“I am not sure if I actually have a talent for languages or it just comes with the job,” said the ambassador modestly, ensconced in his offce at the Delegation of the European Union at the Athenee Tower on Wireless Road.
In addition to enviable linguistic abilities, he also boasts impressive diplomatic credentials including a lengthy stint as senior adviser to former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana.
“I became a diplomat in 1994 serving in the Foreign Service of Finland. I worked in Moscow for a short while, then I was seconded to work for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Latvia. I served in other foreign posts and in Helsinki before starting to work for the European Union institutions in 2004. This is my second assignment as European Union Ambassador. The first was in the Republic of Moldova. This is also my second assignment to Thailand. I was here 20 years ago when I served as Deputy Head of the Finnish Embassy in Bangkok.”
A good portion of Mr Tapiola’s career has been spent in Eastern and Central Europe, including Ukraine as well as Latvia and the Republic of Moldova. “In terms of EU interests the neighbourhood is extremely important. The capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, is a wonderful city. You can say Eastern Europe is an area of specialization for me, and I found living and working there for the EU fascinating. My second specialization is Southeast Asia, so I was extremely happy to come back to work in Bangkok. I feel home here.
“Since my first assignment here, Bangkok and Thailand have changed a lot. One thing that is very clear is that the economy has become much more robust. There is a stronger middle class and the country is clearly more afﬂuent, as also evidenced by so many new high rise buildings. At times, I miss certain features of the old Bangkok.
“Bangkok was a little slower back then, but I wouldn’t say it was that much smaller. You could already see a lot of condominiums around Sukhumvit and Sathorn and it looked very much as it does now with a few exceptions. There are definitely more shopping malls now and unfortunately they have taken over some of the nice green leafy spaces of the past.
The European Union
“There are about 140 EU Delegations around the world serving as the Union’s ‘embassies’. The EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European External Action Service – EEAS (the EU foreign service) are located in Brussels. The EU foreign policy has become much stronger since 2009 when the Lisbon treaty came into force.
“The treaty established the EEAS, the current position of the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission and transformed European Commission Delegations to EU delegations which represent the Union politically and ensure the local Presidency of the European Union. EU delegations fulfil a dual function in host countries. The Ambassador represents the EU on matters of foreign and security policy common to the 28 Member States. At the same time, he or she also represents the European Commission, which is the executive arm of the EU. So, I represent the EU nations collectively and our executive branch in the effort to build a strong and productive Thailand- EU relationship. There is a division of labour among my ambassadorial colleagues on which matters are for the EU – the Union as whole and which matters concern individual member states.”
Asked about the types of instruction received from Brussels, Ambassador Tapiola noted: “Most instructions are sort of generic to EU foreign policy. Once our decision making system has defined the policy, you function within it. One has room to maneuver within the policy. We have monthly meetings at an ambassadorial level chaired by me and our political and commercial counselors meet, chaired by my colleagues at the Delegation. Member States promote their own commercial interests, but trade policy negotiations are all done at EU level. Trade is one of the EU’s supra-national competencies. My job entails a lot of work and I can tell you, you don’t get too many holidays when you are an EU Ambassador.
“Our delegation in Bangkok is in a very nice building and a very good location. We are happy with our services and surroundings. We have close to 100 EU staff, including 50 locals. They are all dedicated. We also have here a regional hub on matters of humanitarian affairs which works sort of independently but is co-located with us.”
“What I want to achieve is to help put in place pre conditions and opportunities for taking the already close Thailand-EU relationship to a new and higher level. That means steps must be taken from all sides. I am strongly
committed to building this partnership and I hope that by the time I leave there will be a clear recognition of the EU role in Thailand and the world at large.”
As for his daily schedule, Mr Tapiola said: “No day is the same. I naturally spend a lot of time coordinating with my EU colleagues, as well as talking to other colleagues in the diplomatic community. Our interaction with the Royal Thai government is naturally very close. I also try to ensure EU visibility, so there is quite a bit of media outreach to do. Business is of course a key counterpart. The European Association for Business and Commerce is an important partner. They are here to look after the collective interests of European businesses.
Thailand and the EU
“Of course, Thailand’s relationship with Europe goes back much further. Thailand and Portugal, which is an EU member state, are celebrating 500 years of relations. Thailand had an emissary at the court of Louis XIV of France. As for current relations between Thailand and EU, we had a period which was complex after the military takeover in 2014. However, developments on the ground here with the adoption of the constitution, going forward with plans for elections and the return of legal cases from military courts back to civilian courts have brought about a situation in which we have renewed political contacts at all levels. That was decided by the Council of the EU on December 11, 2017,” Mr Tapiola said.
“We are also beginning talks about the resumption of negotiations for a free trade agreement, but with the understanding that we will only formally negotiate after there is a democratically elected government. We are preparing for a deepening of relations very rapidly following the election and there is a lot of interaction on that.
“The economic relationship between the EU and Thailand is of course very important. The EU is Thailand’s third largest trading partner after Japan and China. This is an enormous amount of trade and it’s also a very long-standing relationship. The EU is the third biggest investor in Thailand and the second destination for Thai investment. Free trade will be very good for all concerned. We want to move towards this because we in Europe believe in openness and empowering countries. I hope that the preconditions, namely an elected government in place, for resuming negotiations on free trade will be in place very soon.
“The restrictions on government-to-government visits imposed after the military takeover in 2014 have been lifted. The Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai recently visited Brussels and met with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. He also visited Italy and the Italian Foreign Minister came here. The British Foreign Secretary also visited Thailand and there have been other ministerial visits as well. We are interacting now and talking about matters of mutual interest, including human rights and the return to democracy.
