Observations of Ambassador Jokela over the first half-year period.
What does the Netherlands look like?
One of the basic differences between the Dutch and Finnish landscapes is the presence of the human influence almost throughout the environment here. In Finland, there are still plenty of areas without any man-made manipulation whereas the land area and the waterways in the Netherlands have mainly been formed through human hands. The local amount of people and traffic is naturally also much higher than in my home region in Southern Ostrobothnia in Finland.
At first the scenery and the built environment seem different from my previous experiences. For example, the number of windows in the houses and their great size compared to the wall area are quite striking. Furthermore, the staircases of the houses seem much steeper here than in Finland and there hardly seems to be any depth in the steps.
Open and welcoming operational environment
The open and welcoming nature of the local culture is a major advantage for a diplomat who is settling down in the new working environment in the Hague. Meetings are easy to arrange and the authorities and the representatives of the economical sector and various organisations are open for discussions with the representatives of Finland. Another benefit for the Finns is the fact that formal warm-up talks and small talk are not a necessity in the Netherlands but people get relatively quickly to their point. The Dutch discussion partners also tell their viewpoints clearly and do not require any guess work from the others.
Another pleasant issue is the common positive interest towards Finnish society in the Netherlands. A practical example of this is the fact that the Finnish innovation policy has been one of the investigation issues of the so-called Innovation Platform group led by the Prime Minister Balkenende.
Colleagues are naturally the most remarkable source of help for the newly arrived Ambassador. Also in this respect my starting period has been a very positive experience for me in the Hague. We have managed to proceed in an excellent way despite the change of the civil servants in the Embassy last summer. Our colleagues with a more long-term experience of the Embassy have effectively guided us newcomers both in the Embassy and also more generally in the local working environment. In addition, the staff of the official residence of the Ambassador have provided an outstanding starting point for various events in the residence as regards their experience and the level of professionalism.
Arts and judges
From the Finnish perspective, it has been very delightful to notice how much interest there currently is for the Finnish culture in the Netherlands. The major survey of the Finnish fine arts, Finse Kunst rond 1900, hosted by the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague from October until the end of January received more than 70,000 visitors. Consequently, this exhibition and the contacts created between the local and a number of Finnish museums will surely bring more remarkable exhibitions of the Finnish fine arts to the Netherlands.
The Finnish Cultural Institute for Benelux recently moved from Antwerp to Brussels and they will continue their co-operation with the Finnish Embassy. To further promote the Finnish culture in the Netherlands and to initiate new ideas, the institute has set up a committee which consists of representatives of various sectors of the Dutch culture.
At the year end, the Finnish Embassy in the Hague participated in some activities to support the re-election of Finnish Erkki Kourula to serve as a judge for the International Criminal Court, ICC, located in the Hague. In the elections held in New York at the end of January, Erkki Kourula was re-elected a judge for the ICC for a new 9-year period. In addition to the remarkable personal merits of Mr. Kourula, his nomination can be seen as a credit for the long-term efforts of Finland to enhance the international legal system.
Quick visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other guests
Especially after the Cold War and the expansion of the EU, the duties of the Ministries for Foreign Affairs and the Embassies have become less formal. Furthermore, the Embassies need to meet the requirements of a faster working pace and carry out tasks at short notice.
In the beginning of this year, there have been a number of visits between Finland and the Netherlands to prepare the Finnish Presidency of the EU starting in July. Permanent Secretaries of the Finnish Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior visited The Hague in January. They met local authorities and a number of representatives of various international organizations related to the interior and legal issues. Therefore, the Embassy not only helps to prepare this kind of visits but also often participates in the discussions with the aim of receiving valuable information and new contacts.
Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Bot, expressed his wish in January to visit Minister Tuomioja in Helsinki. This visit was carried out with preparations of a few days. Minister Bot flew to Helsinki in the morning and arrived in the Government Banquet Hall straight from the airport to negotiate with Minister Tuomioja. During these negotiations of a couple of hours the ministers especially discussed current EU issues and gave a press conference at the end. After that Minister Bot returned to the airport and flew back to the Hague. This quick visit of Minister Bot is a rather typical example of a negotiation meeting between the ministers of the EU countries. Formalities are left out and the time is exclusively spent on the negotiations.
Trade, economy and Nordic walking
The embassies look after the interests of the entire Finnish society and, therefore, they also have interest for the development of the economical relations between Finland and the country of posting. The Netherlands is one of the major trading partners of Finland with its annual share of the Finnish exports of about 4-5% and of the imports of about 3-4%.
In addition to the trade between the countries, mutual direct investments also consolidate the economical ties. In the past years, the investments from Finland to the Netherlands clearly show that the interest for a Dutch location is not only based on the goal to enter the local market but also on a wider interest of entering the western and central European market in a larger perspective. Consequently, the Finnish companies operating in the Netherlands both reflect the overall internationalization of the Finnish business life and the current development in various lines of business.
Regarding the work of an Ambassador, it is very useful to visit companies on-site and to hear about their operation and goals as well as to gain personal contacts with the management. During my first half-year period, I have visited, for example, the fine paper factory of Stora Enso in Wapenveld, the Dutch headquarters of the magazine publisher Sanoma Magazines in Amsterdam, the Dutch facilities of Nokia near the Hague and the Kemira factories in the harbour area of Europoort. My overall impression of all these visits is that the Finnish business sector has ever-increasingly settled in the EU area and in the larger international markets as a natural part of their own operation.
As the embassy aims at promoting the Finnish relations in the Netherlands on a wider scale, we sometimes have some pleasant and more informal exceptions to our basic operations. A good example of this is the annual meeting of the Nordic Walking associations in the Netherlands which took place in Wolvega in mid-January. Nordic Walking is definitely one of the novelty products of the Finnish exports industry in the wellness sector. It is a pleasure for me to join this kind of Finland-specific events where the professional instructors of Nordic walking receive further training.
...and all of this amongst the daily basic duties
The previous lines actually outline only a fraction of the everyday duties of the Embassy. We provide customer service five days a week at the consular section for the people who need to renew their passports or to find out about issues related to the citizenship etc. My colleagues send frequent reports to the Finnish authorities about the views of the Netherlands in various EU issues. We carry out negotiations and provide reports on the current issues of the local domestic and foreign policies. We reply to various kinds of inquiries. And in order to remain effective, we need daily press follow-ups, secreterial services to keep our calendars and meeting agendas up-to-date, services of the reception desk staff who are familiar with our exact daily situation, smooth finance management, IT management and non-stop maintenance of our premises.
In addition to the previous activities, we are now simultaneously preparing for the Finnish Presidency of the EU starting in July. This future period will have effects throughout the activities of the Embassy including our operation in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Changes concerning Finnish society, Europe and the entire world are present in the daily operation of the Embassy. In the middle of these changes, the Embassy aims at both maintaining and renewing our co-operation contacts. Our goal is to convey a proper idea of Dutch society and politics in Finland and to act appropriately in the interest of Finnish society and citizens in the total operational area of the Embassy.
Finally, the first half-year period as an Ambassador in the Hague has turned out to be a very vivid and rewarding introduction to a new country of posting and to my new duties.