Speech at Annual Meeting of Finnish Heads of Mission by Permanent State Secretary Matti Anttonen 19.8.2019
Dear Ministers and Colleagues,
Good morning to you all, and welcome to the 2019 Meeting of Heads of Mission!
This is a new venue for us: the Korjaamo Culture Factory. This change of location is because the parliamentary venue familiar to us for many years is currently being renovated. The programme has been fitted into three days and the event is this year a week earlier than normal.
At last year’s meeting we managed to survive without using our mobile phones, and I think we should try the same this year, too. There are no storage lockers here, so I suggest you put your phone in your bag or case and not on the table top where it can vibrate or otherwise disturb others.
At this point I would like to give a big thank you to those involved in planning this event and bringing it to fruition.
While the programme contains a lot of familiar elements, it also has something new. I think we will all be especially interested to hear what the ministers have to say – ministers in the new Government which began its work in June this year. Indeed, Prime Minister Rinne will begin his presentation as soon as I have finished.
Today is Monday 19 August. This is a date that stays with me from the past, as it marked one of those major tipping points that you can see unfolding before you. Of course, ordinarily we observe changes of direction much later after they have begun to happen.
But early in the morning on that Monday, 28 years ago, when I was in Moscow’s Proletarsky district, my boss Heikki Talvitie called me and told me the news that the President of the Soviet Union had been removed. As we know, the coup itself was over in three days, but then began the transformation process across the entire Soviet Union, a process that is not yet over.
In that same August week, the Baltic States were to regain their independence. Christmas Day sealed the fate of the Soviet Union.
And Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are now all members of the European Union and of Nato, and we have a common currency. A free trade agreement has made the EU Ukraine’s most important trading partner. And Ukraine holds presidential elections in which the winner is not known beforehand.
For Finland, Russia remains an important neighbour. As an EU member, we are involved in shaping and implementing the EU’s policy on Russia. We are interested in where Russia is headed – as a state, a society and an economy.
The mood is one of disharmony. A couple of weeks ago it was 20 years since President Putin’s rise to power – first as prime minister, then president, a return to prime minister and now president again. During that time the country has turned into the Russia that we now know.
The first of those two decades was a time of unprecedented growth. Russia’s GDP grew by an annual 7%, and the rise in people’s purchasing power was even greater. The private sector expanded. Finland’s trade with Russia increased and businesses invested. In my own time as ambassador, Russia’s share of our exports even exceeded 10%.
The decade since 2009 has looked quite different though. Russia’s annual GDP growth has remained below 1%. The state has strengthened its grip on the economy, and people’s real earnings have fallen in recent years. Finland’s exports have halved from that 10% level. Investment flows have dwindled, too. The public protests over candidate nomination in Moscow’s municipal elections are indicative of the state of Russian society. The country’s population is shrinking once again.
As a neighbour, we naturally keep the dialogue going and we trade. The environmental cooperation that has brought success in protecting the Baltic Sea is now continuing with solid wastes and black carbon. And it’s good news that Russia is about to approve the Paris climate agreement.
In the midst of changes in the global economy, it is hard to understand why Russia appears to still be designing its economic strategy around the production and export of fossil energy, despite it having all the potential to become a renewable energy superpower if it wished to.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has altered the security environment in Europe, as well as the dynamics of the EU-Russia relationship. No change can expected in this without an easing of that conflict. Implementation of the Minsk Agreements is a key component.
Africa will certainly have been on many people’s minds after last year’s meeting. It has been very much to the fore over the past year, in the debate in Finland and in Europe. The Government Programme promises an Africa strategy for Finland, the preparation of which is soon to begin.
Africa will also remain a key focus of our growing development cooperation work.
As outsiders we can support Africa’s development. The decisions concerning the direction of this support, and the principal responsibility for implementing the necessary measures, are naturally in Africa’s own hands.
I attended the meeting of EU and African Union foreign ministers at the start of the year, where I was representing Finland. What stayed with me particularly from the African ministers’ speeches was the importance of economic growth and the support for trade liberalisation. The latter is in fact a major theme in Africa this year. All the African countries – bar one – have now signed the agreement on a continental free trade area. This came into effect at the start of June, after the required minimum of 22 countries had deposited their ratification documents.