“I just want to say that I am sincerely impressed by the quality and qualifcations of the civil service in Thailand, without exceptions. All the senior civil servants I deal with at the various ministries are excellent and the quality of our discussions is also very good. Sometimes we disagree and sometimes we don’t. Thailand traditionally has the reputation of having a very strong civil service and it is certainly not unfounded.”
Mr Tapiola will celebrate his 48th birthday in September. He married Ukrainian Olga Shumylo in May 2010. He is also a father of three children, 15-year old twin girls Isabella and Naomi and a son, Samuel. “My wife Olga and I look forward to discovering more aspects of our new home in Thailand. This is truly a wonderful country and I am very glad to be back here. I find Bangkok a very good place for eating. I very much enjoy the restaurants here. There is such a variety.
“I have been very busy since I came here but I have travelled a bit professionally and also on my own. I have been in Hat Yai and the South a little bit and I have visited Chiang Mai and coastal provinces. I intend to travel more and more in the country and the region. Travelling and being active comes naturally to me. I am an addicted walker, and I do quite a lot of restaurant hopping.”
The European Union and Thailand
The European Union
• A unique political and economic union of 28 European countries.
• Over half a century of peace, stability and prosperity; an
achievement recognized with 2012 Novel Peace Prize.
• Home to more than 500 million people.
• Generates one quarter of world’s GDP.
• Works to improve the lives of people in Europe and worldwide.
Role of EU Delegation to Thailand
Today, the EU Delegation supports relations between the EU and Thailand in several areas: Political and cultural ties; economic and trade relationships; development co-operation and humanitarian aid. The EU Delegation in Bangkok also serves as a regional oﬀice for: foreign policy instruments; development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
EU-Thai relations are built upon a long-standing partnership. Diplomatic ties with some EU Member States reach back hundreds of years and have formed a shared and living heritage. The EU and Thailand have an open political dialogue and often cooperate in international fora such as the UN on issues of common interest.
Throughout the year, the EU Delegation to Thailand organizes a variety of cultural events, including EU languages cafés and the EU Film Festival. Several EU Member States have established cultural institutes and oﬀer language classes.
Many Thai students, academics and university staﬀ spend part of their studies or research periods at European universities. European Member States and the EU oﬀer various scholarships. The EU-funded scholarship is called Erasmus+. It oﬀers support to students, academics and university staﬀ from around the world who wish to study, teach or conduct research in Europe.
Throughout the last 60 years, the EU has successfully developed a strong internal market and strengthened its global economic position. Today, the EU is the world’s largest trading bloc, as well as the first source of destination of foreign direct investment. The EU has strong economic clout and is a key player in international economic forums.
The EU places great importance on strong relations with Southeast Asia. In the past decade, EU-ASEAN trade and investment relations have grown impressively. Merchandise trade has almost doubled during the period, and now exceeds 200 billion euros per year.
In the past decade, the EU and Thailand have developed strong economic and trade relations. This trade relationship is governed by the World Trade Organization rules. The EU is Thailand’s third largest trading partner and the second largest source of foreign direct investment.
Over the years, Thailand’s robust economy and its important market in one of the most dynamic regions of the world have attracted many companies from all sectors, including hundreds of European firms. These businesses have contributed substantially to the country’s growth by transferring technology, knowledge and know-how, as well as investing in local research and development.
Eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development are two of the world’s greatest challenges. The EU, in collaboration with its Member States and partner countries, is determined to address both.
Cooperation between the EU and Thailand began in the 1970s with a strong focus on helping the country improve its agricultural sector. Over time, cooperation has shifed towards broader economic assistance in line with Thailand’s rapid growth.
Today’s cooperation strategy focuses on technical assistance to support the achievements of sustainable development goals in Thailand. Developing a model that reconciles economic and social development with the protection of our planet is at the heart of
In Thailand, EU assistance addresses key challenges from sustainable consumption and production, to forest governance, climate change adaptation in the Mekong area and implementation of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade action plan, to address illegal timber trade.
The EU-ASEAN development programme is aligned to ASEAN key strategies, policies and plans. The cooperation focuses on strengthening connectivity, climate change and a comprehensive dialogue facility. The EU and Thailand are partners in implementation of ASEAN Air Transport Integration project and the Protection of the Intellectual Property Rights project.
The EU oﬀice in Bangkok supports all EU-funded humanitarian projects in East and Southeast Asia as well as the Pacific region.
EU humanitarian operations began in Thailand in 1995 and have since responded to numerous natural and man-made crises, including the 2010 floods in Thailand, Funding for these activities has reached more than 120 million euros.
Much of this aid has been channeled to help Myanmar refugees along the Thai border. The EU has provided assistance to these people for over 20 years through delivery of food aid, health assistance and protection services.
Humanitarian assistance is also provided to Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants who have travelled into Thailand since 2013, as well as other asylum seekers seeking refuge in Thailand.
Curriculum Vitae of H.E. Pirkka Tapiola
M.Sc., Social Sciences (International Relations), University of
2013 -2017: Ambassador of the European Union to the
Republic of Moldova.
2011-2013: Senior Adviser, Strategic Planning Division,
European External Action Service.
2004 -2010: Senior Adviser, Policy Unit of High Representative/
Secretary General Javier Solana, Secretariat of the Council of
the European Union.
2001-2004: Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, Kyiv,
1998 -2001: Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Finland, Bangkok, Thailand.
1997-1998: Diplomatic Oﬀicer, Ministry for Foreign Aﬀairs of Finland.
1995 -1997: Deputy Head of Mission, Mission to Latvia of the
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
1994-1995: Member of Mission, OSCE Mission to Latvia.
1994 (June-August): Trainee, Political Section, Embassy of
Finland, Moscow, Russia.