On Monday, Finland celebrates its Independence Day, commemorating its independence from Russia in 1917.

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish the Finnish people all the best for their country’s special day.

Despite the geographical differences and distance between the two nations, one at the very north and the other at the southern frontier of the European Union, Finland and Malta share common European values and aspirations. The two sides have many areas which are ripe for potential development, not just in business and tourism but also in culture and education.

Finland is renowned for the progress it has made in the field of education in recent years. As an educator by profession, I see a lot of opportunities in this area.

Way back in September 2020, we reached an agreement with Finnish NGO Faktabaari to offer training sessions to Maltese educators and journalists on how to teach our children literacy in media and communications and critically analyse what they read and listen in the media.

Over the last couple of years, the number of Maltese students who pursue their studies in Finland has increased significantly; this was evident in the number of requests for assistance and advice from students and parents alike. 

More than 200 Maltese educators attended a webinar organised together with Faktabaari in November 2020. Afterwards, thanks to the support of ministers Evarist Bartolo and Carmelo Abela, experts within this Finnish NGO began to assist our country in shaping a new policy in this area.

Maltese educators have also started using a Finnish educational resource, Seppo, which assists in designing lessons outside the classroom for a year. HSBC Bank is financing this pilot project. 

Direct flights could change the entire ball game- Kenneth Vella

I am happy to have played a key role in facilitating the negotiations, which, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in October 2021, led to collaboration between the University of Helsinki - recognised as the fifth best university globally – and the Institute for Education within the Ministry of Education in Malta. 

Opportunities are arising in the publishing sector, with the Maltese company Kite Group setting its sights on Nordic countries with ongoing negotiations and an agreement reached between two companies already – all this because Malta has a competitive edge in this sector. 

It was also gratifying to see the publication of the book Finnish Education in Practice, What, Why and How. This project was an offshoot of the collaboration between Learning Scoop Finland and another Maltese company. This publication’s entire content was prepared and researched by Finnish educators and experts in this field, however, in June 2021, the book was finalised and produced in Malta. Finnish companies usually tend to publish their work in collaboration with Scandinavian, Asian or British publishing houses. But, after discussing this idea with us, I encouraged them to consider doing this in Malta.

Malta and Finland can only increase their level of business and cultural exchanges in the years to come. While the COVID-19 pandemic did dent tourism figures and affected trade on both sides, there is mutual will and the energy that make me think very positively about the future of bilateral relations between these two European partners.

Before the pandemic, the number of Finnish travellers to Malta was increasing. In fact, between 2015 and 2017, the number of annual Finnish visitors increased by 30 per cent, reaching over 20,000 in 2017, of whom 20 per cent were repeat visitors.

Together with the Malta Tourism Authority, with help from Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo, there are ongoing meetings with officials of the national airline Finnair about the possibility of resuming direct flights between the two countries. Direct flights could change the entire ball game and we are working hard towards this aim.

Kenneth Vella is Ambassador to Finland.

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