Reporter, pictures: Tomi Hinkkanen &  Jonny Kahleyn

Last October the Foreign Ministry of Finland announced plans to shut down the Consulate General of  Finland in Los Angeles and move its operations to Silicon Valley.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen at her Bel Air residence during an independence ball.

Finntimes mounted a vigorous campaign to keep the consulate in L.A. where we feel it rightfully belongs. Our readers really stepped up to support this cause. In a couple of months, 641 of you signed our on-line petition. An additional 142 signed the petition at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills. That’s 783 signatures in total. They were delivered to the deciders in Finland, including the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

Film director Renny Harlin signing the Finntimes petition to save the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

Now our efforts have yielded results. The Foreign Ministry has revised their plans and made the absolutely right decision to keep the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles after all. We have won!

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles Kirsti Westphalen

Consul General of Finland in Los Angeles, Kirsti Westphalen, has worked tirelessly to secure this monumental decision. She spoke exclusively to Finntimes right before the decision was made public.

What was decided about the future of the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles?

“Well, I’m happy to tell you that the Consulate General of Finland will continue its operations in Los Angeles, but with a reduced budget. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as other actors in Finland continue to be under tremendous economic pressures. The Ministry reviewed the issue in light of the cost benefit that might have been accrued from moving our Consulate General to the joint premises that we have in Silicon Valley. But as it turned out, the savings were not as substantial as were previously thought. The prices in Silicon Valley have turned out to be exorbitant. This was one of the factors. We will be able to achieve savings and at the same time retain and keep the core functions of the Consulate General – servicing the Finns, who are entitled to consular services.”

Between 7,000 and 9,500 Finns  live in the 13 western states that the consulate serves. Many of them reside in SoCal.

L.A. Finns celebrating Juhannus – midsummer – at the Finnish club in North Hollywood.

What will be cut from the budget?

“The major savings will come from our rent costs. Currently the Consulate General occupies an office in Century City. We will be looking at cheaper alternatives, which will not be too far from the current location. We are aiming to relocate in the 405-corridor in West L.A.. Substantial savings can be achieved this way. We also have to cut from our operating expenditure, but in such a way that we still hope to be able to retain our core functions to be of service to Finnish citizens and public diplomacy work on education and clean, sustainable solutions, including the support to creative Finns in Los Angeles.”

Kristian Jokinen is the clean tech expert at the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles.

So, you will not cut any personnel?

“We will be able to maintain the personnel that we have at the moment. We are under staffed as it is and people are working very hard. We are eight persons altogether.”

One major event had to be cut from the Consulate General’s social calendar, though:

“Already this year we will be very careful with our budget. Thus, this year we will not be holding the traditional Independence Day Party at the residence. We want to put our budget into activities that directly contribute to the success of Finland here in the U.S.. I hope that in the years to come, when the budgetary situation will be better, we will be able to get together to celebrate the independence of Finland with a party at the residence. This year, however, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate independence in the Bay Area, here in Los Angeles and in San Diego, where local Finns are planning independence day celebrations.”

Who made this decision?

“All these very painful decisions were reviewed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with very highest of our decision makers, including the President of the Republic.”

Even though Los Angeles was saved, some other representations have to be shut down.

“Consulate General of Hamburg, Germany and Consulate in Sydney, Australia will be closed during 2013 and our mission at the Organization of  Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, will be merged with the Finnish Embassy in Vienna. So, this is an ongoing process. These are in addition to closures that have been announced already earlier.”

Finntimes publisher Tomi Hinkkanen promoting the petition to save the Consulate General of Finland in L.A. at the Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills.

Do you think that the petition on Finntimes played any role in saving the Consulate General of Finland in Los Angeles?

“I am sure it played a very important role. It was duly noted that the support of the Finnish community on the U.S. West Coast was strongly in favor of maintaining activities of the Consulate General of Los Angeles. It had an important role, as the decision was being reviewed. That in the addition to the fact that the government decided earlier on this year in the so-called “Team Finland Report”, where we are trying to reinforce the activities of Finnish missions abroad, that one must have a strong Finnish presence here in the  U.S.  West Coast.”

Kirsti Westphalen wants to personally thank our readers.

“My personal thanks goes to you, your readers, Finntimes and your article and petition on retaining  the consulate here in Los Angeles.”

Virpi Sidler of FACC and Kirsti Westphalen at the Finnish Community Roundtable event at the Consul General’s residence in Bel Air.

And Finntimes and myself want to thank Consul General Kirsti Westphalen for playing a key role in successfully defending the Consulate General of  Finland in Los Angeles. As the icing on today’s victory cake, Ms. Westphalen will stay on an extra year in L.A., until the Summer of 2013. And a million thanks to all you readers, who signed our petition and made this happy outcome possible.

Consul General Kirsti Westphalen by Jonny Kahleyn

Thank you, Consul General Kirsti Westphalen for saving our consulate!