“the crisis calls for a multilateral and global solution”

Shielding and safeguarding

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto


August 2020 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos by Laura Kotila, Prime Minister’s Office

Green issues have been a major focus of Pekka Haavisto’s career since he became a member of Finnish parliament in 1987. A politician in Finland’s Green League — the first European green party to be part of a national cabinet — Haavisto became Europe’s first green minister, as minister for environment and development, in 1995. Between 1999 and 2005, he worked for the UN, leading several of the United Nations Environment Programme’s research groups. He served as minister for development and state ownership from 2013 to 2014, and he has been Finland’s minister for foreign affairs since last year.

What has Finland’s response to the coronavirus pandemic been?

The global health emergency caused by the coronavirus has been, and remains, a difficult challenge for everyone. It has also put the Finnish governmental system and Finnish society to the test.

Our level of preparedness for such an epidemic is good and is based on broad cooperation between all branches of public administration, businesses, organisations, and citizens. This comprehensive approach to security has helped us react to the current epidemic in an organised and effective manner.

The government’s aim has been to prevent the spread of the virus in Finland, to safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system, and to shield and protect people, especially those most at risk. Our strategy to combat the coronavirus has worked — at least for now — and, as of July, the epidemic in Finland has been brought under control. Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty concerning the behaviour of the virus, and we need to be prepared for the possibility of a new wave of infections.

What is Finland doing to support its citizens and its businesses?

In late March, when the pandemic was still in a relatively early phase in Finland, the government quickly allocated €1 billion for direct business subsidies with the goal of supporting profitable business operations and business development during and after the crisis. In addition, the state offered to guarantee bank loans for companies.

The Finnish parliament is currently working on a bill that will provide an additional €300 million to provide support for those companies and sectors of industry most impacted by the coronavirus. We hope that the measure will help companies get back on their feet after the crisis and prevent layoffs turning into redundancies.

How have you seen EU member states strengthening ties at this time?

The EU and its member states have been unequivocal that the crisis calls for a multilateral and global solution with the WHO playing a vital role.

Currently, negotiations are taking place for the next EU budget for the years 2021 to 2027 as well as an even larger EU economic recovery package. There is a shared urgency and will to do more than just business as usual to help Europe recover efficiently from this crisis and make sure that, in future, we’re even better prepared.
In Japan, EU member states have continued collaborating despite the crisis, utilising webinar tools as well as holding regular meetings while taking adequate safety measures. Cooperation hasn’t stopped, it’s just changed a bit.

In what ways is Finland sharing its experiences with Covid-19 and supporting other countries that are still struggling to fight the virus?

Since the pandemic affects every nation, we feel it’s important to work together towards a solution — no one is completely safe unless everyone is safe.

Thus, Finland has increased its humanitarian assistance amidst the crisis. In total, we have to date contributed €45 million to the global measures against the coronavirus. The support relies on strong multilateral cooperation with the WHO, UN organisations, and the Red Cross.

Part of our support also goes towards supporting the development of a coronavirus vaccine. It is important that once the vaccine has been developed, the global distribution of it will be equitable, affordable, and transparent — independent of where the vaccine is developed and from where it is funded.

The EU has committed to a joint Team Europe initiative with €36 billion dedicated to helping our partner countries’ immediate response to the health crisis, strengthening their systems to make them more resilient in the future, and aiding economic recovery.

Could you tell me about Finland’s cooperation with Japan in the international community?

Finland and Japan are both strong supporters of rules-based international order and multilateralism.

The joint declaration on our strategic partnership, agreed by Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe and President [Sauli] Niinistö in 2016, is a good basis to further develop our cooperation both bilaterally as well as in international fora. It covers a variety of issues from the political and security fields to trade, science and innovation, and the Arctic. We both value sustainability and development cooperation and are interested in increasing our collaboration in these areas. I would truly welcome this.

Could you describe your coalition government’s climate plans?

This is one of my favourite topics. Finland strives to become carbon neutral by 2035 by accelerating measures to decrease emissions and strengthen our carbon sinks. The government is committed to reforming its climate policies at both the EU and national levels. Finland also has the goal of becoming carbon negative shortly after the year 2035.

This goal will be revisited and re-evaluated in 2025 in accordance with the latest research, technological development, and measures taken by other countries.
Measures to achieve our goal will be implemented on different levels. For instance, municipalities will advance their own carbon-neutrality strategies and implement climate measures in their respective regions.

Effects on climate will be considered in all law-making, and all sectors of society will be engaged in climate action.

Finland aims to be among the world’s climate leaders, and we hope that our example and solutions clear the path for others. But it is not a one-way street — we need to keep on learning from other countries and building partnerships.

In 2019, Japan chaired the G20 summit, and one of Prime Minister Abe’s key messages was to pursue economic growth in a sustainable manner. It’s easy to agree with this. I am sure that there is a lot we can learn from each other in this respect too. It’s also good to keep in mind that there is a lot of potential for business and cooperation in the green recovery phase, which we are entering now, following the Covid-19 crisis. •

“Effects on climate will be considered in all law-making”