Summit of Finnish ambassadors encourages small footprint, big impact

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto says that amid a host of international crisis, Finnish policies and diplomacy can have a positive influence.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) gives a speech at Ambassador's meeting, Helsinki 19th August 2019 / Credit: Petri Krook, UM

An annual meeting of Finnish ambassadors has heard that in a time of global uncertainty, the country’s diplomats can pay an important role.

The event brought ambassadors from around the world to Helsinki to hear for the first time from Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP), Minister for International Trade Ville Skinnari (SDP) and Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green).

Haavisto outlined the many challenges facing the international community from the US-China trade war, to nuclear non-proliferation; from pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, to shootings in America and refugees on ships in the Mediterranean being denied permission to dock at EU ports.

But Haavisto also pointed out areas where Finland takes the lead, including setting ambitious targets to become carbon neutral in the government programme. The foreign minister noted that Sweden and Denmark too had laid out their own forward-looking plans, and that the Arctic region was becoming the focus of attention not just for environmental issues but geopolitics as well.

“Climate change is, in Europe and in the world, by far the biggest and most serious security threat. We can already see what kind of widespread problems there are with drought and extreme weather in many parts of the world, and how these problems are reflected in the tensions between countries” said Haavisto.

“Water crises are not the future, they are a present-day problem. Finland brings new technology and expertise to solving some of these water issues” he told diplomats.

Finland can offer examples in other parts of the world like the Middle East, according to Haavisto.

Citing a recent visit to the region, the foreign minister said that Baltic Sea cooperation could be a good model of cooperation for other groups of coastal neighbours to follow.

“Saudi Arabia also expressed the need for increased regional cooperation in the development of the Red Sea. My visit showed that perhaps the history of cooperation in the Baltic Sea could well be used as an example internationally of different countries and governments cooperating across borders.”

As this is the first gathering of Finnish ambassadors since the new coalition government came to office in June, Pekka Haavisto emphasised the key themes of the foreign policy as tackling climate change; human rights; freedom of expression, the rule of law, reproductive and women’s and girls’ rights, and tackling climate change – but said that Finland shouldn’t “preach” about those values. Instead, said Haavisto, Finnish diplomats should stand up for those princples that are important to the country, and promote their implementation in practice.

Warning for diplomats on harassment

At the end of the speech, Pekka Haavisto touched on the issue of harassment in the workplace – a sensitive topic for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The minister said there was “no place” for any sort of bullying or harassment at the Ministry or at diplomatic missions overseas.

An anonymous survey in the spring found 1-in-6 ministry employees said they had experienced some form of harassment; but many were worried about saying anything to their boss in case it might damage their career prospects.

Haavisto promised “immediate intervention” if he heard of any sort of inappropriate workplace behaviour.

The ambassador summit continues on Tuesday when President Sauli Niinistö will be giving a speech ahead of his bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.

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