Germany and Finland have enjoyed close political, economic and cultural ties since the Hanseatic era and the Reformation.
2018 marked the centenary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. After the Second World War, the traditionally good relations between Finland and Germany were soon restored, initially mainly in the economic and cultural spheres. Official bilateral relations were resumed in 1953 with the setting up of trade missions in Cologne and Helsinki. Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Finland and the Federal Republic of Germany were re-established on 7 January 1973.
In 2017, Finland celebrated the centenary of its independence. Germany played an active part in the celebrations, holding various events.
The quality of German-Finnish relations is also reflected in the numerous consultations on a wide range of issues and the good personal contacts at the political level. The most recent highlight was the three-day state visit by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Finland in September 2018. In addition to holding talks and meetings in Helsinki with representatives of the cultural sphere, the business sector and civil society, the Federal President visited the city of Oulu in northern Finland. In May 2017, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in Berlin. Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä visited Berlin in June 2017 for talks with Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on the occasion of the centenary celebrations. In November 2016, Germany’s then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier received his Finnish counterpart Timo Soini in Berlin; in May 2018, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Helsinki, where he opened the Finnish Ambassadors Conference and held talks with President Sauli Niinistö and Foreign Minister Timo Soini. In March 2019, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met his Danish, Finnish and Swedish counterparts for N3+1 consultations.
There are also close contacts between the two countries parliaments at both federal and Land level. The German-Nordic Parliamentary Friendship Group in the German Bundestag has long-standing ties with the Finnish-German Group of Parliamentarians in the Parliament of Finland. There is also intensive exchange between the two parliaments’ committees.
According to Federal Statistical Office figures, Germany is currently Finland’s most important trading partner, with imports from Germany amounting to 11 billion euros and exports to Germany of 8.2 billion euros in 2017. During the same period, Finland recorded a trade deficit of 2.8 billion euros with Germany. More than 80 percent of imports reach Finland by sea, with the German seaports of Hamburg, Rostock and Lübeck playing a key role.
Germany is one of the main destinations for Finnish investment. Around 440 Finnish businesses have invested in Germany, mainly companies in the paper industry (Stora Enso, UPM-Kymmene Oyj and the Metsä Group) that are already established in Germany, but also the energy company Fortum. German companies have become more active in Finland in recent years. Some 330 German firms currently operate in Finland, including many long-standing companies.
A German-Finnish Chamber of Commerce was set up in 1978 and now has around 650 Finnish and German member companies.
The influence of the centuries-old traditions of Finnish-German relations can still be felt, especially in academic life, culture and legal affairs. However, since around 1960 German has ceded its status as the principal foreign language to English.
Besides fostering the German language, a key concern of German cultural policy in Finland is promoting Germany as a place to study.
The support provided in this area by the German Academic Exchange Service, which has a lector working in Helsinki and language assistants in several cities, is well received, as are the measures by the Educational Exchange Service (PAD), which has a German language consultant in Finland, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and other intermediary organisations.
The Helsinki-based Goethe-Institut in Finland makes a significant contribution to lively cultural exchange. Other major pillars of cultural relations are the German School and the German Library in Helsinki and the German Lutheran community in Finland, all of which were established as far back as the second half of the 19th century.
In the non-governmental sector, there is a whole host of other players. In addition to numerous visits and personal contacts between artists, scientists and academics from the two countries, a wide range of cultural exchange programmes are conducted by the more than 30 Finnish-German cultural associations in Finland as well as by the more than 70 local chapters of the German-Finnish Society – one of the largest bilateral societies of its kind in Germany – and the Berlin-based Finnish Institute in Germany. Activities are also carried out as part of the more than 70 town and municipality twinning arrangements, including exchanges for secondary school students and young people. Germany remains a popular study destination for Finnish students.