It is a pleasure to address you today on the Emerald Island. It was an honour to accept this invitation from my dear colleague, Minister Thomas Byrne. I want to emphasize how highly I value our cooperation in the General Affairs Council. Ireland is a crucial partner for Finland. Among other things this was showcased most recently by the visit of Taoiseach Micheál Martin to Finland last week. I also had the opportunity to participate in this discussion with our Prime Minister, Ms. Sanna Marin.
In these historical times, it feels especially significant to speak at this site that is no short of history on its own, the Dublin Castle. In the more than 800 years that the Castle has stood, those gathered here from one era to another have witnessed the fate of Europe and the world.
Moreover, the timing of this event has a deeper message. We are approaching Good Friday, the fear of death, and thereafter Easter for resurrection and rebirth. For Europe these times are truly a Zeitenwende, turning point of history. For us Europeans it is time to choose either a stronger European union, or let it become moribund, weaker and disunited. Surely the choice is clear.
What is the world that this Zeitenwende is leaving behind? For more than thirty years there has been an attempt to build a global system of interdependence, common principles and more or less binding rules. A common home for humanity. It was comforting to think that so called economic realities would change also Russia. Wandel durch Handel, they said, change through trade.
What has become of this rules-based world order? In a bout of pessimism, I may have to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s words about how one goes to bankruptcy. First gradually, then suddenly.
In 2005 President Putin described the dissolution of Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Nostalgia, we thought. In Munich security conference in 2007 he attacked the so-called unipolar world led by USA. Pointless lamentation, we thought. Then came war in Georgia, annexation of Crimea, the war in Eastern Ukraine. Now there is a war in Europe, and Russia has quite openly declared its intention to build spheres of interest and to finish Ukraine as an independent and sovereign country. They are Malorossians, little-Russians, President Putin writes.
For the past seven weeks the Ukrainians have shown that they are a nation and will remain a nation, at whatever cost it may take.
Russia is in decline. Looking back, when we think of Russia in the last decades, I would like to quote Mary Robinson, the first Irish female president: “Today’s human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow’s conflicts.” This has certainly been proven right with Russia. A history of silencing freedom, media and the civil society, has played a major role in Putin’s tactics. This is why human rights violations, including violations of rule of law, are so dangerous. And this is why Europe needs to uphold both the peace and universal human rights now more than ever.
Ladies and gentlemen,
So far there is no authoritarian league to stand against democracies. At the UN General Assembly, Russia was supported only by Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea. There is, however, a large group of nations that can be described as non-aligned. The countries like India, South Africa and many others. At first it is hard to understand. Aren’t they appalled when they see the crimes perpetrated in Ukraine? They may be. But from their point of view these crimes are not so different from the ones that were committed by al Assads regime in Syria, or Wagner mercenaries in Central Africa. And we did not think that these acts were sufficient to exclude Russia from the civilized world.
This non-aligned world is much like its predecessors in the yesterday’s world of cold war. Connecting this part of the world is possible only through United Nations. The value of United Nations for upholding universal human rights and for providing a forum for global discourse will grow.
There are authoritarian regimes, non-aligned countries and, thankfully, there is something that can be called a free world, with strong institutions and organisations for co-operation.
I am truly thankful that United States and Western European nations did not dismantle NATO after the cold war. My thankfulness is there regardless of the case whether Finland eventually joins NATO or continues as a close partner of NATO.
I’m grateful that America is back. I am happy to have an Irishman Joe Biden as it’s president. However, I am also happy to see that the internal divisions within USA are not threatening its capabilities. The isolationist wing of Republican party is still a small minority.
Together USA, European Union, and their democratic allies have more than a billion strong population, overwhelming economic power and superb military capabilities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The world of global co-operation and forward march of shared common values is lost, at least for some time. The question is: what to do next? More poignantly: what European Union has to do next? In the last decades, for long periods of time, the discussion on the European Union’s security and defence policy were dormant. That is no longer the case. Europe has woken up.
The immediate task for Europe is of course the case for Ukraine and the case for stopping Russian aggression. The war is waged on Ukrainian soil, but it is an attack on the entire European security system. I am sure that I do not have to convince this room that the issue of Ukraine is our business.
I am thankful that nations like Estonia and Poland kept a cool headed, realistic analysis vis-a-vis Russia. For them Russia’s actions came as a shock but not as a surprise. Ukraine is but a one step to bring back the former Russian empire. If Putin wins, he will not stop. I dare not speculate what might happen next, which country might be the next. I do not want to speculate, still less I do not want to see it happen.
And yes, Finland too was deeply shocked, but we had never stepped back from preparing for the worst. We simply had hoped that our preparedness, such as maintaining domestic food production, a large conscript army and stockpiles of strategic materials, would never become necessary in time of crisis.
The EU has responded to Russia’s attack with unprecedented speed, determination and unity. We have so far adopted five packages of sanctions, with further sanctions already being prepared. The EU has supported Ukraine through many different means, and we are also responding to the humanitarian crisis at hand.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Moving forward the European Union and its member states must prepare for growing challenges. Our institutions and policies need strengthening.
