Key note: Towards New Leadership for Multilateral Cooperation
Excellencies, dear friends,
Challenges of today require multilateral solutions. The risks that threaten us, our lives and well-being, even the whole existence of humanity, do not respect state borders. COVID-19 pandemic that continues to torment the world should be our last wake-up call.
The principles of democracy, rule of law and good governance and respect for human rights, have been questioned recently. This is very concerning. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are human rights – but they do not come without responsibility. No human right can ever justify harming other people.
Pandemics, terrorism, climate change or loss of biodiversity cannot be solved by individual countries alone. These problems require multilateral cooperation. These problems are complex and challenging but solutions are not impossible.
The UN Secretary-General Antionio Guterres said recently that ‘…we have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions’. I have to agree with this assessment.
United Nations, other multilateral organizations and the whole rules-based international system has been battling against strong headwind recently.
Some countries, big and small, have embraced more nationalistic and isolationistic worldview and started to turn inwards. Self-centered approaches to global problems have already threatened global norms and institutions.
United Nations forms the foundation to multilateral collaboration. Yet, United Nations and its funds and programmes, such as WHO, have been targets of incomprehensible attacks recently and also during this pandemic.
Societies seem more divided than before: the dissatisfaction, which has been growing under the surface, has come to light. The current global political moment is also marked by a crisis in democracy and the rise of populism and fundamentalisms.
Europe and the European Union have by no means been left out of this trend.
The principles of democracy and respect for human rights and rule of law have been the corner stones of the European Union from its start.
Yet, the EU has been going through stormy times in recent years. Some Member States have come to question the founding principles of the Union and drifted further away from rule of law and human rights principles. Populist leaders give one-sided answers to complex questions.
This does not mean that the underlying problems and concerns are not real. For example, while globalization has brought many good things during the last decades, it has also brought problems and affected many people negatively. Inequalities worldwide have grown. In addition, climate change affects people’s lives directly and has serious humanitarian and economic consequences. Often those already vulnerable suffer the most.
These problems are too complex, too wide and too far reaching to be solved by individual countries alone. Isolationism and protectionism can give answers that some people might want to hear but not the answers that we will need.
How can we move from a surplus of multilateral problems to surplus of solutions?
First of all, it is essential to defend the rules-based international order, which is the backbone to international predictability, security and stability. This in turn forms a fertile ground to stable, peaceful and democratic societies.
I like to say that small countries tend to be naturally “internationalists”.
Finland is a country of 5,5 million people. Finland continues to rank high in international comparison. (Finland has been rated as “Happiest Country in the World” for third year in a row and we continue to be in top 10 in Media Freedom, Equality, Democracy and many more.)
This success is build on several grounds: strong social policies, free education, collective bargaining, gender equality – the list goes on. But it is also built on an unwavering idea of multilateralism (like in other European countries). I think we have this in common with the Republic of Korea. We understand that true strength comes from cooperation.
Big countries are certainly powerful players internationally and they have to be part of multilateral system. This is crucial. But, small countries can be important role models, too. We can play an important role in displaying what open and democratic nations, that support multilateralism and international cooperation, can achieve.
We should not underestimate OUR power of example.
We cannot forget the important advances that the global community has taken in recent years.
The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 was a remarkable moment. All nations came together at the United Nations to agree on a new holistic framework, which aims for a more prosperous, equal, socially just and ecologically sustainable future for our planet based on human rights.
The Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 was a historic step in global climate action. It was the first a legally binding agreement for greenhouse gas emission reductions and it forms an effective action plan towards climate mitigation and adaptation.
These were immense steps forward.
In addition to Governments, also regional organizations, parliaments, cities, private sector companies and civil society have committed themselves to these goals.
When civil society, the academia and private sector are involved in multilateral efforts, these breakthroughs will be hard to reverse.
It is important to explore other innovative ways to strengthen multilateralism. Collaboration between cities on climate change is an excellent example.
Cooperation on regional issues or on particular theme can also be powerful. Finland has good experiences on cooperation in the Baltic Sea region regarding protecting the Baltic Sea.
Religions can also bring us together. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I invited religious leaders to discuss and foster interfaith dialogue and mutual respect. It evolved into National Forum for Cooperation of Religions in Finland that continues to be very active and powerful voice in the society today.
I have been very happy to note that young people tend to be more positive towards multilateralism. Young generations are visibly embracing global action as means to tackle global problems. They have been in the forefront in climate action – ensuring that Governments continue to make ambitious commitments – and calling for effective multilateral cooperation.
UN Secretary General has had and specialized Envoy on Youth (Jayathma Wickramanayake) since 2013. The Envoy’s task is to advocate for the empowerment and meaningful participation of young people in the inter-governmental fora.
This is the largest generation of young people in history. The youth is not just our future – they are our present. I continue to advocate bringing young people, girls and boys, into our discussions. Their voices, their concerns and their transformative solutions must be heard.
To sum up, we need effective rules based NOT power-based system. This is true in nation states and this is true in multilateral collaboration.
Effective multilateralism and the United Nations as its platform and core, is the only way to tackle contemporary existential threats.
We need all resources, including financial resources and human resources – expertize, knowledge and work – to get through these crises. And with all human resources, I mean everyone. We need to ensure that women have equal seat at the table where decisions are made. We cannot afford to overlook this anymore. We need to respect, promote and protect human rights for everyone, everywhere.
Thank you and I am looking forward to discussion.