Speech by Minister Blomqvist at the Meeting of Heads of Mission, 23 August 2021
Distinguished Ambassadors, dear colleagues and friends, When I spoke on this forum a year ago, I truly hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic had abated by now and that life had already started to normalise. We are not there yet, and we are meeting remotely, again.
You have seen in your work how the pandemic has postponed major meetings and hampered international cooperation. However, you have also seen, and shown with your example, how to do things in new ways. As the circumstances have changed yet again, I am pleased that I was able to bring my Nordic colleagues together in the near tropical Porvoo in June.
As you all know, Finland holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers this year. The meeting in Porvoo is one of the few multilateral meetings organised in Finland since the onset of the pandemic. It was a hybrid meeting; some of the ministers and government officials met in person, others online. It was important, in my opinion, that the Nordic cooperation ministers were able to meet as soon as it was possible. By meeting, we also wanted to emphasise that the Nordic countries are seeking solutions together and that the pandemic has further highlighted the importance of Nordic cooperation.
As I said a year ago, there has been a lot of debate about the state and ethos of Nordic cooperation during the pandemic. People wondered whether our close relationship ran aground when each country drew its own conclusions of the pandemic figures and chose partly diverging paths in managing the crisis. The ministers of Nordic cooperation have discussed these challenges many a time during the crisis. We have come to realise that trust between our countries stays strong despite challenges.
I am hoping of hosting our next meeting in Åland in September together with my ministerial colleague from Åland. There are good reasons for holding the meeting in Åland, as the islands represent those border communities that have been hit hardest by border restrictions. The meeting will also mark the 100th anniversary of autonomy in these islands of peace. This, too, is part of the strong Nordic brand, where democracy, participation and wellbeing shake hands successfully.
The new post-pandemic normal should, in my view, have even more Nordic cooperation and contacts. The Nordic countries are an extremely close and important reference for us in Finland, and we must maintain our dialogue in good and bad weather. The COVID-19 crisis has clearly shown that our citizens expected more of the Nordic cooperation. We should reinforce and deepen our cooperation, and this we can do by learning from the present crisis.
One of the themes of the Finnish Presidency is the developing of our cooperation in the field of security of supply and preparedness. The theme has been discussed in many sectors and ministerial councils during the year. I am convinced that all that work will bear fruit. For example, the trade ministers led discussions on the possibilities of deeper Nordic cooperation in vaccine production. A related joint pilot study has also been planned. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs will carry out a study on the current state of our cooperation in security of supply and preparedness and the possibilities of closer cooperation in the future. This will help us in our work. The common will of the Nordic countries is clear; when the next crisis comes, we are better prepared and have stronger resilience when we work together.
The pandemic has made its mark on Nordic cooperation even during Finland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers this year. The crisis has shown that nothing can be taken for granted. To achieve our goal of closer in the Nordic region, it is important to return as soon as possible to our common and traditional ‘gold standard’ – freedom of movement in the Nordic region. There is an abundance of other matters, too, where we can learn from the past year, seek common solutions and determine to work together.
The Nordic Council of Ministers is reviewing the COVID-19 pandemic in its different sectors to gather and process the lessons learned. The Nordic cooperation ministers have initiated some independent reviews, as well, to help with forming the whole picture. For example, we have assigned Minister Jan-Erik Enestam to carry out a strategic study of what we can learn from the COVID-19 crisis, how we can reinforce our cooperation in crisis and how we can safeguard the Nordic integration. Enestam has been asked to formulate 10 to 15 recommendations. In addition, a research group led by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs is studying the effects of the restrictions on border traffic.
I want to say a few words about gender equality, which is my other mandate as minister. Gender equality is an absolute core value for the Nordic countries and for the Nordic cooperation. Unfortunately, the old adage that nothing can be taken for granted applies to gender equality, too. Even improvements we have considered permanent can collapse without constant attention. The COVID-19 pandemic has a clear gender equality dimension, and it is important to highlight it in our work, both at home and in the wider world. Even without the pandemic, a systematic opposition to the rights of women and the global work on gender equality has become more visible in recent years.
It is alarming how the anti-gender movement has gained ground in recent years. Its aim is to undermine the freedom and self-determination of women, of people who identify as women and of sexual minorities.
The anti-gender movement has been regrettably efficient: ideologies opposing the rights of women, gender minorities and sexual minorities have managed to inch their way into the structures of society in many places across the world through both government and civil society action. Some of you will recognise this movement from your host countries.
My message to you is that you should systematically oppose the anti-gender movement. The Government Programme states that Finland’s foreign and security policy is based on human rights and that our central goal is to systematically promote gender equality and the human rights of girls and women.
Finland wants be a global leader in gender equality. While it means that we must tackle national problems with great determination, it also means that we need to engage in open and positive dialogue with countries that are facing far greater problems than we are facing. Being at the top in gender equality means that we must tirelessly and vigilantly defend the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities in many ways, at many levels, at home and abroad.
It goes without saying that now all champions of gender equality are facing an extremely difficult and import task in defending the human rights and gender equality in Afghanistan. The country is facing a human rights crisis, and we are very concerned for the status of women and girls and for the safety of human rights defenders.
The opposition to gender equality across the world heightens the importance of Nordic cooperation on gender equality. This year under the Finnish Presidency, the Nordic Council of Ministers has been working hard to improve gender equality and the status of gender and sexual minorities. The Nordic gender equality ministers have together met the Executive Directors of UN Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), thereby reinforcing our countries’ support for the defenders of the rights of women and gender and sexual minorities.
Our most recent effort was to join some of the Nordic side events during WorldPride in Copenhagen. The Nordic countries are Finland’s closest partners in international cooperation, and our work is important across the world. Our strong support for UNFPA, for example, is an important counterforce to those who oppose the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is absolutely necessary as a force challenging the anti-gender movement that opposes global gender equality and the rights of women.
Nordic cooperation is an example of how Finland can gain from cooperation and raise its profile and actively support and promote multilateral cooperation. The Nordic countries have traditionally been strong supporters of multilateral cooperation, as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs stated in its recent publication on the topic (‘Uuden yhteistyön aika - Ulkoministeriö monenkeskisen yhteistyön vahvistajana’). The Nordic voice is louder than the voice of a single country, and together we can have a stronger impact on multilateral cooperation and its evolvement paths. As we know, there is truly a need for this work now.
The Nordic Council of Ministers is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Every day, the twelve individual ministerial councils, the numerous committees of senior officials and the Nordic institutions work for a more sustainable and integrated Nordic region. I urge you, Distinguished Excellencies, to learn about this Nordic network and make use of their expertise and thereby increase awareness among the operators in your host countries of the work being done in the Nordic region.
People across the world are interested in Nordic cooperation. Our Nordic societies show that it is possible to combine ambitious climate goals, high technological development and sustainable economic and social wellbeing. We share values and we are connected by a cultural bond and a climate of trust that have carried us through the pandemic. The Nordic countries have an excellent brand and story. I believe and hope that this has also been your experience in your host countries.
The Nordic Council of Ministers grants funding even for embassies to their projects in their host countries, and I hope that you will actively seek for local project that could be eligible for the funding. You are our vanguard of international cooperation, and people listen to your messages and follow your activities. I would like to thank you sincerely for your efforts in promoting and highlighting Nordic cooperation.
Next, Secretary-General of the Nordic Council of Ministers Paula Lehtomäki will give us her views on Nordic cooperation. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General for her untiring efforts in promoting Nordic cooperation and wish you all good health and good luck in your work around the world. Together with the other Nordic countries, Finland can be globally influential, just as the Government Programme outlines.