Bringing Finnish Innovation to New Markets

Astrid Thors, Minister of Migration and European Affairs
Astrid Thors, Minister of Migration and European Affairs

Finland has opened its doors to European investors and businesses and aims to forge new partnerships with its neighbours. With a population of only 5.3 million, Finland needs international ties to keep its economy thriving, and one area in which it hopes to step up cooperation is in research and development, according to Astrid Thors, Minister of Migration and European Affairs.

Open policy towards research financing

Astrid Thors explains, “We can win more from having an open policy towards research financing and innovation projects, providing equal access to those in other countries.” She adds that EU research programmes are very important but that smaller scale regional programmes, for example involving Nordic countries or the Baltic states, could be more productive.

One recent effort for Finland is a bilateral programme with Sweden to promote joint research projects. “We could try to go even further in the Nordic region, since we have already had free movement of labour among Nordic countries for 50 years,” Minister Thors says. She strongly supports the kind of regional cooperation represented by the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region adopted in 2009.

“We can win more from having an open policy towards research financing and innovation projects, providing equal access to those in other countries.”

Long career in public service

Minister Thors was elected to serve in the Finnish Parliament in 2003 and served in the European Parliament between 1996 and 2004. Between 2005 and 2007 she was chairperson of the Swedish Assembly of Finland, and in 2007 she was chosen to be the new Minister of Migration and European Affairs. She has a wide ranging brief as minister; she handles matters covered by the Migration Department, equality issues under the Legal Affairs Unit, and the activities of the Office of the Ombudsman for Minorities and the National Discrimination Tribunal of Finland.

Astrid Thors also deals with international issues and matters related to appointments and personnel administration that fall within her field of competence. In addition, she directs financial planning and the preparation of budgets and other joint matters in her field. She has also handled issues involving the Government Secretariat for EU Affairs and the Secretariat for the Finnish EU Presidency.

EU as positive force internationally

The minister is committed to making Finland a productive EU member and to making the EU a positive force internationally, for example concerning the concept of transparency. She comments, “As for the future of the EU’s openness, transparency is an instrument as well as a value of the Union. At least we ‘Nordics’ very much treasure the principles of open decision making. Transparency does not only mean making documents available. It is a wider principle that allows those affected by decisions to know what is happening and how it is happening, not only the basic facts and figures, but also the mechanisms and processes through which those decisions have been taken. Transparency was one of our principal guidelines during the Finnish EU Presidency in 2006. To conclude: within the EU, we must give an example to others and, above all, act accordingly.”

Taking innovation programme to the next level

One way Finland is already serving as a positive example is in its focus on innovation, but taking the country’s innovation programme to the next level is necessary, Astrid Thors believes. She points out that Finland has established a strong innovation system, but that the country needs to encourage more cooperation between business and the research sector to help bring innovative new ideas to the marketplace. “We need to tie our research activities more closely to concrete challenges,” she says. Finnish research institutions are already working with the forestry, energy and ICT sectors and the minister hopes to see more cooperation like this in other sectors.

Promoting partnerships among Finnish universities is another goal for the minister. “We had one Finnish university that came up with an innovative idea but lacked the capital to develop it. Now we hope to see Finnish universities pool their resources to help each other,” she explains.

Marketing Finland internationally

Another key effort for Finland is to market itself internationally. As the minister points out, “Here in Finland we are very good at innovation but not so good at marketing. We are just as industrious as the Japanese, but we are also able to work individually and reach solutions. We need to make the world aware of this!”

The government is also encouraging entrepreneurship. Astrid Thors explains, “In the Vaasa region, many people could not accept that their companies had moved away from there so they launched businesses of their own, using their knowledge of the market. This is what we need: more Finnish people with market knowledge who are also entrepreneurial. Innovative smaller Finnish companies have immense potential to succeed in the EU marketplace.”