Our Foreign Policy Is Based on Universal Values; No Link with Conversion or Evangelization : Finnish Ambassador

Mr. Pertti Anttinen is the Ambassador of Finland to Nepal. He calls himself “new’ here as he took charge only about three months ago. Before being appointed as the envoy to Nepal, Mr. Anttinen was Senior Adviser at the Department for Africa and the Middle East in Finland government. Earlier he also served as the Ambassador to Zambia and  worked in Finland’s embassies in South Africa, Ireland and Turkey.

Mr. Anttinen gave an exclusive interview to Pariwartnakhabar.Com on 11th December, 2018. Some editing has been done for grammatical correctness, clarity and brevity. Excerpts:

AK Vanprasthi: Your Excellency, first of all we extend our hearty thanks to you for sparing you valuable time to speak to Pariwartankhabar.com, a leading bi-lingual online news portal of the country. My first question: could you please briefly elaborate Finland’s foreign and security policies?

Ambassador Anttinen: Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to give my views through your news channel. I am quite new in Nepal. I have only three months’ experience here. So I am glad to share whatever I know about Finland-Nepal relations as well as the broader context of Finnish foreign and security policy, and also development policy.

To answer your question, I think Finland’s foreign and security policy aims at preserving our independence as a country, democratic core values of the society, and promoting the well-being and security of our citizens.

We are very firmly anchored to the European Union. So as a member state of European Union and the international community, we want to exercise foreign policy with a view to securing our national interest and contribute to the broader issues such as world peace and global development. This means well-being of the people of the world, including Nepal, and also peace and stability globally. Thus our foreign policy is linked to the development policy in the broader foreign policy goals.

AK Vanprasthi: What is the development policy of Finland and how is it related to the foreign and security policy?

Ambassador Anttinen: Well-being of people globally as well as global peace and stability form the core interests of our foreign and security policy. That links our development policy to our broader policy goals.

It is in nobody’s interest that there are less well-off countries, insecure countries, and not well functioning countries. Therefore, through our development policy and development cooperation, we are trying to address those issues, including developmental issues. At the moment, our focus is on eradication of poverty, and equality. Promotion of sustainable development goals is very high on our agenda.

We have four specific priorities in our development policy. The first one is the rights and status of women and girls. I am a strong believer of inclusion. There should be no barriers, whether gender based or any other consideration based. The second priority is to support growth in our partner countries. Nepal is one of them. Generation of more jobs, livelihoods and well-being are in everybody’s interest. The third one is democratic and better functioning societies.  And the fourth one is food security, access to water and sustainable use of natural resources.

AK Vanprasthi: What are the major factors that contribute to formulation of development policy of Finland?

Ambassador Anttinen: In Finland, each government issues its own development policy. However, there are some elements of continuity in policy. Poverty eradication is one of them. Emphasis on the role of women and girls has been there for a long time.

Every government has its own domestic priorities and also foreign policy priorities. To some extent, these priorities are reflected in our development policy. For instance, the present government has placed more emphasis on the role of the private sector in job creation. So our present policy reflects that sort of focus area more than during the previous government. We will have elections next year. Based on the government then, I think we might see another set of priorities coming through.

AK Vanprasthi: Finland is a member state of the European Union. What is the interconnection between Finland’s foreign policy and the EU’s policy?

Ambassador Anttinen:  Yes, you are right. Finland has been the member of the European Union since 1995. I think the membership has been very important for Finland. We have transformed a lot during our presidency. I wish to mention that Finland will actually take over EU’s presidency next year on 1st July for six months. That is a major role for us. It is a major role for a country like Finland or any other member state.

We are very strong supporters of the common foreign and security policy of EU. We also want to be active member state in formulation (of policy). I think the EU has been very successful in using European soft power. Many rounds of engagement have been there. We have new member states. It is a big union at present. We have been able to maintain peace and security in the union area.

We also have been able to create lots of wealth and well-being for our citizens, which previous generations could only imagine. This is a big achievement which sometimes is forgotten. The times are a little bit turbulent at the moment in Europe and also globally.

AK Vanprasthi: Could you please briefly explain the priority areas in the development policy of Finland?

Ambassador Anttinen: I may have actually already gone into them. We have four priority areas that I tried to explain: the rights and status of women and girls; promotion and growth of developing  countries including well-being of people; democratic and better functioning societies; and, food security, access to water and sustainable use of natural resources. All these are linked to the system of development goals.

AK Vanprasthi: How do your to advance Finland’s development policy goals?

