Minister Soini's opening speech; The EU's Strategic Vision for Relations with Russia and the Eastern Neighbourhood

Foreign Minister Soini's opening speech; The EU's Strategic Vision for Relations with Russia and the Eastern Neighbourhood,  The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Helsinki, 28 January 2016.


Ladies and gentlemen. Dear friends.

I warmly welcome this highly distinguished gathering to Helsinki. Finland has been advocating a new security strategy for the EU already for years. We are delighted that a global foreign and security policy strategy is now in the making. The EU is a global actor with global interests and a global reach. We need, and indeed deserve, a strategy with a global ambition.

We are living trying times for the EU and that includes its role as an international actor. Our immediate neighbourhood has not become a source of stability and prosperity. Our relations with Russia remain mired in a crisis. The wider global scene remains turbulent. Without strategic – long term – thinking we cannot tackle these issues.

I know we Europeans are good at self-criticism so, perhaps, it is worth pointing out that not all of these negative developments are our fault or doing. On the contrary, the main driving forces behind many of these developments reside well beyond our borders.

Nevertheless, our security and well-being are intimately affected by them. Therefore, we have every reason to take stock of our approaches: to learn from the past and to plan better ahead; and, to deepen our regional and global clout and relevance in the process.

I am happy and honoured that Helsinki has a role to play in this process. At the same time, that this EU strategy is in the making, also my Government is preparing its own review for foreign and security policy, also due to be completed by the summer. It is my hope that in the next two days, we will manage to slay two birds with one stone: giving a strong input into the EU’s strategy process while giving some food for thought for our national deliberations as well.

Ladies and gentlemen.

The topic of this seminar is the strategic vision for the EU’s relations with Russia and the Eastern neighbourhood. Yet we should not be too parochial about the topic. I welcome High Representative Mogherini’s decision to opt for the title “global strategy”. This is an appropriate level of ambition, even though we feel that vision and guidance is most urgently needed in our foreign and security policy.

I also applaud the great work done by Dr. Nathalie Tocci in preparing the key background documents and coordinating the process. I know that preparing a global strategy for the EU of 28 member states is not an easy job, but I think the High Representative and her team have succeeded in the task so far. The consultation process has been very open: the seminar here today testifies to that effect. We will also discuss the strategy next week among the EU Foreign and Defence Ministers, as well as Development Ministers. This is a lively and on-going debate that should lead to a strategy owned by the Member States as well as by the High Representative Mogherini and the EEAS.

I will reveal no secret when I say that Finland is a relatively small country situated in the Northern reaches of Europe. Yet we are not solely a regional actor in a sense that we would only be thinking about local issues and challenges, including regional security. On the contrary, in a turbulent yet globalized world we must always remain cognizant of the bigger picture and our strong interdependence. Finland is very well aware of this and supports a global role for the EU.

So let me briefly introduce our key tenets when it comes to the global strategy. To begin with, why do we need the new strategy: The answer is simple: the world and the EU have both changed dramatically since 2003. The previous decade has witnessed the rapid rise of China and the American recalibration of its global role. We have seen a global financial crisis that still reverberates around the world. We have seen the Arab Spring on the southern shores of the Mediterranean that has, despite its early promise of reforms, resulted in regional instability. And we have seen a conflict at the heart of Europe in Ukraine accompanied by an angry challenge from Russia concerning the foundations of European security. The list could go on but I guess you already got the point: The signposts, perhaps even goal posts for the EU as an international actor have been transformed since the adoption of the European Security Strategy.

All the while the EU has been busy enlarging, developing new institutions and adopting new policies. We have increased our members, competences and decision-making capacity. Clearly we need a fresh sense of purpose and strategic guidance.  More so we need an updated understanding of our operating environment, our past achievements and shortcomings as well as a fresh vision and that is clear to ourselves and to our partners.

The key ambition, objective and message must be to make the point for truly coherent external relations of the European Union. The EU needs strategic guidance for its foreign and security policy – including security and defence – and overall guiding principles.

Therefore, the end-result should be a goal-oriented strategy. It should state clearly what the EU is, what it stands for and where it is headed internationally. The strategy should also strengthen the EU as a security community and be meaningful to the citizens of the Union. One of the main objectives of the EU is to preserve peace, security, prosperity and rule of law in our own continent and in the neighbourhood.

The strategy should be about promoting EU interests. But at the same time it should clearly state our values and principles. The strategy will be our mission statement and means of strategic communication. A calling card, if you like.

Based on the main goals, he document must portray operational relevance. The strategy should consider the capabilities and instruments the Union has at its disposal for attaining these goals. Flexibility and rapid reaction are needed in directing resources to acute needs. We need to assess whether new instruments need to be developed. We also have to see that those capabilities we already have are effectively utilised.