The first thing to do is to strengthen Europe as a foreign and security policy actor. The Strategic Compass determines the direction of the EU’s security and defence cooperation and its objectives over the next 5 to 10 years. The necessity for its adoption was made all the more clear by the current context. But that is not all. It is not enough to merely adopt the Strategic Compass. We must follow through on its execution. This is of particular importance to Finland.
The foundation of EU’s role in common security is already enshrined in Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union: “If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”
From the beginning of its membership Finland has perceived EU not as a mere body for economic co-operation but as a provider of security to its members. Threats related to Europe’s defence and security constitute an ultimate challenge, a test of the deepest kind, of our solidarity. I believe the European Union’s strength is based on its solidarity. This solidarity has been tried and tested on many occasions in the past.
Let us also remember, that wars are never waged only on soil; they are waged on ideas and values. Defending our values and our way of life requires solidarity in the face of security and defence threats.
European security cannot be discussed without discussing the role of NATO. Cooperation and complementarity between the European Union and NATO’s efforts is not something new: this is also plainly stated in the Treaties. For NATO member states, the organization remains the foundation of their collective defence. The EU’s common security and defence policy has always respected the obligations of those Member States which see their common defence realised in NATO. This does not prejudge the member states’ sovereignty to make their own decisions. Several EU member states are militarily non-allied.
As we speak Finland is debating in a very fundamental manner the future of its own defence and security policy. Finland has been militarily non-aligned, but has not been neutral: since joining the European Union, we have been part of the western sphere, and according to polls, the majority of Finns now want to join NATO. It is certainly a call to us decision makers to swiftly analyse the situation and make decisions. And let me assure you: we are ready for that. Finland will make its assessment of the changed security policy landscape and the necessary conclusions this spring, swiftly and determinedly.
Secondly, Europe needs a swift and determined action to bolster our open strategic autonomy. This does not mean that the goal should be a fortress Europe isolated from global trade. What it does mean is that Europe must detach itself from dependency on Russian energy. We must speed up our efforts towards climate neutrality. We must make massive investments and brace the economic uncertainty now to ensure our prosperity in the long run. We have many options for weathering the effects of the economic uncertainty caused by the war and the energy transition. The single market and free trade are at the heart of our competitiveness and must remain so.
The third conclusion to be drawn for Europe is that we must ensure the overall preparedness of our societies. We must improve Europe’s resilience.
We can only do this by ensuring the full respect of the principle of rule of law – the very foundation of our Union. The rule of law is not simply a question of idealistic principles but has also concrete effects. It is about resilience, it is about the smooth functioning of the internal market, and it is about safeguarding mutual trust.
We must defend the Union from authoritarian tendencies, which have in the last years become all too familiar even within the union. Only by nurturing our values can we defend the European way of life – and be the true EU that so many countries wish one day to become member of. Well-functioning institutions, public confidence in authorities, and rule of law create resilience. That is because resilience and crisis preparedness are never simply a matter of material preparedness.
And finally, in order to enhance peace on a global level, European Union and its member states need to remain active within the United Nations. The UN has a unique role for maintaining international peace. And as much as Russia using its permanent seat at the Security Council is a challenge to the UN from within, there are UN bodies that can enhance peace.
The Union has always been shaped by the challenges it has faced. All the 27 member states were united when Great Britain implemented its unfortunate decision to leave the Union. We all understood the problems for peace and prosperity arising from the prospect of once again deepening the division of the Irish island. And eventually, all the 27 member states were united in defeating the covid-19 epidemic and its dire economic consequences. Our EU is and it must be strong and united.
Dear friends, we are approaching the most important Christian holiday of the year.
Good Friday signifies sacrifice and Easter signifies the defeat of death, the hope for salvation. I believe that this message – being reborn through sacrifice – strongly resonates with this day and age.
The sacrifices that Ukraine has had to make, the blood that has been shed and the human suffering that Russia has caused are unfathomable. Ukraine is now the real-life battlefield between democracy and autocracy. It is also a battlefield between small nations and imperialism. Ukraine is not small country in a same sense as Ireland or Finland. Instead of five million people it has got 44 million. Yet its national anthem begins with the words that proclaim that it is still alive. It is a nation that has had no dreams of conquest and empire-building, but survival.
The challenges that we as Europe face are huge, and the choices that we must make will not be easy. Yet, faced with war on our continent, the sacrifices that Europe is called upon to make right now are small. We can and we will weather the economic effects of the war, the sanctions, and the necessary energy transition. We will do so to ensure that a sovereign Ukraine will be reborn. Our values will live ever after.
I want to finish by emphasizing again the message that the strength of the European Union lies in its solidarity. We cannot choose our neighbours or the times we live in, but we can choose how we react. We have reacted by strengthening our European Union. Let us continue on that path.