Speech by Minister Soini at the British Embassy
Speech by Foreign Minister Timo Soini at the British Embassy on 30 January 2019. 100 years of Finnish-British Diplomatic relations.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends of Britain and Finland,
Thank you for inviting me to celebrate the 100 years of Finnish-British Diplomatic relations with you.
100 years ago, our countries, Europe and the world looked quite different.
Finland was a small, but thriving young Republic. Great Britain was an Empire, where – truly – the sun never set. Britain was also one of the first countries to acknowledge Finland’s Independence.
At that time, the British Embassy was one of the few diplomatic representations to Finland. At the hindsight - you made it a good business by investing into this country at an early, but perhaps at a bit risky stage.
In the 1920’s Finland’s political atmosphere was tense, and its foreign policy position was not stable. Helsinki was a small city of 200.000 inhabitants.
An enormous 85 per cent of Finland’s exports were wood products. By boat, it took 3 to 4 days to get to any British port from Finland. The UK was Finland’s biggest trading partner, partly due to a collapse of Finland’s trade with Russia in the aftermath of the First World War. But also because Britain was an economic power with a GDP more than 20 times that of Finland.
Today, Finland and Britain are partners that have many things to share and cherish. Our relations have grown into adulthood.
We have been building our cooperation on trust. We are close partners on a vast agenda of bilateral, European and global issues. A much broader agenda than anyone could have imagined 100 years ago.
Britain is important for us also from the economic standpoint.
Finland and the UK are free traders – we do not like the red tape. We see eye to eye in most trade policy issues. Despite broad transformation transformation in the global trading patterns over the last decades, Britain is still our seventh largest export market, with trade that amounts to between four and five billion Euro depending on the year. It would be mutually beneficial to increase these figures.
Last night - like many of you - I followed with keen interest the voting in the House of Commons.
I would like to underline two messages. First, we are sad that the UK is leaving the EU. The UK has been a very close partner – a like-minded Member State with whom we share fundamental values of a rules-based international system, open and sustainable trade policy. Second, we respect the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.
We were pleased that negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration were concluded already in November so that we would have enough time to complete ratification procedures. We have now the Agreement on the table.
I hope – and trust - that a solution can be found that settles the brexit in an orderly manner, so that the UK will be able to ratify the agreement as soon as possible. The choice is, of course, in the UK’s hands.
What makes brexit such an important issue is that it means a change in Britain’s relations with Europe. Maintaining and deepening our bilateral cooperation will be as important as ever. Brexit will not diminish the deep ties that prevail between us.
It is clear that we will continue to have strong common interests with the UK in many sectors. There has been active cooperation in many sectors such as defense and security, CSDP (EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy), trade policy as well as justice and home affairs – only to mention a few.
The UK will continue to be a major European power in terms of security and defence. I am particularly happy that we have intensified our bilateral relations in this field. A couple of years ago our Defence Ministers signed a joint Statement of Intent and Finland has joined the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) which will help us to develop our defence capabilities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Also personal ties and bonds are tight. There are tens of thousands of Finns, who live in the UK. And there are a lot of Britons living in Finland, not just hundreds but rather thousands of them. We will make sure that the rights of the British citizens living in Finland are protected also in the new situation.
Personally, I have a special relationship with the UK and its people. And I don’t mean just football, which I’m a great fan of, as many of you know.
I am confident that the close relations between Finns and Brits will continue to flourish also in the future.
Lastly, I would like to thank Ambassador Dodd for the work you and the Embassy are doing here in Helsinki. I have heard through many people that you and your team do an excellent job for your country and for the Finnish-British relations. Many thanks for that on my own behalf – and also on behalf of my fellow Finns present here today.
And now, I would like to propose a toast for our good and friendly relations - long may they continue! Kippis!