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The presidential elections that took place during the Parliament’s recess have just been brought to a close. I have already met the president-elect and congratulated him on his election, and I have also congratulated the runner-up.
Once again, we witnessed the ability of the current presidential election system to rally supporters behind the candidates. It is my hope to see such enthusiasm for our common affairs continue. Voter turnout, however, left much to be desired, and the reasons behind this should be analysed carefully. The new trends in campaigning brought on by new technology are also likely to be seen in this autumn’s municipal elections.
As a result of the two-stage system used in presidential elections, a large number people are forced to abandon their primary candidate and choose a new one in the second round. Even though the cold weather may have had some impact on turnout, it would be advisable to focus on finding ways to ensure a high turnout in both rounds of the election.
Partly owing to our multiparty system, it would be unlikely for any of the candidates to secure the majority of votes in the first round in future elections. This, however, is always a possibility.
According to the Finnish Constitution, the President of the Republic assumes office on the first day of the month following the election, in effect on the first of February or the first of March. The amendment of the Election Act in 2010 advanced the date of the first round, held in January, by one week. If the elections are decided in the first round, the period between the elections and the new President’s first day in office may be as short as a few days, with the new President potentially assuming office on the day following the confirmation of the election results. This scenario may come to pass both 2018 and 2024.
This would be awkward in many ways. Firstly, it would be awkward for the candidates. Secondly, it could also be awkward for the outgoing president and for any outgoing officials. Even more so, the uncertainty around the transfer date could be problematic for Finland as concerns the outside world and any relevant issues that would need to be addressed. That being said, it is my opinion that we should now contemplate, in good time, whether the inauguration date of the president-elect could be confirmed as the first of March, regardless of whether the election is decided in the first or second round.
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The key duties of the President of the Republic pertain to foreign, security and defence policy, which require effective and seamless cooperation among top government bodies. This has been the focus in the past.
The parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees have always been welcome to discuss issues with me. Officials involved in discussions I have had during state visits and other international meetings have also been at the disposal of Parliament where necessary. I am confident that the President will continue to remain in contact with Parliament should the latter express such a wish.
International politics and international cooperation by Parliament involves a lot more than the issues handled by the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees. This is why I have also had contacts with other parliamentary Committees and the more informal parliamentary organisations, such as the human rights group and the global affairs group. From my perspective these contacts have been useful for both parties.
The global security environment and the development of the global economy have witnessed turbulent changes in recent years. As far as the economy is concerned, leading emerging economies – the so-called BRICS countries – have gained in influence. It has been hoped that this will also bring greater responsibility for actions geared towards sustainable development in particular. Economic power tends to be followed by political power. Even though the United States remains the single most influential country, both politically and militarily, it appears the world is moving from unipolarity towards multipolarity. This is something Europe – and we as part of it – will need to consider when forging our foreign and security policy.
This year, presidential elections will also be held in both Russia and the United States. Leadership changes are also expected to take place in China within the year. The run-up to elections and leadership changes may cause stagnation in the management of international affairs and conflicts, and for a short time after the changes take place. Patience will therefore be needed even more than is usual.
Finland should retain its active approach to international cooperation and continue to influence global security, especially through the United Nations. With continuing globalisation, we will be more and more dependent on each other. Stable and peaceful development requires respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This is why Finland, as the joint candidate of the Nordic countries, is seeking non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in this year’s elections.
Finland supports the European Union in strengthening its role in international politics. For example, the progress of the Middle East peace process and the recent events in Syria, Iran and northern Africa have a direct impact on Europe. A uniform approach by the EU would mean improved opportunities for finding solutions to various conflicts within the framework of the UN.
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Economic crises stress the necessity of tackling global challenges and of developing the market economic system to take account of social equity and environmental aspects. This was the starting point of the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which I co-chaired together with President of South Africa Jacob Zuma.
The Panel published its unanimous report last week. We welcome economic growth as a path to sustainable development. However, growth should be socially equitable and respect environmental boundaries. The report contains 56 recommendations for action towards socially, economically and ecologically sustainable development. While the eradication of poverty and the increasing of equality remain paramount, we must also harness production and consumption models in support of sustainable development. Climate change is the clearest demonstration of the fact that economic growth alone does not bring added welfare.
The introduction of the Millennium Development Goals has proved a successful approach. In the report of the Panel we propose that the UN Member States agree on sustainable development goals for a post-2015 period. I am extremely pleased that the Finnish Government has already been active in this respect.
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This Parliament session will witness a busy start. The economic crises within the European Union are an illustration of the strong ties between international and domestic politics. The current debt problems within the EU have demanded a great deal of work from the Government and from Parliament, and essentially marked the previous session of Parliament. This situation is likely to continue during the coming session. In the next few years Finland may be facing difficult times in terms of the economy.
The major reform of the municipal structure is advancing. The Defence Forces are also faced with reform. These are only a few examples of the items on the agenda, all reflecting the current economic situation.
Several studies and comparisons show that even at such times the Nordic welfare state model offers the best conditions for balanced growth and development, for learning and innovation, and for comprehensive security. While we must take account of the limits of the public economy, we should remember that social equity also supports solid economic growth.
Numerous citizens have reached out to the President, speaking of the financial troubles facing individuals and families, and of human distress. Disparities in well-being are broadly reflected across various sectors. What makes us a nation is the fact that we take care of everyone. It is particularly during financially dire times that we must bear special responsibility for those who are most vulnerable, for it is they who are hit hardest by changes.
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This is the last time that I am opening the session of Parliament as President of the Republic, and almost my last visit to this hall as President. Having served as a Member of Parliament for over twenty years, this moment involves a degree of nostalgia for me. I also feel a great deal of respect for all those who work in this building.
I would like to congratulate the Speakers on the support they have received. I would also like to thank the Speakers and Members of Parliament for our excellent cooperation and wish you success and wisdom in your demanding work for our country.
I hereby declare the 2012 session of Parliament opened.