Ambassador Anttinen: If we are talking about the broader framework, we obviously have avenues to try to implement our development policy and also promote the goals. We have seven development partners globally including Nepal. Finland has been in Nepal since 1980s. We established our embassy here in 1992.

In Nepal, we have a full country program which we are executing together with the government and local partners. We also have international partners, such as the UN (United Nations), the UN system, and the UN agencies. We are strong supporters of the UN agencies.

For instance, here in Nepal we are working together with UNICEF and UN Women. We have our contribution to the EU’s development funding. As a member state, we also contribute to the European Union’s development policy and implementation of its goals.

I think I have to say something which is very important. I think we always have to have local ownership. In absence of local ownership, whatever we are trying to do is never going to happen – whether its government, or local communities or local authorities. I think we have been quite successful in Nepal.

AK Vanprasthi: some analysts and observers in Nepal see a strong link between the European Union’s policies and propagation of Christianity. Would you like to offer your comments?

Ambassador Anttinen: I don’t see that happening. If I comment from Finnish foreign ministry’s side, I don’t see this linkage at all. We are not promoting anything which is some kind of conversion (to Christianity) or evangelization. It is strictly against all our rules.

However, one thing I want to emphasize is that our foreign policies are value based. But these values are universal. We believe in democracy, human rights, gender equality, and the rule of law, to name some of them.   I want to emphasize that sometimes, some issues are confused.

AK Vanprasthi: Could you please briefly elaborate Finland’s country strategy for Nepal?

Ambassador Anttinen: We have been in Nepal for around 30 years now. We are now implementing country strategy for 20116-19. Our overall aim is to contribute to stable, equitable, and economically viable democracy in Nepal.

We promote the most marginalized groups’ rights to education, water, sanitation and access to decision making and service delivery.  We are very much results-oriented, focusing on sectors in which Nepal, we believe, has strong ownership and where Finland has experience, expertise and value to add.

AK Vanprasthi: What are doing to promote commercial and trade opportunities in Nepal?

Ambassador Anttinen: If you are focusing on the embassy, we are very much focused on development cooperation. We want to diversify the relationship between Finland and Nepal. We have a very long horizon. We understand Nepal has a very ambitious plan including the vision for 2030. Nepal wants to become a middle income state which is very very commendable and ambitious goal.

What is needed is more trade and more commercial interactions, and also from Nepal’s side more production which Nepal can exchange with the rest of the world.

So, first of all, we try to understand the local market here. We try to identify what is there that we can add value in terms of our production. Nepal is a bit far from Finland. And Nepal’s market is relatively small. May be I can describe it as a niche market for some of Finland’s products.

But I think we are producers of solutions. We are producers of hi-tech solutions, whether it is IT or clean tech, meaning waste management, energy and so on. Finnish companies like Nokia are world players. They can contribute here in Nepal also as they have done in the past. So our task obviously is to promote Nepal as a destination for Finnish companies and also to understand better where the opportunities are for Finland.

AK Vanprasthi: Finland is renowned for its education system, especially school education. What have you done to pass on your expertise and knowhow? Have you provided or suggested any solutions to the Nepal government in the education sector?

Ambassador Anttinen: We have done a lot. Education currently is one of our three priority sectors in Nepal. Our cooperation in education sector started in late 1980s.

We have contributed to many programs such as ‘Education for All”, EFA, School Sector Reform Plan previously, and now School Sector Development Plan, where are we are partnering and committing 20 million Euros. Those are the government programs but we also have had more focused bilateral technical assistance program. We have multi-lingual education plan, SSRP, and then we have focused on soft skills (TEVT).school sector development plan. We also have an on-going TA program as well. We have provided support in training teachers with integrated curriculum development frame work including the soft skill. So there are many examples.

We also have twinning programs where we are twinning Finnish and Nepalese universities in many areas. These were just a few examples. We have been very active and have been actively trying to promote good practices in which Finland has experience.

AK Vanprasthi: Could you please tell us about your water sector cooperation in Nepal? I mean your objectives, investment and successes or failures till date.

Ambassador Anttinen: Our cooperation in water and sanitation sector dates back to 1990s. It’s a long history. At the moment, we have two ongoing bilateral programs.

Rural Village Water Resources Management Project is now running in its third phase covering 10 districts in Far West and Karnali provinces. The total budget is 60 million Euros with contributions from Finland, the EU, the government of Nepal and communities.

The other one is Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project in Western Nepal covering 14 districts of Gandaki and Province 5. Our support there is close to 50 million Euros. Moreover, we are also into micro hydro livelihood support, cooperative support, climate change, and capacity building.

