AMBASSADOR RITVA KOUKKU-RONDE – QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Reporter: Tomi Hinkkenen – Washington DC
On September 1, 2011, Ritva Koukku-Ronde assumed her post as the appointed Ambassador of Finland to the United States. Ms. Koukku-Ronde is the first female Finnish ambassador to the United States.
Q. You have had a long career at the Foreign Ministry of Finland – what are your most memorable posts and experiences?
Actually, all my posts have been extremely interesting and memorable. It is impossible to single out any of them because they were all unique and rewarding experiences in their own ways.
Q. Have you submitted you credentials to President Barack Obama yet and if you have, can you describe the event and what was Mr. Obama like?
I submitted my credentials to President Obama on September 9 during a short ceremony at the White House. He was very sympathetic and interested in Finland.
Q. Oftentimes the world of diplomacy is shrouded in secrecy and regular people do not know much about what is going on behind closed doors, but could you talk about some of the things you are working on right now to further improve trade, culture and the collaboration between Finland and the U.S.?
I will focus on advancing the relationship between Finland and the U.S. in the areas of economy, education, security, environment, high technology and culture – to mention just a few. As a member of the European Union, Finland is also keen to see the transatlantic cooperation grow stronger.
Our work at the embassy happens on many levels, from having discussions with decision makers to organizing cultural events and policy seminars to communicating with the American public. All these activities help further improve collaboration between Finland and the U.S.
Q. Finland has been trying to get to the U.N. Security Council as a non-permanent member. As a permanent member in the Security Council, the U.S. has a lot of clout in selecting non-permanent members. How are you going to convince the U.S. to give Finland a term at the Security Council?
Finland has actively contributed to the UN’s unique role as the guarantor of peace and security, promoter of sustainable development, and advocate of human rights and democracy. In the international fora Finland has earned a reputation of an active and reliable actor. We Finns wish to carry our responsibility as a member of the international community. Our candidacy for a seat in the Security Council is a reflection of this objective.
Q. The tightening of the U.S. immigration policies has all but ended immigration from Finland to the U.S. It is now more difficult than ever to immigrate in the U.S. You can see this in a concrete way for example in Florida, where the once thriving Finnish community is slowly dying, because no new immigrants are coming in. Are there any bilateral agreements in the works between Finland and the U.S., or EU and US to facilitate the immigration both to and from the U.S. to Finland / EU?
The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) is the appropriate agency to answer all questions regarding immigration to the United States.
Q. One bright spot in the otherwise sagging economy, both in Finland and the U.S., has been the high tech sector. A good example of this is the GAP (Global Access Program), the collaboration between UCLA and Tekes. In the GAP program, Finnish high tech companies team up with UCLA Anderson School of Management students, who create business plans for the Finnish companies. This enables the Finnish companies to grow and expand into the U.S. and other countries. The program has been a smashing success. However, it seems to me that there is competition between Finnish semi-governmental and official organizations to vie with the same clients (the Finnish high tech companies) and snatch them away from GAP. Do you think it is time to close ranks and for all the Finnish organizations to work in collaboration rather than competition with each other?
I can’t speak directly to the example you mentioned but, in the case of our embassy, all the different Finnish actors —the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Forces, Finnode, Finpro, Tekes and VTT Technical Research Center—operate as a “House of Finland.” This means that we work together and make the best use of the wide variety of expertise and know-how that we have under the same roof to further enhance and deepen relations between Finland and the U.S.
Q. Finland has about 30 Honorary Councils in the United States. These unpaid individuals are supposed to represent Finland in their geographical areas. However, this writer has gotten a very inconsistent image of these honorary councils. Some are very active and helpful indeed, others, not so much. For example, I recall a cross country road trip from California to Florida that I made a couple of years ago. I e-mailed honorary councils in states along the way, asking about Finnish people and activities that I could write about in the media. I never heard back from most of them. Is it time to somehow revamp the whole honorary council system?
Overall, honorary consuls serve as an important and invaluable resource for Finland, and their service is greatly appreciated. Like you mentioned, honorary consuls are indeed unpaid and serve in their positions voluntarily. They assume the duties of the honorary consul in addition to all their other professional and private responsibilities, and I believe it is understandable that some have more time to devote to their consul roles than others.
Q. President John F. Kennedy famously said in his inauguration speech: “Ask not what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for the country.” What can we Finns who live in The United States, do to benefit Finland?
In their daily lives, Finns living in the U.S. already represent Finland in many ways. From my perspective, all Finns, Finnish Americans, and Finnish organizations in the U.S. form a so called “Team Finland” that shares the same goal of improving and deepening relations between our countries. We may have different ways of working toward that goal, but we all benefit from a strong relationship between Finland and the U.S.
Also, I would like to encourage all Finns and Finnish Americans to visit our website, finland.org, and follow us on Facebook (http://facebook.com/FinnishEmbassyWashingtonDC) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/FinnEmbassyDC) to keep up to date on news regarding Finland and Finland’s role in the U.S.
Q. What is the most important thing you would you like to accomplish during your term as the ambassador?
During my term, I would like to see the manifold relations between Finland and the U.S. grow even deeper and more far-reaching..
1 September 2011 Ambassador of Finland to the United States of America
|2009-2011||Under-Secretary of State, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|2005-2009||Director General, Department for Development Policy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|2003-2005||Deputy Director General, Department for European Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|1998-2003||Minister, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, Bonn, Berlin|
|1996-1998||Director for the United Nations Development Issues, Department for International Development Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|1995||Special Adviser to the Director General of the Political Department, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|1994-1995||Counselor, Political Department, Unit for the European Union and Western European Countries, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|1990-1994||Counselor, Deputy Head of Mission, The Hague|
|1987-1990||Second Secretary, First Secretary, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, Nairobi; Focal Point to UNEP and UN Habitat|
|1987||Attaché, Department for International Development Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|1986||Attaché, Embassy of Finland, Bonn|
|1985||Attaché, Press and Cultural Section, Ministry for Foreign Affairs|
|1982-1985||Free lance Journalist|
|1982||Master of Arts (history), University of Tampere|