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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » March 31, 2015
Finland in Poland
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Flourishing Relations
March 31, 2015   
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Finland’s ambassador to Poland, Hanna Lehtinen, talks to Ewa Hancock.

What is the state of Polish-Finnish relations today, in a period of international tensions?
Polish-Finnish relations are flourishing today. An official state visit by the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, to Poland will be another important milestone in our relations.

As members of the EU, our ministers and heads of government meet each other regularly in both the European and bilateral context. We are often very like-minded. For example, both Finland and Poland attach great importance to economic growth, competitiveness and a strong internal market. On some other issues we might agree to disagree, as is customary within a family. There is a very close dialogue between our two countries. It will no doubt continue after the parliamentary elections in both countries this year.

At the moment Finland and Poland share a common concern about the security situation in the Baltic Sea Region and we are intensifying our dialogue also on these matters.

One driving force in our relations are people-to-people contacts. I was, for example, extremely surprised to learn that there are so many Finnish students studying in Poland and so many Poles studying Finnish.

What are the strongest and weakest areas in relations between the two countries?
It is difficult to choose just one strong area but maybe it would be trade and investment. Poland ranks among Finland’s 10 most important trading partners. The value of Finnish exports to Poland was some 1.3 billion euros in 2013. According to our estimates, over 200 Finnish companies have located industrial and service production in Poland, with total investment exceeding 2 billion euros and employing close to 30,000 people.

Our economic relations cover a wide range of business areas like energy, infrastructure and raw material-saving, clean-technology solutions, logistics, defense, design, education and business process outsourcing. There is still much room to expand our economic relations and I hope that the visit of the Finnish president will give boost to numerous new cooperation initiatives between our countries.

The weakest area in our relations is perhaps the fact that in spite of all these interactions, Finland still remains a relatively unknown country for many Poles. The Moomins and Santa Claus enjoy huge popularity in Poland, but people don’t necessary identify them with Finland.

Let us take another example, tourism. While the Finns seem to be discovering Poland little by little as a tourist destination, there are still relatively few tourists from Poland to Finland. Our country has a lot to offer and the Finnish climate is not as bad as they say. Skiing in northern Finland in March-April is usually a very sunny experience and our summers have lately been reminiscent of those in Spain—just like in the Moomin Valley!

Finnair flies to Helsinki both from Warsaw and Cracow and it is opening a daily connection between Gdañsk and Helsinki in May.

Fortunately we have recently gained a new trump card in terms of making Finland known in Poland: the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw was designed by the Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki, who is said to be the most famous Finn in Poland at present.

In light of recent military and political tensions in Eastern Europe, is Finland considering joining NATO?
Finland is not a member of NATO, but in many ways the alliance influences Finland’s security. The possibility of engaging in dialogue and tangible cooperation with NATO through the partnership remains valuable for Finland’s security. NATO is also considering questions associated with comprehensive security but in these questions its role is not as central to Finland as that of the EU. In military terms, NATO will remain the most important actor in Europe for the foreseeable future. We have been satisfied to note that NATO has reformed its partnership policy in such a manner that it provides an opportunity for considering new openings with partner countries selectively.

Under the current government policy, Finland is maintaining the option of joining NATO. We have parliamentary elections in mid-April. So far the focus of the debate has rather been on economic issues, but the question of joining NATO will no doubt figure in the election debate. The number of Finns supporting NATO membership is at present between 25 and 30 percent. It has lately increased, but not considerably.

Could “Finlandization”—referring to a relationship with Russia like that of Finland—prove a solution for Ukraine?
As Rene Nyberg, Finland’s former ambassador to Moscow, writes in an article for The New York Times: If you want to get a rise out of a Finn, start talking about “Finlandization” and small countries’ subservience to their larger neighbors.

During the Cold War, the word “Finlandization” was sometimes used in the West to indicate Soviet influence on small countries. In Finland we felt that this was an unfair description of our situation. Firstly, Finland was a unique case since it was never occupied by the Red Army. Secondly, Finland survived and prospered after World War II. Finland was far from a vassal to the Soviet Union. It maintained its democracy, low-profile military defense and, above all, its Western orientation. The strategy worked because Finland remained true to its principles: credible defense, a strong free-market system and a transparent and efficient administrative system.

The situation of Ukraine is completely different today. I believe that the reform program of the Ukrainian government should be pursued both for the country’s own sake and for Europe’s sake. Credible defense, a strong free market system and a transparent and efficient administrative system would no doubt also help Ukraine out of its current dramatic situation.
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