Opening speech at the Helsinki Conference, the aims amd achievements of the Helsinki Process, 8.9. 2005

Minister Erkki Tuomioja                                                                                

Opening Speech at the Helsinki Conference  8.9.2005

the Aims and Achievements of the Helsinki Process                             


In order to give a full account of the Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy, let me start by briefly describing the global environment within which it was born.

The idea for initiating the Helsinki Process developed in the context of increasing global interdependence, growing global challenges and the emergence of new actors in international relations after the end of the Cold War. Nation states, which had dominated international relations since their emergence, were starting to realise that in the future they would have to take new kinds of international actors seriously, and that new rules for cooperation and interaction were needed.

On the one hand  new and arising international actors – multinational business, NGOs, and civic movements – were challenging the role of the nation state as the only and sovereign actor in international affairs. On the other hand,  globalisation was shrinking the world – entailing a powerful impetus for the increased creation of wealth and prosperity by deepening the global division of labour and intensifying cooperation.

Globalization is a fact of life, and whether we like it or not we need to adress the challenges it poses.The Helsinki Process has  not sought to pass any judgements on globalisation as such.  The working philosophy of the Helsinki Process is  grounded in the realisation that globalisation is making it increasingly difficult to distingiush  in the long run between so-called national interest and a global interest. All international actors need to to join hands, look for new alliances and coalitions, and to turn negotiation between governments into open dialogue between all stakeholders.

As I see it globalisation poses two main challenges. Even if globalization and the deepening of the international division of labour enhances growth and welfare in the world as a whole, this increasing wealth is being distributed more unequally than before, both between and within countries and regions. Furthermore, a growing number of people are facing complete marginalisation with no respect of escaping abject poverty

In our Nordic democratic welfare states we are committed to both guaranteeing equal opportunity to everyone and a zero-tolerance of poverty. As a result we have achieved and maintained a relatively equal distribution of income and wealth. In our countries  we see this both as a moral responsibility and as a key factor in ensuring the social cohesion and economic success of our societies as a whole.

All our Nordic countries are small nations with open economies with a high degree of integration in to the global economy. While we have undoubtedly benefitted from globalisation we also have our concerns about the effects of unmanaged or mismanaged globalisation on our welfare model and its results.

I am not presenting the Nordic model of a welfare state as a model which should or could be emulated everywhere. We have our problems and we recognize that different historical and cultural conditions and differing values can lead to different  and just as acceptable ways of achieving social cohesion. But what I am strongly recommending is the approach we share on the necessity for and possibilities of international cooperation on globalisation. The moral imperative and economic rational guides our actions for inclusive policies and combatting poverty on a global scale as well. Globalisation is not guided by supernatural phenomena outside man’s control, but the result of governance – or lack of it. This is the other challenge of globalisation: it lacks the governance and direction, which has to be provided by our common will and action. 

The Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy has also been inspired by the previous Helsinki Process that led to the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975 and for its part influenced world-wide changes. Having said that, there are naturally many differences between the two – the Helsinki Process of the 1970s was purely one between states whereas the current Helsinki Process brings together different stakeholders, and the historical as well as political situation is also very different.

Nevertheless, there are also important similarities: the world of the 1970s, like the world of today, was severely divided between  the East and West and today between the North and South. Once again, therefore, the Helsinki Process is seeking to build bridges across the divides separating different international actors.

The international community had been relatively successful and skilful in identifying the policies to remedy many of the wrongs in the world. The United Nations Summits of the 1990s – such as the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals, the Johannesburg Summit, the Monterrey Conference and the Doha Conference – made sure that there was no lack of recommendations or policies required in order to bring about change. Thus, we did not need to re-invent the wheel but rather concentrate on bringing value-added to existing proposals, especially in terms of contributing towards implementation and real action.


