Amb. Harry Gustaf Helenius (Ambassador of Finland to Germany)

07.11.2010 - Interview conducted by Ana Lucas Palomares & Mark Warman

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Q1. Germany is a major destination for Finnish investments, how has the current economic crisis affected the strong economic relationship between Finland and Germany?

We have three partners in foreign trade, usually competing for first place. These are Germany, Russia and sometimes Sweden. Russia is number one when the energy prices are high, Germany is the one that we trade in industrial goods in both exports and imports. The financial crisis hit in general the demand for industrial goods; our exports just like the German exports are mostly based on industrial goods. So our exports and imports with Germany went down in the beginning of the financial crisis almost 30%. It is coming up now, as you know the global trade is recovering very quickly, so I think we will have a surge in our trade relations again. Of course this will happen not only with Germany but in general our exports will increase.

Q2. What is your opinion on the debate in many European countries on immigration and what is the experience of Finland concerning the influence of other cultures??

I think it is a very important subject and it is something that in most European countries migration is the question at the top of the political agenda. Its linked to a European common problem, and that is the demographic development of our region. Germany and Northern Europe, and some of the Southern European countries, have a very negative demographic development. That means that we will need continuing immigration in order to make up for loss of manpower in production and in our industries. The political difficulties included in that in something that we will all share, some countries have it already but some not yet, for example in Finland we donít have many immigrants so far but I think in say 5/9 years time we will have a significant amount. Our national culture has strong influences from different directions, like most European national cultures do. The strongest influence upon us was when we were a part of the Swedish kingdom for 700 years, the Nordic European culture. Through Sweden we always got influences from French culture in the time of the enlightenment. But also the Baltic sea was a binding sea, just like the Mediterranian is for the surrounding countries. We had strong influence from German culture- one example of that is the success of the reformation of the church in the Nordic countries. But on the other hand we had the Russian culture on the eastern side. We have been lucky to have many influences and still maintain a solid national profile in our culture, a very European one.

Q.3. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation moved towards a market-based and globally integrated economy. Russia does have a strong economy, but that is due in large part to their abundance of natural resources such as oil, precious metals, and agriculture. Private ownership still highly centralized, and is heavily influenced by the state. Do you think the economic reforms in a post-Soviet era have been effective for the Russian federation, or do improvements need to be made?

In the economic sphere the legislation from the early 90s has been successful. Russia has certainly moved away from a state planned economy to a market economy and today most of the economy of Russia could be said to be a properly functioning market economy. The sector where the legislation in Russia lacks development is the soft side of society, that is in democratic structures concerning the rights of the individual versus the state, and there is still quite a lot to do.

Q4. The issue of Turkey's membership into the EU has been a very divisive one. Berlusconi has stated that he wants and feels Russia will one day join the EU. However, many suggest, Putin included, that it does not make sense for Russia to join the EU. What are your thoughts on this subject, and do you feel that the current frameworks between Russia and the EU are effective as it relates to things such as security, economy, and education?

I do not think that the relations between Russia and the EU are satisfactory today. They should be much closer. When I was ambassador in Russia I was asked the same question, can Russia become a member of the EU, and I used the say the day they fulfill the conditions of course they can. Knowing the Russian mind I think Russia, rightly so, also thinks itís a big power, sometimes they think they are a superpower, and that actually they are not joining any unions, they are their sovereign. I think we should be consistent in the integration processes between the EU and Russia.

Q5. How can cultural diplomacy play a role in Russian European Relations?

I think it is certainly an essential piece of the whole question. The Russians themselves have an ongoing discussion on whether Russia a part of Europe or not. Culturally of course it is a central part of European culture. It is something that we accept and we should more effectively use in our contact with the Russians- see that they belong to Europe not only culturally and historically but also, today, economically and perhaps sometime also politically.

Thank you for your time.