Interview with H.E. Ms. Ambassador Ulla Vaisto.
What is the significance of December 6 for Finland and how do Finns celebrate this special day?
The significance of the Independence Day is very important for the Finns. On that special day we all take time to remember the enormous efforts and even sacrifices that the previous generations did in order to build the foundation for the present day Finland: a stable democracy whose citizens enjoy security and stability as well as economic and social well-being. After all, Finland has gone through three wars since its independence in 1917 – first a civil war, then the Winter War and the Continuation War in 1939-1944. Fortunately since that Finland has had a lasting period of peace and stability, which has enabled us to build our country in all the possible ways. During this period our country has transformed itself totally, from being a poor and mostly agrarian society to becoming the urban, modern and wealthy nation that we are today.
The general festivities of the Independence Day start in our capital Helsinki with a torch parade organized by the students of different universities early in the morning. Hundreds of young people march through the city, which is still dark on a winter morning, carrying burning torches. Their destination is the cemetery of Hietaniemi where important political personalities, artists and war heroes of Finland have their last resting place, and a ceremony is held there with speeches and songs.
The day continues with an ecumenical mass in the Helsinki cathedral at midday, with the President and the Government attending, and a military parade in one of the country’s largest cities. There is also an official concert in the Finlandia Hall, ending with the famous Finlandia hymn by our national composer Jean Sibelius.
The official celebration ends with a big reception at the Presidential Palace, with the President greeting every guest who arrives. There is a lot of glamour and also dancing. Every year more than 2000 persons get an invitation to this most important celebration of the year. For the Ambassadors accredited to Finland this reception must absolutely be one of the highlights of their stay in my country.
In addition to the official governmental and presidential celebrations, there are hundreds of receptions and parties all over the country, in every city and municipality. Some are very solemn, and some are just a lot of fun.
What were the political, economic bench-marks of the bilateral relationship during the past year?
I think that the most important bilateral political bench-mark was the visit of the Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to Helsinki on the 23rd of September. There had not been a prime-ministerial visit between our governments in seven years, which for me was just unbelievable! It was high time that we offered the possibility to the leaders of our governments to get to know each other in person, and not only briefly say hello in Brussels in the margins of EU-councils.
Prime Minister Ponta’s visit to Finland gave the opportunity to exchange views on all the most topical EU- and other issues. It seems that our Governments have very similar positions on a lot of the most important challenges that the Union is facing at the moment. And on those issues where we do not think quite alike it was very useful to exchange views and clarify the positions. Better knowledge of the background and arguments for the partners’ policies and goals is of utmost importance in the EU and it is only through dialogue and direct talk that we can come to understand each other better.
Prime Minister Ponta had two vice ministers of his Government in his delegation when he visited Finland: Dan Sova, who is in charge of large infrastructural projects, and Mihnea Costoiu, who is in charge of scientific investigation. Both vice ministers had very promising meetings in Helsinki and there are good prospects of starting cooperation between Finland and Romania in their sectors. In fact, a video conference between government officials and university representatives was organized at the end of the day in Aalto University, addressing the importance of high quality education. In this matter, Finland has a lot to offer to the rest of the world, and Romania has expressed keen interest in learning from the Finnish experiences when it comes to the reform of the educational system. Finland reformed its basic education thoroughly in the 1970’s and in the 1980’s and the good results have come to daylight during the past ten years in international tests.
Another highlight of the year was the visit of the Finnish Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen to Bucharest only a few days ago. Minister Räsänen had a very fruitful meeting with her Romanian colleague Radu Stroe and other high officials from the Romanian Ministry of Interior. The topics discussed included Schengen, border security, rule of law and fight against corruption. Minister Räsänen also had meeting at the Ministry of Justice and paid a visit to the National Coordination Center. The discussions were held in a very positive spirit and certainly increased mutual understanding in questions of common concern.
I would also like to mention that during the past year I have personally had the opportunity to travel quite a lot in Romania. I would especially like to mention Vaslui county, Iasi, Cluj, Brasov, Constanta, and the Danube Delta. These trips have been a real highlight for me and it has been a great pleasure to get to know beautiful Romania and its friendly people.
Bucharest with its lively cultural scene is also a source of constant pleasure and delight for me. I love the Bucharest Opera and the wonderful concert halls that you have: Atheneum and Radio Hall. I go to concerts or opera practically every week. I also love the Sala Palatului with its most diverse events. A week ago I went to listen to the famous rock band Holograf and I enjoyed their music enormously. Their present hit Cât de departe is in my head all the time, it has such a catching melody!
