Speech by Minister Soini at the opening ceremony of Finland's Chairmanship of the Arctic Council

Opening ceremony of Finland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council on 18 May 2017. Address given by Mr Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Finland started its Chairmanship of the Arctic Council a week ago in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Chairman’s gavel was handed over to me by the US Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson. I felt honoured to accept this responsibility on behalf of my country. On the way back, my main thought was that this is a great opportunity to strengthen Finland’s international position—to work together with countries that are important to us and to contribute to the advancement of globally important issues. This is a job quite suitable for the 100-year-old Finland.

As we have seen in the media, last week’s meeting involved a little drama as well. The joint declaration wasn’t drafted until the very last minute. One reason for this was the United States’ hesitancy as to whether it should support the Arctic Council’s climate work given that its own climate policy is only starting to take shape. However, in my view, we were able to reach quite a good result in the end. The Fairbanks Declaration deals with the issues that are necessary for the Council to continue its work.

For Finland, it was also of the utmost importance that a jointly accepted declaration was made as the basis for our Chairmanship.

It is good to bear in mind that the Arctic Council is a unique forum for cooperation. Finland and the other Nordic countries work in partnership with Russia, the United States and Canada. Permanent participants include six indigenous peoples’ organisations, among them the Saami Council. This is a good composition, and the Member States and indigenous peoples can discuss difficult issues concerning the Arctic. At Fairbanks, I could see that the growing international tension has not affected Arctic cooperation. Constructive cooperation will continue under Finland’s Chairmanship.

I believe it is important and positive that interest in Arctic cooperation has increased. The Council now has 13 Observer States—Switzerland is the most recent to join—as well as numerous observer organisations, including the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). And even more would like to join.

Our Chairmanship Program focuses on four areas of cooperation: environmental protection, connectivity, meteorological cooperation, and education. The video shown at the beginning of this event illustrates well what we are trying to achieve through these themes.

The objectives have been discussed in detail with the other Member States, and representatives of indigenous peoples have also been consulted. Therefore, I hope that their implementation can proceed rapidly.

Environmental protection remains a key task for Arctic cooperation. The vitality of the Arctic region and the well-being of people living there require effective environmental protection measures. Economic development must also be built on a sustainable and responsible foundation.

The development of communication networks facilitates various services and improves safety and quality of life. Economic development is directly linked to the adoption of modern communications technology.

Meteorological cooperation is a new focus of the Arctic Council and work is carried out jointly with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Meteorological cooperation is becoming increasingly important for the development of ice and weather services and for the real-time assessment of scientific research on climate change.

It should be obvious to all of us that education is the key to sustainable development. The Arctic region is no exception in this respect. Ensuring educational opportunities is a prerequisite for the people of the Arctic region to be able to participate in and influence the development of their home region. Modern technology enables high-quality teaching in sparsely populated areas and small language groups. In achieving this goal, we work together with the teacher training network of the University of the Arctic.

Finnish know-how has much to offer on a global scale, and this applies to Arctic cooperation as well. The priority areas mentioned above are all areas in which Finland excels. By paying attention to these areas, we can also turn the world’s attention to Finnish expertise.

In many areas our expertise is largely Arctic, which brings significant added value to our export efforts. The slogan “If it works here, it works everywhere” is not without factual basis. It is a proven fact, tested in arctic conditions—sometimes with grit and persistence.

The Arctic Council Chairmanship will help us Finns promote Finnish cold-air know-how (so-called snow-how). Simultaneous Chairmanship of the Arctic Economic Council will support us in fulfilling this objective. Finland can boast about its sustainable business, cleantech sector and circular economy and these should be—and, indeed, they will be—brought more vigorously to the attention of the rest of the world. Finland makes 60 per cent of all icebreakers in the world—and all the good ones.

We also work to ensure that Finland is the most visible EU country in Arctic questions, as well as the most active in all Northern issues.

It is important for the EU to strengthen the political and other areas of cooperation in the Arctic region. This suits Finland’s goals perfectly. Finland’s objectives are supported by the EU’s growing interest in northern investment, infrastructure development and innovation. Just like our Chairmanship Program for the Arctic Council, research and education are central in the EU’s Arctic Program as well.

To reinforce the EU’s Arctic policy, I have called an Arctic Stakeholders’ Forum to convene in Oulu, Finland, in mid-June. The aim is to enhance the utilisation of EU resources in the northern regions of Europe. High Representative Federica Mogherini, Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella, as well as several ministers from various countries and others are going to attend.  Together with the City of Oulu, we will also take the opportunity to do some PR on Finland’s strengths in Arctic matters.

Finland faces a demanding and responsible task in chairing the Arctic Council.

The title of the Finnish Chairmanship, “Exploring Common Solutions”, summarises our country’s approach to Arctic issues. The Government’s objective is that Finland is a provider of practical solutions to Arctic challenges.

It is important for the Parliament to play an active role in promoting the implementation of our Chairmanship Program. My intention is to keep the Parliament regularly informed and to hear the Parliament on Arctic matters. I believe that together we will be able to pass the test of Chairmanship with flying colours, even though many challenges—and even storms—may lie ahead.