This is major step in Africa’s economic integration. It also indicates the direction in which Africa’s leaders and peoples wish the continent to develop. As representatives of the EU, we often hear positive comments in Africa about how Europe has benefited from European integration. Hopefully now is Africa’s turn to live through a similar success story.
The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement also brings completely new opportunities for EU-African Union relations. But there is still much to do before Africa’s internal trade can flow as easily as its trade with other continents.
In May this year, Finland was the stage for two important meetings of foreign ministers.
The ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi marked the close of Finland’s two-year Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of all eight member countries – the second time in the Council’s history of more than two decades.
Although differences of opinion on climate change meant that the meeting could not agree on a declaration this time, Finland’s Chairmanship can nevertheless be considered a success. Progress was made in the Council’s work within its traditional areas of cooperation, such as environmental protection. A new element in the shape of meteorological cooperation was incorporated. Everyone was ready to acknowledge the importance of this cooperation in a situation where shipping and other human activity in the region is growing.
The economic significance of the Arctic region is particularly great for our neighbour Russia, with three quarters of its gas production derived from the region. The Ob delta is to be home to a production and export centre for Russia’s liquefied natural gas. LNG and other products will be transported in increasing amounts through the Northeast Passage, both to the west and, in the summer, via the Bering Strait to Asian markets.
Interest in the Arctic region is also growing elsewhere. This was very much apparent when I sat on a panel discussing the Arctic region at the Aspen Security Forum in the United States in July. The US input revealed that it has finally made a decision to acquire three large icebreakers. China’s increasing interest in the Arctic region’s energy resources and transport routes attracted attention but clearly also concern.
The reality of today is that there is no doubt about the effects of climate change in the Arctic region. The ice cover in the Arctic Ocean last week, at the time of writing this, was more than 2 million square kilometres less than the average for the period 1980–2010. The ice will continue to melt for about another three weeks, and it remains to be seen whether the eventual extent of Arctic sea ice this year will be the second smallest ever, or not. The other alternative is that it will be the smallest ever.
The second key event in May was the Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, held in Helsinki. This was also the occasion to celebrate the Council of Europe’s 70th anniversary.
The programme of Finland’s six-month Presidency of the Committee of Ministers was extensive and varied. We strongly supported the Council of Europe’s core work on human rights in Europe. A fascinating new element was a conference sounding out the impact of artificial intelligence on human rights.
Finland also worked to ensure that Russia did not exclude itself from the organisation. That would have denied ordinary Russians the chance to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to seek better legal protection. And Russians, of course, are known for being one of the highest users of court services.
In human rights the next big project is membership of the UN Human Rights Council. Besides being able to influence the human rights situation globally, the campaign and future membership will offer us the opportunity to mainstream human rights matters more widely in our work. Success in this project, as in others, will naturally require sufficient resources.
I shall now return to the theme of energy and climate, which I touched on earlier. This is a familiar subject to me, and close to my heart, from the time I spent as the Foreign Ministry’s first energy ambassador. Another thing I learnt from that time is that the role of Chief Specialist affords you the chance to look into matters in greater depth, which can stand you in good stead later in your career.
On that July visit to the United States I observed with my own eyes two of the major trends in the global energy market as I drove across Texas.
First was the revolution in oil and gas production technologies, which has made the US easily the world’s biggest oil and gas producer. Its oil production alone is two and a half times greater than it was ten years ago. And in gas, the US will become, in the early years of the next decade, one of the three largest exporters of LNG, liquefied natural gas, along with Qatar and Australia. The scale of this change is evident in the fact that just four years ago the United States did not export any LNG at all.
Greater than the changes caused by shale oil and gas production is the continuing march forward in renewable energy. In Texas I came across the biggest wind farms I have ever seen. Texas has become far and away the largest producer of wind power in the US. In the first half of this year, wind power accounted for 22% of power production in Texas, surpassing coal-generated power for the first time. You can see the scale of this transformation when I tell you that 15 years ago, wind power accounted for 1% and coal for 40%.
A lot of new wind capacity is being built, which will boost its share in the next decade to one third – a level which a handful of smaller Midwest states have already reached.
