President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö opened the third Kultaranta Talks on Sunday 14 June. “The international system is in great turmoil. Previous assumptions about how the post-Cold War world would change must be reviewed everywhere, perhaps most of all here in Europe,” the President said in his opening speech.
“Europe is not, after all, surrounded by a circle of stability, but by a circle of conflicts and uncertainty. We have exported our Western values and will surely push on with our efforts, but the demand is on the wane, and we are already being forced to defend these values even at home.”
“Interdependence was supposed to end conflicts, but that did not happen. The system of international law was supposed to grow stronger, but now it is being openly challenged. Borders were supposed to be lowered and then disappear, but how many people really want that anymore?”
According to the President, the vocabulary is also changing: “Instead of trade and interdependence, we talk about sovereignty and spheres of influence, even empires. We count tanks and prams, armed forces and demographic figures. Geography, history and culture are back, in forms in which nations wish to portray them.”
This new world disorder will be discussed at Kultaranta on Monday morning, led by three international guests: Wolfgang Ischinger, Alexei Kudrin and Strobe Talbott.
President Niinistö urged all participants to reflect deeply on foreign and security policy issues. “We should not just proudly repeat or defend existing answers provided by party management or shaped by our own ideologies. Let us seek new questions and answers, or fragments of these, from various angles. Let us talk directly and challenge each other, but also listen closely and state our reasons. This is the spirit that I am looking for,” the President said.
In addition to the international system, President Niinistö’s speech dealt with Finland’s challenges and her ability to reinvent herself – the topics of the second session of the Kultaranta Talks. After the Second World War, Finland asked itself: “Do we have the patience to prosper?” Now, the President said, the question is: “Do we have the courage to reinvent ourselves?”
“We have experienced setbacks for many years, ever since the financial crisis. And we have been waiting around for the years of growth to return and repair the damage. But now we have begun to wake up, that is what I believe and hope.”
The President pointed out that economic development and a united Finland also form the basis of our external position. “A Finland that is weak internally would also be weak externally. And, correspondingly: the stronger we are internally, the stronger we are externally.”
Developments in Russia are one of the themes of the Kultaranta Talks, and in his opening speech President Niinistö also mentioned his forthcoming meeting with President of Russia Vladimir Putin in Moscow. “I find direct dialogue to be natural and particularly important now that the situation is what it is. My task is, first and foremost, to ponder how we could navigate out of this crisis – in Ukraine and between Russia and the West – towards a more stable path. Here too all advice has been and is greatly needed.”
A second working group of the Kultaranta Talks will discuss intelligence and terrorism. This is a rather neglected topic in Finland, according to the President. “Intelligence has gained in importance with growing international tension and technological development. The significance of data networks and digital systems to present-day society cannot be overstated. Telecommunications and web intelligence are here to stay. These capabilities go hand in hand with the capability to protect ourselves,” the President said.
“When intelligence is discussed, important questions about the protection of the individual and of privacy are inevitably involved. It is feared that stronger intelligence capabilities violate these fundamental rights. However, we must also talk about the right to live safely – is that not a basic, even an obvious right, although it has not been written into the Constitution? And, along the same lines, what is the government’s responsibility in ensuring that safety? Thus we must consider the relationship and balance between rights and responsibilities.”
A third working group on Monday will discuss the Western world and the state of democracy. The President stated that the triumph of the Western model and values cannot today be taken for granted. On the contrary, international assessments point in the opposite direction, and sad examples of this have been seen in North Africa, for example.
“Meanwhile, our Western systems have in many places been severely affected by the friction present in decision-making. The ability to make decisions is hampered, and serious internal tensions arise. We should, therefore, look at the state of democracy from various perspectives, and also be self-critical, not self-satisfied,” the President said.
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