World Affairs from a Finnish Perspective

by Danielle Miller

On March 20, IES and the Nordic Studies Program were pleased to welcome Finland’s Ambassador to the United States, Kirsti Kauppi, for a conversation about Finland’s current affairs and the US/EU transatlantic relationship. In her talk, Kauppi spoke of how Finland’s many identities—as sovereign state, a Nordic country, an EU member, and an Arctic state—shape the country’s domestic politics and diplomatic agenda.

Kauppi began by describing Finland and its national achievements. Ranked the “happiest” nation in the world, Finland has high gender equality, holds one of the best, most democratized education systems in the world, and has an innovative and tech-oriented knowledge economy. Finland is deeply engaged in the United Nations, which—according to Kauppi—Finnish policymakers view as a crucial outlet for diverse international voices to be heard and for “rules of the road” to be laid out in an increasingly globalized world. In the UN, Finland and other Nordic countries can “punch above their weight” to push for causes they care about such as reducing inequality and combating climate change. Yet, for Finland, other memberships common among Western countries—such as NATO — are not desirable. While Finland is not a member of NATO due to low public support in Finland for joining the alliance, Kauppi notes that Finland remains a “very close partner” and has a defense force that is “interoperable” with NATO.

As a Nordic country, Finland is both influenced by and helps to define Nordic values. The “Nordic Brand,” as Kauppi puts it, is very important to Finland for its clearly defined and internationally recognized set of values centered on equality, stable democracy, education, and the unique pairing of dynamic economies with social safety nets. Equality, Kauppi notes, is grounded in Nordic countries’ understanding that if they want to succeed as small nations, they must “tap all the resources: both genders, all social groups, faraway regions that are not just cities.” Democracies in Nordic states are rooted in citizens’ trust in each other and in their political institutions.

EU membership, too, is essential for Finland because of the nation’s access to the single market, the Erasmus Programme, and EU supranational laws on everything from consumer protection to high environmental standards. Being part of the EU gives a small country like Finland the ability to shape economic and global affairs in a way that would not be possible without membership.  Finally, Finland’s role in the Arctic Council means that climate change and Arctic-region geopolitics (power struggle for access to sea routes and mineral resources) are ongoing challenges for Finland.

In a Q&A with 30 audience members, when asked which Nordic values Kauppi believes should be exported to the US, she noted gender equality (through policies like parental leave and day care) and sustainability. When questioned whether Finland’s equality is centered on “sameness” and “homogeneity,” Kauppi said that while Finland is quite ethnically homogeneous, growing immigration and the country’s longstanding commitment to gender equality suggests that equality is not bound by racial or ethnic classifications.