Alongside wind, the importance of solar power is also growing rapidly. In the past decade, solar power generation in the United States has increased 20-fold. The top state is California, where solar accounts for about 15% of electricity generation. Evidence of the overall transformation can be seen in the fact that at federal level, 40% of new power generating capacity last year was for wind power, and solar and gas-powered plants both accounted for about 30%.
What’s more, the US is far from being alone in this. In China, the growth figures and renewable energy production volumes are even higher.
My own forecast is that the demand for fossil fuels and especially coal and gas will peak in the coming decade. Demand for gas might still rise, as the greenhouse gas emissions from its use are smaller, and with gas-fired power plants it is easier to balance out the inevitable uneven production from wind and solar. In the Global South, the advantage of solar power is that – unlike in Finland – the power demand peak occurs during the cooling season, in summertime.
It remains to be seen what the effects of this major transformation will be in terms of fossil fuel exploration and the production and price of fossil fuels. It seems that OPEC’s share of global oil production may soon to dip below 30% as a result of current production limitations.
In this situation the goal set by our new Government of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 – as a forested country making use of nuclear power – feels reasonable. Of course, there’s a lot of work to be done, especially in the transport and heating sectors.
In the past year, a great deal of effort has been put into improving the activities of the Ministry, and the work goes on.
Last year’s participants in the Training Course for Newly Recruited Diplomats and the Induction Course for Administrative Career Staff have already started work in various parts of our organisation. Applications for the next Training Course for Newly Recruited Diplomats are now being taken. A new induction course for administrative staff is also in the works, with a particular focus on immigration issues. We aim to provide more resources for immigration work. This will enable us to do our part with regard to the Government’s objectives for labour and other immigration.
Next week, we will start a mid-stage training for officials who have been with us for about ten years. Last spring, we organised a special training day for heads of units. As we know from our own experience, people in these positions are often very isolated and under a lot of pressure. In addition to improving learning, education ideally helps in establishing networks with colleagues.
We commissioned an external consultant to study how to better fight harassment and inappropriate treatment. The ideas that emerged are being put into practice. And just so that we’re clear on this: the Ministry and its management have zero tolerance for harassment and inappropriate treatment.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is a workplace that also affects the lives of our family members. For many spouses, the pension cover is insufficient due to our foreign assignments. This shortcoming has been addressed with special allowances. The level of these has been seriously lagging behind though, and we’re currently in discussion with the Ministry of Finance with a view to increasing the sum to be paid for each month spent abroad.
In the case of families with children, the costs of daycare in many places are so high that a significant part of the public official’s salary is used for early childhood education and care. However, a change is to be made that will significantly reduce the costs of early childhood education and care paid by families with children.
We will also work to improve guidance for the activities of the Ministry and the missions. This autumn, as usual, operating and financial plans will be drawn up for the next four years, based on the Government Programme. In the following years of the parliamentary term, the missions will draw up annual plans and the budgets to implement them. The importance of annual discussions in guiding and directing the missions will be further emphasised. In my own experience, regular video discussions between the directing departments and missions are a useful way to bring together the teams dealing with each country or subject area.
At last year’s meeting of heads of mission, the President of the Republic made a strong statement that really stuck with me: “Remember to listen to the weak signals from your host countries and turn them into strong signals to be sent back to Helsinki.” A clear piece of advice that I hope you too will remember.
Finland will never possess the resources of a superpower when it comes to data collection and analysis. On the other hand, as a medium-sized country with a high level of education and little focus on hierarchies, we can effectively detect weak signals and relay them to our policymakers.
Under the conflicting pressures of our various tasks, it’s good to remember that reporting is an integral part of our work; it’s part of what justifies the existence of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. As heads of mission, you have a special role to play in detecting trends in your countries or organisations – not many Finns have the kind of extensive and versatile network of contacts that you have. Certainly not anyone whose task it is to inform our Government of these matters.
But what you see and hear will not automatically turn into knowledge of world affairs here in Helsinki. So, be bold. Talk to us about the phenomena and trends that you anticipate will become relevant to Finland. Remember: big things have small beginnings.
Now, I’m not going to start analysing the figures for last year’s reporting achievements in detail here. Suffice it to say that the results have been uneven. I trust that you’ll take note of this. I will also personally keep an eye on this matter.
