Jorge Marcano | The Lithuania Tribune
Finland is a close Lithuanian neighbour and we should act as one; we should get to know about each other more, travel more, trade and cooperate more intensively. Finland paid more attention to Estonia, now we would like to do focus also on Latvia and Lithuania, this was the message delivered to the Lithuania Tribune by Her Excellency, Ambassador of Republic of Finland, Mrs. Marja-Liisa Kiljunen on an exclusive interview with The Lithuania Tribune.
There are a lot of areas for closer cooperation, not to mention collaboration on improving the Baltic Sea environment, energy saving projects and others. It is also in Finland’s interest to see faster completion of the Rail Baltica project. The Ambassador has had an eventful trajectory within her country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A professional career that has taken her to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the Ambassador has served her country in different positions, including counsellor for international cooperation, EU coordination and UNICEF.
In addition to that, she has an expertise focus on Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Nonetheless, she is, quite rightly, a strong and passionate advocate for women’s rights. In this capacity, she has been the Secretary General of Social Democratic Women in her native Finland and has supported many initiatives that seek to empower women around the world.
In this framework, the Lithuania Tribune is proud to deliver the first part of an exclusive interview with the Ambassador of Finland to Lithuania, Mrs. Marja-Liisa Kiljunen.
Lithuania Tribune (LT): What aspects of our countries’ relations you would consider priorities?
H.E. Ms. Marja-Liisa Kiljunen (HE): Our bilateral relations are very good and very close, but we are also hoping that they will become even more intensive, with more frequent visits of high-level officials and politicians. We would also like to see tourism develop, for in Finland the Baltic countries are seen as a very close group. However our main focus so far has been on Estonia due to its close proximity to Finland, so we also have to work on becoming closer with Latvia and Lithuania.
In general we need to make Finland more known to Lithuanians, to make it more interesting so that we can attract tourists, students and so on. And also, of course, commercial and economic relations are very important to us. There are about 200 Finnish companies here; most of them came in the 1990s shortly after independence and they are doing quite well.
LT: Are these companies from a specific sector, for example IT?
H.E.: IT is of course an important area, but we have investments of about 570 million Euros in Lithuania from diverse companies ranging from trading to finance, for example Nordea, to construction companies, some of whom carry out production here in Kaunas and Klaipėda’s free economic zones. There is great interest among Finns to see what opportunities exist in Lithuania, especially in Kaunas and Klaipėda.
In Klaipėda there is a big project being undertaken by Fortum, one of our biggest energy companies. They are building a power station, waste to energy which should be launched next year, and we hope there will be more of such projects. The power and heat station is unique in its kind in the Baltic countries. So there is also potential to improve. It is very important for us to further develop commercial and economic relations, and it is also very important to increase trade relations the other way round, that is to say via investments from Lithuania to Finland.
We are interested in cultivating closer relations with Lithuania because the country is one of our neighbors, it is part of the Baltic Sea region countries, and Finland pays a lot of attention in developing economic cooperation in this region. We also have the common problem of pollution in the Baltic Sea, and we therefore hope there will be more awareness in Lithuania regarding such environmental issues and the overall protection of the sea.
The Baltic Sea Region really is very dynamic economically speaking, and we hope that Lithuania further develops transport networks like Rail Baltica, which is of great interest to Finland. This would also give the Baltic countries access to Central and Southern Europe.
LT: You have been in Lithuania since 2008, what differences and similarities do you see between the Finnish and the Lithuanian people?
H.E.: Well, we are both rather quiet. Quite clearly we are both northern people, perhaps the Finnish are even quieter; but we are both hardworking and patriotic and appreciate our own countries and national cultures. We are of course very small countries in both European and global sense. The fact that we are rather small is something that always unites us, and the point is that cooperation is beneficial especially for small countries, and that is why the Baltic Sea region is very important to both of us.
Next year Lithuania will hold the European Union Presidency and one of its key topics will be the implementation of the EU’s Baltic Sea strategy, and we are very supportive of Lithuania in its efforts.
LT: Do you note any differences between Lithuania and Finland? Is the weather perhaps more extreme in Finland?
H.E.: Oh yes, Finland’s weather is more extreme, and the country is very long geographically so we have very different weather patterns, especially in the far north, in Lapland. The sun does not set for about two months in Lapland in the summer, and even in Helsinki you can read a newspaper in the middle of the night. It’s the opposite in winter, and our winters are pretty harsh.
Finland is very sparsely populated; there you can drive for dozens, even hundreds of kilometers without seeing a house, this is something you do not see in Lithuania. We have a lot of forests, which cover most of our land area, and we have many lakes, but they are much larger than in Lithuania. Additionally, the sea surrounds us so we are quite isolated geograpically. This is why the development of sea routes in the Baltic Sea is very important to us as a route to Central Europe and other parts of the world. Lithuania is of course much older in terms of history and culture, something I really appreciate. You can see it, you can feel it; it is really an ancient culture. Take for instance Vilnius and its old city, which is absolutely beautiful.
Lithuanians appreciate this [ancient culture] very much; they enjoy their traditions and take good care of their buildings. This is of course very expensive to do yet Lithuania does as much as it can with the resources it has, and Vilnius has been so beautifully restored. This is not the case in Finland. We used wood for many of our buildings and there were fires and so on, so many of our towns have been destroyed over the course of history.
