Eastern European Time Zone UTC+02:00
Capital City Helsinki
National Day 6 December
TRAVELLING OVERLAND FROM Helsinki by car, Finland’s new Ambassador Markku Keinänen arrived in London in early June. “The journey was so easy, and you really see the value of Europe; you simply pass over borders while the countries and cultures change round you. I’m proud of all we’ve achieved in continental Europe.” For now, he will commute between the two capitals, where his wife is taking care of her elderly parents.
A great fan of classical music, Ambassador Keinänen looks forward to indulging this passion in London. “Finland is lucky to have so many world-famous directors: Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra is Sakari Oramo OBE and Santtu-Matias Rouvali will be the next Principal Conductor of London Philharmonia Orchestra after Esa-Pekka Salonen.”
Growing up in the lake area of eastern Finland, a number of his family members were civil servants. He had the opportunity to travel abroad with his parents as a child, which kindled an interest to see the world. “Although I started in this small, country village, the education system and the fact we all have equal opportunities in Finland meant I had no real difficulties reaching this position.”
Originally training as a lawyer, he also studied Spanish. This stood him well, as soon after he entered the Finnish Foreign Service, he was called to the Embassy in Madrid. “Spain was my first posting and has remained an important place in my life. I not only closely follow Spanish football, but now I even have a Spanish daughter-in-law!” he exclaims. In 1995, the year that Finland entered the EU, he was proud to become the youngest member of the EU Action Negotiation Team, and EU affairs have remained firmly on the table for the rest of his career. He then followed the team to Brussels, where they served as the country’s first representatives in charge of Finland´s first EU Presidency.
Ambassador Keinänen then had an opportunity to serve in the Prime Minister’s office, again dealing with EU issues, then progressing to become Director of the EU Unit at the Foreign Ministry, handling his country’s second EU Presidency. As Finland’s Ambassador to Spain (2009-13), he found himself having to be “fairly hawkish on economic issues. The financial crisis had hit, and Spain, (as well as the rest of Europe), was having some serious difficulties.”
He acquired a broad knowledge of EU and trade policy as Under-Secretary of State for External Economic Relations at the MFA. “So, I come to London with my experience from trade negotiations and the reality of Brussels,” he considers. “If the outcome is Brexit, the UK will have to negotiate some kind of new deal with Europe. I was previously a member of the trade policy committee, which is dealing with these agreements, so it’s good to have insider knowledge of the decision-making process.”
Not to forget the valuable knowledge the Ambassador acquired as Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy in London from 2007-09. Now back in the UK, he’s found “London and its people to be as charming as always. But Brexit is issue number one,” which naturally effects his priorities in the UK.
These start with Finland’s third EU Presidency, which focuses on “growth, security and climate policy. We Finns are pragmatic. We believe in a Europe based on these concrete themes, where it really can provide added value.” With regards to growth, the internal market and trade policy, he says, “we are stronger as a bloc of 500 million persons. But if Britain leaves the EU, we must create new linkages. We are close friends with Britain, and we would like to remain close friends in the future. These bilateral interests won’t disappear. We are likeminded in many ways.” On a practical level, he identifies the biggest change as “the fact that we will no longer meet the British in Brussels. The common interests are there, but we will have to establish a new way of regularly exchanging views.” Trade relations are a strong part of that, so he’ll be tapping into his expertise in this area and continuing the close cooperation in military issues between the two countries. “That’s not to forget forging culture links and working with the Finnish community – around 20,000 we think,” he remarks.
What does Ambassador Keinänen think is Finland’s greatest diplomatic challenge? “We have 1,300km of border with Russia. While we are loyal members of the EU and commit to EU decisions, we still have close relations with Russia. Finland is the biggest investor per capita in Russia.”
As his country holds the current Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ambassador of Finland Markku Keinänen says even small countries like his can show leadership on climate issues