Last year we had a session on artificial intelligence. This year, we’re talking about foresight, which will hopefully also benefit the reporting. We will hear from top-tier experts and also the experiences of our own missions. And you will of course be able to participate yourself, in the group work and analyses of the results.
I’m not going to say more on the subject for now, except to mention a sentence that impressed me last Friday at a foresight event held at the House of the Estates: “Uncertainty is not a liability, but an asset”.
The debate on artificial intelligence has kept evolving, and we’re currently considering how we could make better use of all the information that the missions and the Ministry produce as emails or messages in ARKKI, the record and distribution management system. Currently, the dissemination of the information to interested parties depends too much on how the author shares it. There are a few countries that have this kind of data analytics in place. The project is still in its early stages, but hopefully next year there will be something to report.
Extensive cooperation between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Business Finland has become a new normal both in the missions and here in Helsinki. The new Government Programme gives this work strong backing, as both the Ministry and Business Finland can strengthen their networks around the world. The heading “Globally influential Finland” in the Government Programme is gaining a very concrete meaning.
The smooth running of the network of missions is based on common processes and tools. We have already received positive feedback on the Team Finland annual plans from business and industry organisations. The most important of the common tools is the client management system Kasvu CRM. It is now essential that this tool is taken up so that others can know what services companies have been provided with and what services the missions have offered.
The results of the client feedback system introduced last year give us cause to be very satisfied. We averaged 4.3 on a scale from 0 to 5. I thank you all. Feedback will also be available on Thursday evening at the Confederation of Finnish Industries event, after the Team Finland Day. Getting feedback from clients is not an end in itself. It provides us with an understanding of our performance and, at the same time, input on what we need to develop further.
Finland is a strong supporter of the multilateral system, and we also seek to strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of EU activities. We do this by influencing the policies and programmes of international organisations. But we can also influence matters by getting Finns into key positions in these organisations.
As far as the EU is concerned, the situation is still fairly good, but it will not remain so for long if young Finns can’t be encouraged to apply for positions at the European institutions. In the Foreign Service, we still hold three positions as head of delegation, since our colleague Sinikka Antila was appointed as EU Ambassador to Namibia. Sofie From-Emmesberger serves as the permanent chair of the Political and Security Committee (PSC).
And, it was a big deal for Finland when Petteri Taalas was reappointed as Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. I would like to thank you all for your efforts to achieve this objective. Petteri has a key role in climate issues within the UN system, and it’s excellent that a Finn is in such a central position now, at such a turning point in global climate policy. Finns have been appointed to other significant positions, such as at the UNDP and the WFP. This work will continue.
A decision on the refurbishment of Merikasarmi was made during the past year, and the work is in progress. Some of us will get to move in already in early 2021, and the rest will follow at the end of the summer that same year. The work has progressed on schedule, and we have every reason to believe that the deadlines will be met.
We are currently mainly operating from four locations: Kirkkokatu, Eteläesplanadi, Kanavakatu and the Government Palace. It’s not optimal, but we’ll have to cope a while longer. Most of us work in multi-purpose office facilities. This will also be true for the refurbished Merikasarmi. As always in life, people’s experiences vary. Some think that working together with colleagues helps things run more smoothly; others find it difficult to concentrate when there’s no peace while working. The one thing almost everyone seems happy about, especially at Eteläesplanadi, is the location in the centre of Helsinki.
The properties abroad that are owned by Finland and managed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have accumulated a significant backlog of repairs over the years. Working with the Ministry of Finance, we’re in the process of finalising a new strategy on state properties abroad, which will enable us to reduce the repair backlog over the next few years. It’s very good if we can manage our properties more systematically in this way. And it’s high time, I’m sure many of you would say.
Many important issues did not make it into this speech. I deliberately left the presentation of the Government Programme and its foreign policy implications to the Prime Minister and the other ministers. We’ll have dedicated sessions on the EU and the development of the relations between the superpowers.
Since the last meeting of heads of mission, we have received sad news of the passing of some of our very good, long-time colleagues: Alec Aalto, Harry Helenius, Irmeli Mustonen and Klaus Sahlgren. I would now ask you to rise to honour the memory of these former colleagues.