It was in September 2016 when Nina Vaskunlahti took charge as Ambassador of Finland to India. Since then, she has been taking various initiatives to strengthen cultural relationships, business tie-ups and tourism between the two countries.

This is not her first experience as an ambassador or a diplomat ~ she has years of experience in this area. After graduating from the University of Turku in 1983 with a Master’s Degree in Political Sciences, Nina Vaskunlahti joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1984. Her first posting was to Canberra, Australia, from 1985 to 1988. From January 1989 to August 1992, she served as First Secretary at the Representation of Finland to the European Communities and then as the first Finnish National Expert at the European Commission, Directorate General for External Relations, in Brussels.

Vaskunlahti has also served as Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of Finland to the European Union and presided over two Council working groups, COEST and COCEN, during the first Finnish presidency of the Council in 1999. Between September 2000 and May 2004, Vaskunlahti was posted as Deputy Head of Mission at the Finnish Embassy in Moscow. In September 2008 she assumed the position of Director-General of the Department for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. She served as Finnish Ambassador to Turkey between September 2012 and August 2016.

On the sidelines of ‘India Wood 2018’, she spoke with Rakesh Kumar, elaborating on cultural tie-ups, defence and business and how Finland supports India at various forums.

Excerpts:

How do you look at the current status of the relationship between India and Finland?

The relationship between India and Finland is in excellent shape at the moment. Next year, we are going to celebrate the anniversary of India-Finland diplomatic relationship. There is a growing interest in industry and trade. The trade is one billion Euro at the moment. We are increasing contact with civil society and Indian travellers’ associations. And there is an increase of many percentage in visa applications. This is an indication of how much the interest is increasing.

Politically, no problem whatsoever. We support India on many international and global forums. We have supported India’s access to Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). India and Finland, we are both keen to reform the UN and UN Security Council. We share many joint interests. There is an increasing level of ministerial visits between India and Finland. We are expecting  an Indian ministerial visit to Finland some time in spring.

When it comes to education, Finland offers one of the best education systems in the world. Would you have any suggestions for India?

Education system is culturally different and you can’t export technique of education system to India. But if you talk about tips, one tip I would like to give is that Indian universities and Indian government should really emphasise on teacher’s education and training. A good teacher and well-educated teacher is the key for teaching and learning. They make learning interesting. Second tip I would like to give: Give independence to teachers and let them decide how they want to teach. They should emphasise on creative learning.

What is the current status of business tie-ups and defence deals?

At the moment, nothing much is happening in the defence field. But for the first time in a long time, we are participating in International Defence Expo in Chennai in April. There will be a small official delegation and couple of Finnish companies will come. However, no defence equipment deal at the moment.

Do you think the volume of trade between the two countries is still below its potential?

The current trade between the countries is one billion Euros, it has grown 7-8 per cent last year. But I think potential is much more. I think India has to do its share to increase the trade. Sometimes what they do are barriers of trade and sometimes they increase tariff. India’s behaviour should be a bit more constructive.

How is Finland assisting India in renewable energy?

For renewable energy, Finnish companies have solutions to offer. There are a couple of Finnish companies, which are into solar energy and are already based in India. They are contributing to the high target of renewable energy by the Indian government. There are other Finnish companies, which are also into renewable energy.

What is the tourism potential between the two countries?

There is plenty of tourism opportunity for Indian travellers. We have lots of pure, clean, silent nature ~ 80 per cent of Finland is covered by forest. Ten per cent of Finland is covered by water. If you want to have your holiday in a beautiful environment, Finland is the place to go. Don’t forget, the flight from Delhi will take you just seven hours

Has the direct air connectivity helped people-to-people contact?

Yes, of course. Direct flights always help.

Do you support India’s candidature for inclusion in the UN Security Council as a permanent member and in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG)?

As I already mentioned, Finland shares the Indian interest to modernise the United Nations and is also looking at how the Security Council is working.