We have really got local community support. Hundreds of thousands of individual people are benefitting. I think it’s more than a million people who have benefitted from this program at the moment. Its substantial number and we can be happy of the cooperation with the communities and also local authorities.

AK Vanprasthi: Gender equality and social inclusion are said to be two of the key concerns in Finland’s global development policy. What have you done in these areas in Nepal?

Ambassador Anttinen: That is a very important and pertinent question.  It is included and integrated into our programming as our cross-cutting objective. All our programs take into account our gender equality and social inclusion dimensions. We have also in the past supported the strengthening of rule of law and human rights protection system in Nepal.

I also wish to state that we are also into policy dialogue in Nepal. We are also co-chairing international donor partner working group together with UN Women and USAID. Thus,  we are also participant in policy dialogue.

It was only this morning that I was giving some opening remarks on female migration at a program organized by UN Women and the government of Nepal. We are partnering with UN Women in Nepal. Hopefully, we will be signing a contract with UN Women by the end of year for further contribution of 4 million Euros. Yes, we are investing our funds in these areas as well.

AK Vanprasthi: Could you please tell us about EU’s policies towards marginalized communities in different countries and in Nepal? What are you doing for them ?

Ambassador Anttinen: I think it is very much integrated into the European Union’s and Finland’s policies. It’s integrated into our programming.  One of our priorities is to address through our programs the marginalized groups and make sure that  they are amongst the beneficiaries and that they have high profile. It comes not only from our overall focus on eradication of absolute poverty but also from our concern that we are reaching out  to the people who are most in need.

To give you an example, in our water program, which I recently visited, they keep a very close track of each individual beneficiary, whether or not the person belongs to the marginalized group. A very detailed record is kept and we actually know the exact number of people who are benefitting belonging to groups that you just mentioned.

I am sure this concern applies to the European Union as a whole. They have a very keen interest to know that through their activities they are addressing the right groups of people. This applies not only to the government to government programs that we have implemented (but also to programs implemented through NGOs,  non-governmental organizations).

We have very strong Finnish and European Union NGO programs going on.  Many of the NGOs and civil society organizations that we are partnering here represent those communities. I want to emphasize the role of NGOs as very important partners.

AK Vanprasthi: I think Finland is very interested in promoting good governance and human rights in development partner countries. What have you done to strengthen these two crucial areas in Nepal?

Ambassador Anttinen: I think in the past we have done a lot. In the past we have supported programs of National Human rights Commission, peace process, strengthening of rule of law, foundation work for new constitution, and national action plan, to name a few. We have made substantial contribution to the stability and addressing of human rights situation in Nepal.

AK Vanprasthi: Some Finnish civil society organizations are also working in Nepal. How do you see their work?

Ambassador Anttinen: I would call it people to people relations what the civil society organizations are creating. It’s very important. There has been a long standing interest of Finnish civil society organizations in Nepal which spans to many decades. At the moment, if I remember correctly, we are talking about 15 to 20 civil society organizations of Finland that have programs in Nepal. They always have a local partner. The areas in which they have made contributions are very pertinent to social development like education, health care, women, gender equality, and environment. They are complimenting nicely.

AK Vanprasthi: What is the quantum of Finnish grant and aid to Nepal?

Ambassador Anttinen: At the moment, this year’s and last year’s, if you count all funds, we are talking about 50 million Euros on annual basis. I think that would be the level in coming couple of years. (The news government in Finland next year) will decide whether financial frames would be bigger or not. Let us wait and see.

AK Vanprasthi: One last question. What kind of future prospects do you see in Nepal-Finland relations?

Ambassador Anttinen: I think we have very good platform for our relations. Nepal and Finland have been partners in development for a long time.

There are many Nepalese who know Finland and vice versa. Many Finnish citizens know Nepal very well, whether they are from government, or from civil society, or from any other stake-holders.  So people to people knowledge and understanding is there, which is good basis for further development of our relations.

What I think we have to focus in future is to diversify from that. Finland can be good knowledge partner for Nepal beyond development cooperation. I think our companies offer good solutions to what Nepal actually needs from government sector as well as private sector.  I think there is sort of scope for diversification of relations in areas like peer learning, knowledge sharing and commercial interactions for trade relations. That is one of the avenues we should explore.

On global forum, we are strong believers of rules-based multilateral global governance. It refers to the UN system and all the international agreements including the agreement on climate change and trade agreements. That sort of multilateral frameworks serve broader international maintenance of peace and security and also promotion of international trade. And this serves directly countries like Finland and Nepal. So we (Nepal and Finland) might able to join hands further to protect these international system that sometimes are a bit under pressure at the moment.

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