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Finnish ambassador Pasi Tuominen | Dávid Harangozó

Finland is cooler thank you think

As the leading article of its Finalnd focus earlier this year, Diplomacy & Trade carried an interview with the Finnish ambassador to Hungary, Pasi Tuominen who talks about the various aspects of bilateral relations and the spreading of Finnish values.

“My predecessors have done an excellent job here. Thanks to their activities, the profile of Finland has always been very high in Hungary and one of my aims when I came here in September 2012 was maintaining this profile, the special image of Finland in Hungary,” the Finnish Ambassador in Budapest, Pasi Tuominen recalls in an extensive interview with Diplomacy & Trade that presents a special focus on relations between the two Finno-Ugrian people, including political and economic ties, cultural and civilian cooperation.

“Promoting trade between the two countries is one of the key issues of my job here,” Ambassador Tuominen says. “Finland has been a big player in Hungary - even now, as Nokia has been taken over by Microsoft. Bilateral trade figures have been steady over the years: EUR 400-500 million annually. It is the small and medium-sized companies that provide for the bulk of success stories in these export-import figures,” he adds.

Investors in a ‘challenging’ environment

Altogether, there are over a hundred Finnish companies in Hungary directly or through subsidiaries. According to the Hungarian Company Registration Office, 30 companies had fully Finnish ownership and around 100 companies were operating with Finnish joint capitals in 2012. It is estimated that in 2014 the number of employees of Finnish-owned companies will decrease to around 7,000 due to Nokia’s transfer to Microsoft. “Finnish firms believe the Hungarian business environment has been ‘challenging’. Finnish entrepreneurs are not different from investors from other nations: they need predictability, transparency and a stable business environment. That is the key issue for them as well as for other future investors in Hungary,” the Ambassador points out.

Finnish companies have invested over EUR one billion in Hungary in the past decades, the biggest sums were brought in by Nokia and Sanoma Media. “Nokia will not disappear from Hungary and from Finland with the transfer of its mobile phone set arm to Microsoft. NSN will continue to operate in Hungary as Nokia Solutions and Networks. Its research and development and innovations will now be even more important. They employ over a thousand people in Hungary, he notes.

He highlights the example of Profile Vehicles as one of the most important success stories of Finnish presence in the Hungarian SME sector. “They started ambulance manufacturing and the national ambulance service ordered their new vehicles from this company that also exports many of its products. They have built up their production facility quite quickly, employing highly skilled professionals.”

Transparency and competitiveness

Finland has a reputation of being a very transparent country. The Ambassador says “we are open to show our example, we are ready to tell about the Finnish experience. We have organized seminars on issues like minorities and education, best practices in judiciary and on the Nordic model of defense capabilities the Visegrád 4 Group is interested in. Also, Finland is a key player in renewable energy, especially as it comes to the technology of waste management and new technologies on using waste as a source of energy. ”

Other strengths of Finnish society he mentions are agility to adapt to changes as well as competitiveness. “We are ranked high in the global indices about competiveness as well in those about anti-corruption. Innovation is also becoming more important as the technology sector in Finland is facing big changes. Despite the Microsoft takeover of Nokia, the mobile sector still remains very important for Finland. And education, of course. It is one of the key issues in Finland. The cornerstones of Finnish education are the well-educated teachers, the non-centralized education system, the independence of the teachers to teach the required school material in a wide frame, the freedom to choose the learning material and the methods. It creates an autonomous specialist feeling for the teachers,” the Ambassador stresses.

Special relationship

He is of the view that political relations between the two countries have always been independent of the political affiliation of the actual governing parties. “It is a special relationship that has existed for almost 200 years. What ties us even more together is the membership in the European Union. We have a lot of shared interest and we need to have a steady contact with the Hungarians in promoting the issues we share.”

Another of his objectives as ambassador here has been getting acquainted with Hungarian society and Hungarian culture. “I have been traveling around the country as much as we can but still there are places I want to go and see.” The hub of Finnish activities is concentrated in the building of the Finnish Embassy in the Buda Hills, a Finnish style building that celebrates the 25th anniversary of its completion this April. “We have created ‘Team Finland’ with the three main players located in the same building: the Embassy, the trade promotion agency Finpro and the cultural institute Finnagora. Also important cooperators in bilateral relations are the Finnish-Hungarian Trade Guild – a kind of chamber –, the different twin cities (Finland has the most twin cities with Hungary: 64, with a few new ones in the pipeline) and the Finnish School here in Budapest, with kids coming to the Embassy every Sunday to learn the Finnish language and about culture, as well,” the Ambassador explains.