What was the bilateral volume of trade last year and what are the prospects of the Finnish investments in the years to come?
In the recent years the bilateral trade between Finland and Romania has stabilized itself to 250 MEur. From this figure more than the half amount traditionally from exports whilst imports remain the rest being a bit less than exports. Last official figure is from 2011 when the total bilateral trade was 282 MEur. Recent trends seem to show a slight growth, since 2013 2nd quarter the figure was slightly over 130 MEur. Official figures show that there are over 150 Finnish companies operating in the country. However, the thirty biggest companies, amount to the majority of the business.
Total Finnish investments in Romania amount by official figures 135 MEur. Currently due to the crisis FDI stock and foreign investments are not growing as before. However Finnish interest in Romania has shown improvement because Romania is a fast developing economy in EU with low labour cost and favourable operational expenses for foreign investors combined with some encouraging schemes.
Some of the largest Finnish investors in Romania are not widely known by the public. For example, Tornator invested over 45 MEur in Romania and into its assets belong over 12.000 hectares of forest mainly in north eastern Romania, making them one of the largest forest owners in the country. Additionally they manage through funds over 25.000 hectares of forest in Romania. Ruukki Group started with an investment of ca 35 MEur its own operation in Romania, just on the border of Bucharest. Moreover, most of Romanians still lock their doors with Urbis locks. However, very few know that Urbis is actually nowadays a brand of Abloy, the global leader of door opening solutions. This was a combined acquisition and investment, where the local brand was kept and the factory was completely modernized.
Currently Abloy employs over 400 employees and thus by head count Abloy is today the largest Finnish employer in Romania.
The commercial department led by Alexander de Reuterhorn had a prospect of an investment of ca 27 MEur to be commenced 2013. However for time being this investment is postponed for two years due to the crisis. Currently we are having two ongoing assignments which involve investment opportunities in Romania. The other is a multi-country evaluation, where Romania is one of the 6 countries for possible factory location. The investment is planned to commence between autumn 2014 and summer 2015. There is another smaller investment of size of ca 2.5-3.5 MEur to be evaluated by summer 2014.
Moreover, Romania has well established companies who are serving international companies worldwide. In the recent years there are more and more partnerships in a form of local manufacturing where there are instead of direct investments other kind of partnerships have been developed. Quite commonly the Finnish companies give financial support, are responsible for technology transfers and provide IPR. These are long term investments in Romania that does not appear in the official statistics and cannot be withdrawn. With this operative model Finnish companies can capitalize in the favorable fiscal conditions in Romania and Romanian companies have access to Finnish knowhow and assets to develop their competitiveness further.
The visit of Prime Minister Ponta in Finland was encouraging and confirmed that there are a number of industries where Finland has a lot to offer for Romania. Last summer for the next operational programme (2014-2020) Romania will receive 39 Bill.Eur, of which 21,8 Bill.Eur comes from structural funds. Within the two largest programmes Regional Operational Programme and Large Infrastructure Operational Programme. (6.99 Bill and 6.98 Bill) Finnish companies have a lot to offer. Since Finland has the leading companies for road- , rail- and infrastructure development, from consulting and analysis to even actual operations. Additionally we are looking forward to be able to support Romania in the energy and environmental sector where Finland is well-known in the world.
Finland was among the guests of honour at GAUDEAMUS International Book Fair 2013, with two important Finnish writers, Salla Simukka and Antti Tuomainen, present there. What outcomes brought the event for Finland?
Finland’s participation in the Gaudeamus International Book Fair 2013 as Guest of Honor with the other four Nordic countries gave us a great opportunity to bring two promising young Finnish writers to Bucharest. Finnish literature is not unknown in this country, but our fame has largely been built on certain classical works. They are still great reading for everybody but it was high time to complement the picture with something daring and modern. Salla Simukka and Antti Tuomainen are both writers of so-called “Nordic Noir”, modern crime fiction, which has become very popular in many countries. I am sure that their books “Rosu ca Sangele” and “Tamaduitorul” will appeal to a lot of Romanian readers – both young and a bit older – and make them more curious about Finland and Finnish literature in general. A year and a half ago we had another great young Finnish writer in Romania – Sofi Oksanen – whose book “Purge” (Purificare) has become a best seller both in Europe and on other continents. I am very pleased to be able to promote Finnish literature which is very much alive, very interesting, and certainly something a bit different even for Romanians. The Gaudeamus Book Fair offered an excellent way of doing just that.