Quite clearly Finland is a much younger country in that regard, Lithuania really has a deep history and that is something to be appreciated. I can see that the Lithuanian people are very interested in their past, and that gives them a kind of self-confidence in a way. Lithuania was once a great power in Europe, while Finland was part of Sweden for 600 years and then part of Russia for 100 years. In Lithuania this past accords interesting cultural aspects to life even today.
The countryside is also very nice here, but we can still see some differences on the development level; but it should be noted that Lithuania has been independent for little more than 20 years, yet so much has happened in this time. I did not personally visit Lithuania before 2000, but I have heard from those who have been here before then that the progress has been enormous. A lot of effort has been put into developing infrastructure such as the renovation of buildings, developing infrastructure and so on; but in another sense, also into building functional democracy.
LT: What are your main goals as ambassador, and what do you feel you have accomplished during your time in Lithuania?
H.E.: My main aim here of course is to represent Finland as a whole; Finnish society, its government and so on, and also to explain our policies to Lithuanians, the Lithuanian government as well as the country’s decision-makers and people at large. Besides that, we work to make Finland better known here, and to do so we use a lot of public diplomacy and media contacts, which are important. We also organize various kinds of public events to promote Finnish culture and our way of life . We would like to do more, but unfortunately we are a small embassy and resources are limited.
We also maintain good contact with the authorities here. As ambassador it is naturally my task to follow the host country’s politics, economic development and whatever is happening to then report these issues to my own government. Of course a very important fact is that both Lithuania and Finland are in the European Union, so it is very important that we explain the politics to our authorities respectively. But, as I said, our main goal is to develop our relations with and make Finland better known in Lithuania. In this sense I also liaise with the Lithuanian ambassador to Finland to establish what more we could both do respectively.
LT: In September the foreign ministers of the Nordic and Baltic States came to Vilnius to discuss closer partnership perspectives. What are those specific perspectives from Finland’s point of view?
H.E.: Well, we have seen quite clearly in recent years that Lithuania is more and more interested in the Nordic countries – I have seen this unfold during my four years here. Lithuania is interested in the Nordic model, in the so-called welfare state and what it comprises. For instance, our education system; for which Finland has achieved very good results at an international comparisons, our research and development, innovation structures, and how we have managed to develop such high technology in many fields.
We are explaining these things to Lithuania; we have had many visitors, many ministers, etc. Needless to say, there are many sectors with whom we could cooperate and are cooperating, like energy, definitely of common interest; transport, etc. I would like to say that energy is the most interesting sector. Energy-saving technology, renewable energy sources, new technology in using biomass for producing both heat and electricity using all kinds of leftover material and residual matter and even urban waste.
This is what is happening now in Klaipėda, and it serves two purposes; to produce energy, and to be part of the solution to waste management and environmental issues. We would like to actually increase our cooperation in this energy sector. Then there is the issue of nuclear power in general. Lithuania would like to build a new nuclear power station after Ignalina, and Finland has a lot of experience in this for we are in the process of building our fifth nuclear reactor in Finland.
Sharing experience in these matters is very important, especially in regards to safety. The Lithuanian Minister of Energy and the Prime Minister have visited our nuclear power plants, and there is one more visit of the Minister of Energy scheduled for later this month.
LT: Do you see foresee more cooperation in these areas?
H.E.: Yes, absolutely. Finnish companies are definitely interested, and our nuclear safety authorities are interested in sharing knowledge. It is a very complicated project, as we have seen in Finland, where our latest reactor is 5 years past its original completion date because the Finnish authorities are very careful with safety issues. Thus safety is our biggest concern and this is why we are interested in sharing this particular knowledge.
On another level, the older houses here in Lithuania are quite energy-consuming, and renovation is very much needed. In Finland we are constantly carrying out renovation work, and we have a lot of technology developed precisely because of our challenging climate. We have developed various technologies to meet such needs; insulation, materials, building solutions, and special windows. We have even developed the so-called zero-energy house, a house which produces and consumes its own energy. We are already implementing this in Saint Petersburg, where Finnish construction companies are carrying out big housing projects.
LT: Speaking of energy, does Finland continue to support Estonia as a primary location for the Baltic LNG terminal or is it also considering other sites?
H.E.: The Baltic countries have to make a decision on their own as to whether they want to build a joint terminal, but I understand Lithuania is building its own LNG terminal anyway, regardless of whether there will be EU support for a Baltic terminal, and Finland is also building its own LNG terminal. So, we do not have an official stance on this, but we want to cooperate. We have a very practical approach. We want people to consume energy in a safe way and at a price that is not very high for consumers. It is therefore imperative to unite these energy markets. In the electricity market Lithuania has already joined NordPool and that will be very beneficial and will help the Baltic countries to be connected to the Nordic electricity markets.
LT: Is Nord Stream working already?
H.E.: Yes, Nord Stream’s two pipeline have been finished. Nord Stream actually wants to carry out research on the possibility of building a third and fourth pipeline, and they have asked for environmental permission from Finland to commence such feasibility study. There is an increasing need for natural gas in Europe. Take for instance the UK, where deposits are coming to an end. Finland regards this as an environmental issue and we need to make sure it is environmentally safe and does not become an issue in the Baltic Sea. This is the only concern from Finland’s point of view.
Tomorrow, we present the final part of the interview.