Team Finland

According to the Ambassador, the members of Team Finland continued strengthening their existing and well-functioning cooperation last year. ”Team Finland had been functioning in Hungary before the whole concept was even created and the House of Finland in Budapest has been one of the examples for Team Finland cooperation in other countries. All three actors in Budapest have been located under the same roof since September 2008. Communication between the actors takes place daily. Smooth flow of information-sharing is self-evident to everyone in each organization and the work is allocated according to each actor’s expertise and the most efficient use of resources. In addition to regular monthly meetings, Team Finland has several ad hoc meetings whenever necessary.”

He also notes that the country branding continued to be very successful. “The general image of Finland is extremely positive in Hungary. Many Hungarians feel that there is a special connection between the two countries and therefore the doors are opening easier to the visitors from Finland. Finland is seen as an important reference country in various fields. Finland is known for instance from its innovation capacity, modern technology and well-functioning society. For many Hungarians, Finland is a forerunner, a country worth to follow and copy. Due to the strong country brand, Team Finland is in privileged position to promote the Finnish interests in Hungary,” he adds.

He also mentions that the knowledge transfer worked well. Key Hungarian business players are very keen on hearing and learning the Finnish example. For instance, the Mobile Monday event and Metso energy seminar proved to be successful opportunities for knowledge transfer.

As an NGO event, we had a successful Kalevala Day for all Finnish Friendship societies in Hungary in March.

Culture and sports

It is Ambassador Tuominen’s impression – at least in the circles where he appears – that Hungarians speak more Finnish than the Finns speak Hungarian. The two languages are said to have a common origin from the times of the Finno-Ugric peoples that migrated from inner Asia in the first and second millennia before our common era.

Of course, bilateral cultural ties encompass much more than linguistic research.

“When it comes to the promotion of culture, the work of the Embassy is not always needed. Finland is well-known here. Prominent Finnish artists and other culture people come to Hungary without the influence of the Embassy,” the Ambassador points out. The latest news is that the Grand Prize of the Budapest Book Fair this year goes to the famous Finnish author, Sofi Oksanen.

He adds that “we have a lot of cooperation between the sister cities, there is always some kind of cultural exchange or other types of cultural and sports cooperation between the two countries. This leads me to mentioning the upcoming football game between the national teams of the two countries on March 5.”

Although, Hungarians won nine of the thirteen matches the two countries played with each other, so far, the most painful memory for Ambassador Tuominen (and other Finnish football fans) is that of the encounter in 1997 (in Helsinki) when Finland needed a win to qualify for the World Cup play-offs. The Finns were leading 1-0 with a goal in the second half until conceding a ridiculous own-goal in extra time, and thus, ensuring Hungary’s qualification. “Most of the Finns remember that day of October 11,” he notes.

Speaking of sports, Diplomacy & Trade has interviewed several sports-loving ambassadors but none – to our knowledge – that ran a full marathon distance in Hungary. Actually, that is what Ambassador Tuominen did last October in Budapest.

“It was my 9th marathon run,” he recalls. “For a Finn, it was a bit tough because the weather was unseasonably warm in October last year. It is a completely different experience to run the marathon in Budapest than in Lapland where there is a course in which you run 21 kilometers to the north and then, you turn back to run 21 kilometers to the south, the wind is always from the north and if it’s snowing, it’s even harder. This spring – following my Swedish colleague, Karin Olofsdotter’s example who will also participate again – I’m going to take part in the half-marathon in the Vivicitta city run on Margaret Island.”

Exercises like this are excellent to counter the impact of Hungarian food. “Our first experience with Hungarian food was when we came here and my wife asked the embassy chef to cook some light Hungarian meal for us. The chef started laughing and said no such meal exists.”

Pasi Tuominen, whose posting in Budapest is the first one as ambassador, had the opportunity to extensively travel in Hungary professionally and he also likes to visit different places in this country for pleasure with his wife and daughter. “We like the Lake Balaton area. Our 11-year-old daughter is absolutely delighted to go back there,” he concludes.

Sándor Laczkó

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