Press release 175/2013
26 August 2013
Secretary of State at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Pertti Torstila is keen to emphasise that the future efficacy of Finnish foreign policy will continue to depend on the country having a wide network of foreign missions. Mr. Torstila says the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is fully committed to the Government’s ongoing savings drive, at the same time as it is facing growing expectations of service delivery.
Secretary of State Torstila was speaking at the Annual Meeting of Heads of Mission in Helsinki on Monday, 26 August.
Secretary of State Torstila referred to the expectations voiced in connection with the foreign policy seminar hosted by the President of the Republic at Kultaranta, the President’s official summer residence: “The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is an expert organisation at the epicentre of foreign and security policy, and our ability to provide an accurate environmental analysis is paramount to all. The crisis in the euro area underscores the importance of our network of missions in Europe. The situational analyses made by our decision-makers are largely based on the reports they receive from these missions.”
Secretary of State Torstila said the review of the network of Finnish missions and the services they provide was still ongoing.
“We’ve been through every known model of international presence and always arrived at the same conclusion: there’s no substitute for our actual presence around the world, even though the exact format of that presence may vary. Our network of missions has long been targeted in structural savings programmes and operational framework reforms. We’re currently looking into the legislative and operational feasibility of a network structure where services could be better tailored to local needs and where some services could be outsourced.”
According to Secretary of State Torstila another issue under consideration is whether consular services and administrative functions could be centralised, or possibly be omitted from the range of services provided altogether.
Torstila specifically mentioned the services related to entry into Finland provided in Russia. “Special mention must be made of our four offices in Russia. In 2012 we had 12 million border crossings and granted 1.4 million visas. This goes to show just how significant our pioneering efforts are in promoting grassroots contacts and mutual knowledge and understanding with Russia. Last year Russian visitors to Finland spent some 1.2 billion euros here, and that figure is continuing to rise. This has given a much-needed boost to the struggling regions of southeastern and eastern Finland. A high-quality visa service is a great way of telling our neighbours about Finland. It’s important that we maintain the high quality of this service in St.Petersburg, Moscow, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk and Kouvola.”
Commenting on how diplomacy was changing, Secretary of State Torstila referred to a joint study by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Clingendael Institute, which shows that the diplomat’s job description is indeed in great flux.
“It’s clear from the report that even the most skilful diplomacy, in its traditional form, is not alone enough. It’s necessary to take account of the traditional and new rules of geopolitics and to adapt to the new digital environment. The shift to more diversified diplomacy is gathering pace,” Torstila observed.
“Our highly skilled and professional diplomats perform very well in this environment. In order to succeed we need to have a clear picture of Finnish society and our place in our immediate region as well as in Europe and the broader world. Local knowledge based on first hand experience is pivotal to promoting Finnish interests."
One of the implications of the changing role of diplomats is that the focus of foreign missions will turn increasingly to external economic relations. “The development of our national economy, employment and welfare all depend crucially on developments beyond our national borders. We must be able to influence these external factors,” Torstila said. “This is why a new model has been launched for external economic relations and for the promotion of exports, investment and the country’s image. The Team Finland network is not just a temporary marketing project. It is a broadly-based, progressive framework aimed at greater cohesion among the various stakeholders in these fields, at a clearer division of labour among them, and at improved efficiency in resource use.”
Additional information: Director Keijo Norvanto, Unit for Communications, tel. +358 295 351 351