This was the situation during the December 2002 Conference on Searching for Global Partnerships. With this background and these ideas , we – in close cooperation with some NGOs – approached the government of Tanzania to join us in creating this joint effort . We are very grateful to Tanzania for their partnership, without which there would not have been a Helsinki Process.

Let me now look into the Helsinki Process format which was created as a result of the first Conference.

The Process was led by the high-level Helsinki Group, consisting of eminent international opinion leaders, many of whom are also here today. The composition of the Helsinki Group was deliberately multi-valued, which – as I’m sure my fellow Group members would also testify to – led to interesting and colorful discussions and sometimes difficult situations along the way but also, most importantly, at the end of the day to a common understanding and recognition of differences in our approaches as well as reciprocal respect for them. We learned to admit the immensity of the problems we were dealing with and to genuinely reach better mutual understanding of the different analyses we had of these problems, while at the same time striving for tangible results.

The multi-stakeholder approach of the Helsinki Process was tested also in this way and its potential value-added recognised. It took time and patience , but without this exercise being truthful to its approach, the final outcome of the process would have lost both significance and credibility.

The work of the Helsinki Group was supported by three thematic Tracks – ”New Approaches to Global Problem Solving”, ”Global Economic Agenda” and ”Human Security” – which were searching for those global problems requiring most urgent action, and proposing ways for addressing them. There was close contact between the Helsinki Group and Tracks, which provided invaluable contributions to our work.


So what have we achieved  ? To begin with I shall refer to the findings of the three Tracks, which put forward very concrete proposals.

(The Track on ”New Approaches to Global Problem Solving” specifically focused on the three deficits in global governance: the democratic deficit, the coherence deficit, and the compliance deficit. Some of the key recommendations the Track makes for addressing these deficits include the development of a group of G20+ countries at the leader level to act as a coordinating body for global development; greater direct involvement of parliamentarians in global governance in order to improve legitimacy and representation; coordinated multi-stakeholder action against corruption, which is seen as a key barrier for development; and the reform of international financing institutions in order to give the South a more equal representation and to improve coherence between these institutions.

The Track on the ”Global Economic Agenda” sought to identify practical and feasible ways of increasing financing for the Millennium Development Goals. Its recommendations include promoting public – private partnerships in development ; finding innovative sources of development finance in addition to ODA, such as various forms of international taxes or fees; and  creating more equal mechanisms of debt arbitration as well as debt cancellation and the doubling of ODA.

The Track on ”Human Security” took as its starting point improving the situation of the groups most at risk – from disease, conflict, environmental hazards, famine or other threats – through greater empowerment. The Track’s proposals focus on: correcting state failures that lead to health failures, and to enhance security especially against infectious and pandemic diseases; advancing the power of women to end  gender inequalities; recognising children as actors in their own futures while reinforcing protections against violence and exploitation; reforming international and domestic law and practice concerning human trafficking,  and implementing supply/demand strategies and curtailing the misuse of small arms and light weapons – the real weapons of mass destruction.)

The contribution of the Helsinki Group is of a different nature. We recognize that the multi-stakeholder approach is not new as such, nor is the action orientation which was the focus of this approach, even though the how-question – how to do it in practice –  did receive more attention than usual. . However, in the Helsinki Process these two elements  are  also supported by a third one – running parallel to the general process – that is the ”Friends of the Helsinki Process” governments, whose role  we expect to be an important addition to our work on global issues. After all, governments are still the only democratically legitimate actors who have to bear the major responsibility for implementation.

When we combine the multi-stakeholder approach with the action orientation and the role of the committed governments, we have something that could be called the Helsinki Process Concept. The elements are not new as such, but the combination of them is where we hope to create real value-added by 1) allowing  us to move beyond dead-lock situations by focusing on practical steps forward rather than who is to blame; 2) combining  the strengths of different stakeholder groups thus also broadening ownership and commitment; 3) applying the concept to solve specific problems, by focussing on the division of roles between different actors, as well as to addressing  wider issues, by building trust and common understanding between actors representing even opposing views. The key words are action-oriented, inclusive, and empowering.

