Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini made his first official visit to Germany on Wednesday (21 October). Foreign Minister Steinmeier received him in the Federal Foreign Office. Their talks focused in particular on the refugee issue, as well as on the ongoing conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine.
German-Finnish relations are trouble-free
This was the Finnish Foreign Minister’s first official visit to Berlin since taking office in May 2015, following the general elections and a change of government in Finland. Emerging from the talks, Steinmeier said that there had been little need to discuss bilateral issues, since relations between Germany and Finland were trouble-free. Since 2013, Germany has progressed from third place up to first place in the rankings of Finland’s trade partners. German is now the second most important foreign language for the Finns after English. Steinmeier expressed his respect for the Scandinavian country’s ambitious reform programme and said, “We need an economically strong Finland as a partner at our side in Europe.”
Focus on the refugee crisis and the war in Syria
The talks between the two Foreign Ministers thus focused above all on the current crises whose effects are being felt by both Germany and Finland, in particular the refugee crisis. Steinmeier thanked his Finnish colleague for his country’s decision to take in refugees as part of an EU-wide reallocation plan and to support the European Border Agency Frontex. “These are examples of European solidarity,” Steinmeier said.
With regard to Syria, the two Ministers agreed that a political settlement to the conflict could not be reached unless Russia adopted a constructive attitude. They both expressed their concern about the escalating violence in Aleppo, which is bound to trigger a new exodus. Steinmeier commented as follows:
If Russia is serious about helping to stabilise Syria, it is not however making things easier for itself, in our view, if new military offensives force thousands more to flee their homes.
Light at the end of the tunnel in Ukraine
Foreign Minister Soini expressed more optimism about the situation in eastern Ukraine, saying that there was light at the end of the tunnel. The ceasefire had now held for almost eight weeks, he reported, weapons had been withdrawn and the local elections announced by the separatists had been postponed. In this connection, Soini praised Germany’s work in the “Normandy” format, in which Germany, Ukraine, Russia, the US and France were striving to find a political settlement. Soini called for the implementation of the Minsk peace accords. Borders within Europe must not be shifted by force, he declared.
Germany and Finland have enjoyed close political, economic and cultural ties since the Hanseatic era and the Reformation. After the Second World War, the traditionally good relations between Finland…