The Summit is expected to focus on a more resilient global health system by strengthening the World Health Organisation in terms of future pandemic preparedness. After all, trade and economic activity can only thrive when health is restored, Finland’s envoy to India, H.E Ms. Ritva Koukku-Ronde, told Diplomatist’s Business Editor Kanchi BATRA in a written interview ahead of the High Level EU-India Leaders’ Meeting on 8th May.
As India battles a devastating second wave of coronavirus, support from countries continues to pour in. How does Finland support India in its battle against Covid-19?
Our sympathies and solidarity are with the people of India in combating and containing the destructive pandemic. Finland together with its EU partners has responded to India’s call for emergency aid. This is now our joint priority. Finland has offered to provide India with material assistance providing e.g.oxygen bottles to India via the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism. In addition, Finland supports India with EUR 1 million to fight the pandemic.
Finland has been named the happiest place in the world for the fourth year running by the World Happiness Report. What makes Finland the happiest country in the world?
I believe this has been possible because of our consistent top ranking in global comparisons, for instance, on the state of democracy and political rights, lack of corruption, trust between citizens, safety, health, social cohesion, equal distribution of incomes, and gender equality.
According to the report, Finland has the best governance in the world, as measured by voter turnout, legislative independence, and the number of women in Parliament. It is also the most stable nation, where people trust the government and each other. Finland also ranks first among countries with the most political and civil freedom.
An important driver in providing our citizens equal opportunities has been education. Our free education system, which covers everything from elementary school to post-doc programs, offers Finns educational opportunities seldom seen elsewhere. Some focus areas have been teachers’ education, formulating well-rounded curricula, and providing equitable funding for schools across the country. Education is a national priority for us as Finns and factors like trust, encouragement over control, interaction, cooperation and problem-oriented learning, attention to special needs are just a few things that make education a fruitful learning experience rather than a competition.
Finland is also well known for many of its innovations, both technological and social. Social innovations, in particular, have made it possible for many people to combine their various needs and responsibilities. Finnish maternity and child health clinics, paid parental leave and publicly funded quality childcare continue to play a significant role in advancing gender equality.
Another major factor for Finland being the happiest country in the world is its historic connection to Gender Equality. Finns perceive gender equality as not only a right but also a way of living. Women in Finland have now held every possible position in Finnish society. A good example of this is our Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who runs a coalition cabinet which is led by women too. Finland has also been a strong advocate of equality internationally, including within the UN, and takes an active part in sharing a bit of its wisdom and experience with the world.
All of these factors come together to contribute to Finnish happiness, and we constantly strive as a society to build on these values.
It’s been said that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the European Union will be a key focus during the High Level EU-India Leaders’ Meeting. What do you expect from this Meeting?
Free Trade and Investment Protection Agreements have been very much in the core of every EU-India Summit and remain to be so. Reliable and efficient investment protection, comprehensive and ambitious trade liberalization and similar standards for sustainable development, food safety, tariffs, and labour issues remain challenging priorities when developing EU-India trade & investment relations.
We are looking forward to India to open its market even more while agreeing on common standards, and also to place European companies in an equal position with their Indian counterparts when it comes to Government procurement.
Furthermore,the Summit is expected to focus on a more resilient global health system by strengthening the World Health Organisation in terms of future pandemic preparedness. After all, trade and economic activity can only thrive when health is restored.
In addition, we are expecting fruitful discussions on strengthening the EU-India Strategic Partnership on Trade, Technology and Connectivity while advancing WTO Reforms.
Last but not least climate change issues will form an integral part of the above discussions.
Finland had been one of the best performing economies within the EU in recent years. Could you put Finland’s growth trajectory during the past five years into perspective?
Finland has been a stable performer and that is expected to continue without any major surprises or disturbances. However, one of the key issues slowing down our economic growth in the future is our aging population, very low birth rate, and lack of workforce due to this demographic development. Many companies mention the difficulties in recruitment to be the biggest obstacle for their business continuity and growth. Therefore, we are accelerating our efforts to increase immigration and talent attraction in the coming years. This includes both students and professionals from many sectors, but especially for industries such as ICT, automotive, shipbuilding, construction and services.
