisation in its entirety.

The Finnish missions in foreign countries house a growing number of experts from other Ministries : customs experts, agricultural and forestry experts, border/Schengen specialists, police officers/drugs smuggling, financial counsellors in addition to the traditional military, trade and cultural attaches. To concentrate sectoral activities in one place - to the embassies – is clearly more economical to the State budget, than to see all branches of state administration establishing their own points of activity abroad.

For this Report the MFA asked the opinion of all other Ministries and several non-governmental organisations and actors. The tone of the answers was in the central role of the MFA as an important coordinator in Finland’s international performance, in the division of labour between the ministries and other institutions. Other branches of administration tend to see us as a “department of global affairs” as the concept of foreignness becomes ever harder to define. Practically all ministries are engaging in transboundary activities with their EU-counterparts, in particular. Consequently, the coordination of these sectoral policies has become a main task of the MFA with a view to assuring coherence and establishing priorities – both at the ministry in Helsinki and the missions abroad. A good and timely example is how to promote Finnish export interests globally in a situation where FINPRO – the national board of export promotion – has thinned out its global network by closing down some 20 representations. What is the role of embassies in this situation?

The answers received from other Ministries are included in the Report and we have the intention to conduct more detailed bilateral discussions with each Ministry beginning next September.

4. The challenge “inside the house” : operational strategies, reorganisation of the MFA, personnel policies

Particular strength of the MFA personnel lies in its professional talent, loyalty and commitment to public service. They merit to be awarded – not punished – for these special skills. We in the MFA are open and recognise the important changes in the Finnish work environment. We must be prepared to compete effectively with the private sector and – why not – with other government agencies in recruiting, developing, and retaining talent. The salary level of the MFA has traditionally been lower than elsewhere in the state administration. This is a serious concern and we want it to be corrected soon. This can be done at a cost of some 30 million additional FIM in the course of the next five years. It cannot be financed inside the present budgetary frames.

Younger MFA workers seek a greater degree of freedom and autonomy in their positions. They are very sensitive to new challenges. They base their advancement more on performance than longevity. The family and a meaningful employment for spouses are high on their list of priorities. They also have more career choices. In sending our diplomats to all corners of the world, we are responsible for the needs of their families that accompany them. Dual career couples is a standard segment of the Finnish workforce today. So begins to be – unfortunately - also “single diplomats” who are leaving for foreign postings without the spouse and children. The MFA of Finland does not want to be or become an employeur which separates families. If we want to retain the best, we must maintain and sharpen the skills that make them the best.

5. The challenge of the resources

The budgetary burden of the MFA to the state budget has always been modest. In 2001 the share of the MFA functional budget (excluding development aid) is 0.4% of the state expenditure.

The need for active Finnish engagement and obligations has grown considerably since the end of the Cold War and Finland’s membership in the EU. But the MFA’s resources have not grown in line with the increased demands. Our budgets have been declining. The efficiency of the administration has considerably increased but in spite of constant savings the situation has deteriorated year by year. Extensive use of modern information technology saves human workforce and time but is not inexpensive. Some 70 of our 90 missions as well as divisions in Helsinki are interconnected via on-line computerized information dissemination systems.

The Finances Committee of the Parliament reported last winter, that “ the decreasing financial resources of the MFA threaten to cripple the operational capability of the Finnish foreign representation. Money available suffices to mere existence, less and less to active operations. The Committee deplores this state of things while it feels that the efficiency of the foreign representation should be measured by doing things, not by just being there.”

The MFA Administration fully shares this view. During the last 10 years when the operational budget of the MFA in real value has diminished – the size of the budget has been some 850 million FIM per year - we have not managed to convince the Ministry of Finances of our needs. Years of living below attrition have tested us so much that we now turn to the political decision makers – Parliament first of all – by posing them the following question of FM Tuomioja : “Do you members of the Parliament want that Finland’s vital interests are protected with these thin and scarce resources?”.

The MFA in Helsinki is short-staffed as well as our missions are abroad. Finland has altogether 97 posts with outsent Finnish personnel - 76 Embassies - out of which 19 is led by one diplomat only and more than 50 with maximum two career officers. The MFA’s staffing shortage has reached a critical stage. We are not capable of filling our mission with fully trained employees or to cover staffing gaps in our embassies and consulates.

The increase of the share of locally hired personnel is striking and motivated by financial reasons mainly. We are determined to reverse this negative trend as we run the risk of not being ready to protect our national interests abroad and in the capital satisfactorily. We will prove to our political decision makers why this matters. We will show in our report that if diplomacy – the first defence line of Finland’s security – fails there is not only potential for political consequences – at a far more expensive cost to the nation – but also serious negative consequences for Finland’s national economy, trade, investments and the protection of the various individual interests of our countrymen abroad.

To fill current staffing requirements we need 40-50 new positions – diplomatic level – in the next years. We are proposing an additional 37 million FIM to next years budget over the given frames (adding up to a total of some 900 million FIM). This is a fair and modest investment in our country’s diplomatic readiness and the well-being of our men and women who often face difficult circumstances in their foreign assignments.

Regarding the question which many of you must have in mind – namely a possible closing down of some of our embassies – I can tell that the report is not proposing any concrete acts in this regard. The report presents an overall survey on the 97/101 Finnish missions, their tasks, staffing and resources. The report shows in detail that the budgetary gap of the MFA budget cannot be filled by closing embassies.

Let me give you two examples – cited also in the Report. A small Finnish embassy – they are small, very small altogether - in Africa whose main activity is development assistance would save some 700 000 FIM/year if closed. A medium-sized Finnish embassy in South America would save some 2.5 million FIM/year if closed. If the gap should be filled by closing down embassies, we should establish a black list of some 15-20 missions which would practically cripple Finland’s diplomatic capacity to protect national interests outside Europe. In this context the Report reminds the reader about the obvious need for opening new Finnish embassies in Europe as the EU enlarges and warns about a zero-sum game between these two factors.

Here are in a nutshell our five central challenges. I want to thank you for your attention and thank all Ambassadors and colleagues who during my work have offered their kind assistance. The Finnish diplomacy is not alone facing these questions. Most of your home administrations – if not all – tackle with similar difficulties. Your numerous presence here today manifests this clearly. If Finland – with this exercise - can offer you useful experiences or good hints we are only happy to do it.