The strategy should include objectives to strengthen the effectiveness of the Common Security and Defence Policy and deepen defence cooperation. This would contribute to the Union’s interests in various ways: security through increased resilience, deterrence and strategic autonomy; cohesion through solidarity and better integration of defence sectors; and prosperity through tapping the economic potential of defence cooperation.

As the on-going refugee crisis shows, there is no clear line between internal and external security. The EU's external and internal policies should complement each other and work towards common goals. The EU and its Member States need to act decisively. We must strive to attain two things simultaneously: protecting the EU’s homeland, so to speak, while radiating and projecting stability and security beyond our borders.

Currently neither is fully the case and the strategy process should be an opening to think about these issues as well.

Ladies and gentlemen.

Although we are discussing a global strategy we must remain cognizant of the fact that some of our most burning issues of the day are in fact regional. This is true in the South where regional instability and a chain of conflicts have generated horrifying human suffering and created an unprecedented refugee crisis affecting also the EU. But as the topic of this gathering is the EU’s policies in the East I will refrain from talking about these issues any further. Suffice it to say that none of what follows should be taken to imply that the southern portfolio is not important. On the contrary, I see plenty of linkages and even interdependence between these regions.

Russia is one of them. Russia clearly signals its resolve to be counted among the Great Powers. Moscow has shown this through different actions in the past two years.

I have discussed the EU relations with Russia in more detail last week in my speech at Suomalainen Klubi, but let me highlight some issues also today. In our relations with Russia, the EU should display unity and consistency and hold on to its core values of democracy and human rights. The EU should continue to defend the rules-based international order and expect that Russia respects it, as well as its commitments under international law. This relates also to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea and military activities in Eastern Ukraine.

At the same time, the EU should remain open for dialogue with Russia on global challenges and common interests. Multilateral, regional cooperation fora – such as the Artic Council and Northern Dimension policy – should be used to engage with Russia and to tackle a wide range of security concerns, including environmental protection, maritime safety and public health issues. Regional and cross-border cooperation also provide a framework for enhancing contacts with Russian civil society.

We are treading in a delicate environment in our relations with Russia. On the one hand, we have seen the return of a potential security threat from Russia. It includes both a military component and a political one.

In particular, Russia seems bent on eroding our collective unity, solidary and sense of security. To undermine our collective will to stand for our values and interests. 

This is threat that must be collectively managed. No EU country can deal with these issues alone. To a large degree, balancing the military threat belongs to the remit of NATO, but the EU, too, has a lot to contribute. In some respects the “hybrid” nature of the threat makes the EU particularly relevant in strengthening societal security and resilience, including strategic communication for fighting misinformation.  

At the same time, these threats should not be blown out of all proportion. There is no need to demonise Russia. Russia might be part of the problem in many respects but it is undoubtedly also an essential part of many solutions. The Iran nuclear deal – one of the successes for EU foreign policy as well – witnessed Russia as playing a crucial and constructive role. Such a role is equally essential in resolving the Syria conflict and other international security issues.

Therefore it is in our own interests to keep engaging Russia. A return to a path of partnership should be our eventual objective. At the same time we must make it clear that the process is a two-way street and will require the willingness to uphold international and other legal commitments by all sides.

Relations with our Eastern Neighbours should be based on the key principles of the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership. Enhanced differentiation and ownership by partner countries are the key principles in the coming years. A key is to honour and uphold the sovereign choices of all six partners. In some cases this means closer political association and economic integration with the EU, manifested by the Association Agreements. In some cases other arrangements have been made. It is not up to the EU, or Russia for that matter, to decide and insist what these arrangements should be in any particular case. The countries themselves must decide. Nor should we approach the different arrangements in a
zero-sum manner.

Another region where zero-sum mentality should be avoided is the Arctic. The Arctic has gained strategic importance and thus needs to become one of our foreign and security policy priorities. The EU's contribution is required for advancing initiatives in the North, taking into account that parts of the EU lay in the Arctic region. Cooperation within and support to the existing regional fora and arrangements is crucial, including strengthening the governance of the Arctic region in accordance with international law. The EU should contribute to ensure that economic development in the Arctic is based on the sustainable use of resources and environmental expertise, including the rights of the indigenous people.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I have argued here why the EU needs a global strategy and what in my view its key ingredients should be. Let me conclude by saying that the process for formulating EU’s global foreign and security policy strategy is as timely as it is important. The EU – and indeed the wider world – deserves an EU that has an effective global vision and an actual presence and reach to match it. In this respect I stress that this process should yield a document worthy of the name global strategy.

It will not be a mere laundry list of challenges – however important – but a document that will spell out our joint vision concerning security and the world and point the way towards credible and effective joint action in enhancing our security and promoting our interests.

I hope these two days can assist us in moving further in that direction. I want to thank the organisers, and I wish you all an enjoyable and productive stay here in Helsinki. I wish the High Representative and her team all the wisdom, courage and foresight to continue to navigate this important process to a happy conclusion.