With regards to future economic engagements between Finland and India, what key areas would you like to see where the two countries can enjoy mutual benefits?
Digital solutions and services remain to be one of the key areas of Finland-India commercial, scientific and official cooperation. It also offers the biggest potential for growth, especially what comes to software development and solution integration. As mentioned before, this area also provides a lot of opportunities for cooperation in skill development and studies, work-based immigration, joint ventures, and investments.
Clean-Tech within a green circular economy is another very promising area of cooperation.
Finland is a pioneer in green energy. How do you see this expertise being passed on to India?
Finnish companies are already very big in India in everything related to energy. Our offerings are most suitable for the green and sustainable energy needs in India, and Finnish companies have also invested heavily in power generation, energy technology manufacturing, retrofitting and upgrading current units, scaling up and developing new solutions for India in the field of energy. However, the regulatory framework and the tariff structure for electricity, high credit risks of the public sector distribution companies, changes of the auction specifications, and land acquisition issues remain challenges that too often won’t allow our participation to its full extent.
One of the most promising areas of the Finland-India relationship is cooperation in defence. What lies ahead for partnership in this area?
Defence technologies are usually developed in connection to the utilization of new technologies in general. While several Finnish companies enjoy their position as global market leaders and pioneers in the field of various technologies and solutions, it is only natural that some of this offering can be also considered by the armed forces of many countries – including India. For example, the advanced and efficient maritime equipment of the Finnish companies can benefit equally both the Navy and Merchant Marine sectors. The same can be said concerning the solutions for communication capabilities and infrastructure, which is vital for both military and civilian use.
What needs to be done to attract more Finnish investments to India and Indian investments to Finland?
Finland offers a business environment with uniquely high levels of stability, continuity and predictability. The pillars of Finland’s peaceful and well-functioning society include transparent government and effective state institutions, an independent judicial system and respect for the rule of law.
Finland’s success story in becoming a highly industrialized, knowledge-based and innovative economy is based on free trade and openness to investment in the globalized economy. As a result, the Finnish business climate is very international and attractive to foreign investment, offering growth potential and business opportunities across different industries. We need to create better awareness about Finland’s innovation ecosystem, leadership position on sustainability, efficient talent and the opportunities that it can provide to Indian companies as a gateway to the European market.
On the other hand, India is one of the largest consumer market and offer significant opportunities to companies in the consumer segment. Similar to creating awareness about Finland in India; vice versa is also true, there is a need to create more awareness about opportunities in India mainly with Finnish SMEs. India has significantly improved its ranking on doing business over the last few years but there is still scope of making policies that facilitate foreign companies especially SMEs to invest in India.
Team Finland is actively working to bridge these gaps to facilitate investments both ways.
How in your opinion, Finland can complement India’s need for developing and upgrading its industries and infrastructure, especially in the framework of the ‘Make in India’ campaign?
Finnish companies are extremely experienced, competitive, and trustworthy in providing many types of machinery, process technologies, automation, and manufacturing solutions for different industries. Should India and local companies be willing to upgrade their capabilities and infrastructure, I would sincerely recommend to considering purchasing high-quality and robust technologies, solutions and services from the Finnish companies as that would most certainly offer Indian industries a possibility to increase its productivity, quality and profitability. Besides, the fact that Finnish companies, over the years, have set up and expanded their operations in India supports the very essence of the campaign in terms of investments, R&D and large-scale employment generation.
Could you please highlight some of the efforts that the Embassy is currently undertaking to strengthen its ties in regard to cultural diplomacy?
We as a diplomatic mission are always looking for avenues to strengthen the cultural ties between the two countries. While the pandemic has put a stronger focus on Covid-assistance, we have still managed to maintain a fruitful cultural exchange between the two countries. Since 2019, the embassy has engaged with Delhi-based artist group Delhi Street Art to collaborate with us for our Hän campaign on various instances and we have also engaged with the group to beautify the walls of Khan Market with messages of gender equality, unity, and the ever-growing bond between Finland and India. We plan to take this collaboration further with another public art piece once the pandemic situation eases in the country to promote our values of Gender Equality as Finland is serving its debut term as the EU Gender Champion in India.