The force of change altering our era is the growth of interdependence. It is strengthened by numerous development trends that differ considerably from each other in many other respects. In both good and bad, the effects of growing interdependence extend to almost all areas of human activity. Isolation or acting alone will not bring lasting success, nor on the whole are they possible for any State, nation or group of people. To the foreign policy of Finland, the strengthening of interdependence means acting in an ever wider field of activity and in increasingly closer contact with other policy sectors.
In Nordic cooperation, we have sought new opportunities to strengthen Finland’s visibility and effectiveness. Nordic cooperation, among others defence cooperation, has advanced on a broad front, with very practical cooperation involving training, drills, procurement, surveillance tasks and crisis management. It is therefore natural that Finland and Sweden have expressed their willingness to participate together with Norway in monitoring the air space of Iceland. The final decision concerning Finland’s participation will be taken by the Finnish Parliament.
The EU is the central field of activity for our foreign and security policy. Thus it is important that we are constantly active and participate fully in decision-making and development of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, in enhancing the work of the Foreign Affairs Council and in strengthening the European External Action Service. It is also important that we are represented in European External Action Service and other EU institutions.
A year ago, we adopted an Action Plan for Mediation. Finland together with Turkey hosted the Ministerial Meeting of the Friends of Mediation Group in New York in September and attended mediation conferences in Istanbul and New York. Moreover, mediation was the principal theme of the International Symposium on the Åland Islands Settlement held in Geneva. In addition, this year we have established a Nordic mediation network. In all contexts I have stressed the effect of mediation on conflict prevention, the importance of cooperation in crisis situations, and the participation of women in mediation. This work will continue.
It is especially important to improve the position of women in mediation. I have in all contexts raised the central position of women in social development as well as in achieving peace and security. During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit in June, we discussed , among other things, our cooperation to improve the position of women in Afghanistan and how we can influence this in future. The position of women and our good relations with the United States were also discussed in February, when I met with Clinton in Washington.
Relations between the EU and Russia, the state of civil society and the situation in Syria rose to the fore when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia visited Helsinki on 20 August. According to Foreign Minister Lavrov, visa-free travel is still a priority in the EU policy of Russia. The foreign ministers considered it important to deepen cooperation between Finland and Russia, especially in Arctic regions and with regard to protection of the Baltic Sea. The aim is also to increase student exchanges between the two countries.
Finland’s participation in the UN’s UNIFIL mission in Lebanon together with Ireland began in the spring. I visited the mission and became acquainted with the situation of the Finnish peacekeepers in September. The intention is that responsibility for leading the Irish-Finnish battalion will be transferred from Ireland to Finland in the autumn of 2013. Thus provisions will be made to increase the strength of Finnish troops. Visible activities have been a part of Finland’s active policy to support UN crisis management efforts.
In spring, we offered ten military observers for the UN UNSMIS monitoring mission in Syria. The development of the situation in Syria is monitored closely. It is likely that the need for an international crisis management operation will be topical if hostilities cease in Syria and a political process can begin. Finland, too, should be prepared for this.
Recent events in Gaza demonstrate once again that it is easy and right to require the parties to put an end to all acts of violence, but much more difficult to say how their recurrence can be prevented. At least it will not succeed without genuine progress and a negotiation process towards a sustainable peace agreement based on the two state model that secures the living conditions and security of both Israel and the Palestinians and is perceived as equitable. It is also clear that the situation in the Middle East will be, once again, among the most important issues in the EU. Clear stands and leadership are expected of the Union, to bring an end to the violence and support a genuine peace process. In the worst case there is only a few months’ time to return to the peace process before the two state solution will in fact be dead.
In February, together with my Tanzanian colleague we organised the Helsinki Process+10 Conference in Finland. The conference themes were the game rules of the global economy, financial market regulation, prevention of economic crises and sustainable development. At the same time, we decided that the Helsinki Process network will be maintained, among others, through a new blog. The main bloggers alongside myself are Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala as well as global economic governance and sustainable development experts from around the world. I welcome you all to follow the blog writings http://helsinkiprocess.fi and comment on them!
The strength of Finland’s foreign policy, above all, is continuity. Cooperation with President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö has been just as excellent as that with his predecessor, President Tarja Halonen. For my part, I could say already in March that the policy speech of the new President did not contain a single point about which I would have disagreed. Cooperation between the President and the Government is established and takes place in good spirits.
On behalf of the entire Ministry for Foreign Affairs, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!