President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö participated in the Paris Peace Forum on Thursday, 12 November 2020. In the debate session on European security, President Niinistö emphasised the importance of trust and cooperation in solving new challenges.
In addition to President Niinistö, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian of France, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas of Germany and Professor Andrei Zagorski of the IMEMO Institute in Moscow participated in the debate session entitled “The Paris Charter and European Security Architecture, Thirty Years On: What Remains of the Helsinki Spirit?”
In his speech, President Niinistö stated that the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was an achievement in itself. In the middle of the Cold War, it was not self-evident that all the participants would end up sitting at the same table. “Returning to the present day, would it be possible to bring together the most significant powers in the world as happened in Helsinki? I’m afraid the answer is ‘hardly’.” No, even though there may well be a need for a similar meeting in the current global situation, and with an even broader approach.
President Niinistö recalled that, at the time, the CSCE, too, was criticised for cementing the dividing lines of the Cold War. Fifteen years later, however, the Helsinki Principles were considered to be an important factor in the ending of the Cold War and in breaking down dividing lines. The beginning of a new era of peace, democracy and unity was declared in Paris in 1990. And the process continues – in the 1990s, the CSCE became the OSCE.
President Niinistö stated that the Helsinki Spirit concerned many issues that are still important. The first is the importance of trust: “There has to be at least some degree of trust so we can sit face to face with our opponents at the same table. Without trust, there is also no cooperation,” added the President.
A second consideration is that security and cooperation go hand in hand. “You can’t have one without the other,” said President Niinistö in summary. Thirdly, the President stated that the principles adopted in Helsinki are still highly current. “We try to follow and emphasise them, and they are our route forward.”
Although the world around us is nowadays very different from 30 years ago, President considers that the need to increase security is just as great. “Security is the number one priority for every nation and every individual. It’s a basic element of life,” he said.
According to the President, the world is currently facing major issues; superpower competition, nuclear control, the pandemic and climate change are challenging all countries. “Perhaps we should once again find the positive attitude that we also call the Helsinki Spirit. In the future, too, we will need dialogue, trust, security and cooperation as well as the ten principles adopted in Helsinki,” said President Niinistö considering a solution.
An attempt to raise all possible issues at once would hardly succeed. President Niinistö emphasised the need to focus on small issues where we have a common interest. Among these are issues related to the environment and climate change. As an example, the President spoke about his discussions on black carbon with the Presidents of the United States and Russia. “If we can cooperate on small things, they may yield bigger results.”