However, as we have learned from other similar processes and commissions, follow-up is the real seed for success of a commission’s work. At this Conference the follow-up of the Helsinki Process will be very much in the limelight, but before going into it in more detail, I will say a few words about other developments that have taken place during the Helsinki Process.

During the past two years, many other international commissions have released their reports. I am referring here to reports such as the Sachs report on financing the Millennium Development Goals, the Sutherland report on the future of the WTO, the ILO World Commission report on the social dimension of globalisation and naturally the UN Secretary-General’s report In Larger Freedom. In particular, many of the issues dealt with in the Helsinki Process have also been dealt with by the Commission for Africa, and our two commissions have also maintained close links.

Furthermore, the agendas and main conclusions of the World Social Forum and World Economic Forum held in January were remarkably close to each other. This has been very encouraging for us, as one of the aims of the Helsinki Process has also been to build bridges between the two, as was also evidenced by the simultaneous Track report launches held at both events. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both the WSF and WEF for opening their doors to the Helsinki Process. The G8 meeting in Gleneagles was encouraging, in so far as many of the issues raised, such as debt relief, were also key issues during the Helsinki Process.

In my opinion these are all positive developments and signs of a growing need for better governance of globalisation as well as the readiness to start implementing the commitments we have already made. Among these both the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs have been important guiding principles for the Helsinki Process, and  we should  send a message of support to the up-coming Major Event, and perhaps even offer some tools to help reach these commitments by 2015. I for my part am confident that implementation becomes politically more feasible and technically more doable as proposals go through the multi-stakeholder process. The world cannot afford to exclude any stakeholder anymore. We need to be open, inclusive and democratic.


The Helsinki Process is by nature one that can never be finished. We need to do much more. 

In its declaration the Helsinki Group is calls for a continued process of bringing different stakeholders and processes together to strengthen and coordinate the efforts for global change. The Helsinki Group proposes the formation of global Round Tables to identify possibilities for improvement in several issue areas. These include poverty and development, human rights, environment, governance and peace and security. The topics mirror the Millennium Declaration.

These Round Tables are expected to propose steps for the effective implementation of urgent policy issues. The Helsinki Process proposes issues – from innovative methods to global governance and development finance to priority actions on human security – for the consideration of these Round Tables. Similarly the Helsinki Group calls for an agenda beyond the Millennium Declaration, beyond the horizon of 2015.

I want to make it clear that the Helsinki Process is not aiming at creating a permanent institution or structure of any kind. Our ultimate aim is to integrate the multi-stakeholder concept into existing mechanisms of global governance. Our success will be measured by the extent to which governments commit to the need for change and to implementing specific proposals.

(Helsinki Conference

This brings me to the Helsinki Conference and the programme at hand. As you will have noticed, we have wanted to create a very interactive and dialogue-based conference, consisting of Key Dialogues and Roundtables.

The Key Dialogues are on cross-cutting issues of the Helsinki Process: increasing democracy in international relations, strengthening the voices of the marginalised, the central role of health in reaching the MDGs, and innovative ways of financing development. These are issues which were discussed extensively during the Helsinki Process but which, perhaps due to their complex and interconnected nature, we made little progress on. I hope that at this conference, we will be able to paint an overall picture of what the main problems surrounding these issues are and how we could begin to address them.

The Round Tables are on issues which were highlighted during the process as politically feasible, technically doable, and requiring urgent action. The Helsinki Process has made proposals for addressing particular problems associated with these issues, and I hope that interested actors from different stakeholders can come together to discuss what action would be necessary for solving these problems, as well as how we could go about taking such actions.

The Helsinki Conference should be a working meeting where different actors and stakeholders can discuss what steps and partnerships are needed to turn various commitments we have all made into concrete action – in other words, how to mobilise political will for change.)