The 2020 Kultaranta Talks focus on life after the coronavirus pandemic: Every hiatus is an opportunity for reorientation

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö, Speaker of Parliament Matti Vanhanen and Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the concluding session of the Kultaranta Talks. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

The Kultaranta Talks, hosted by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö, were held on Sunday 24 May. The talks were headed ‘After corona – What kind of Finland? In what kind of a world?’ and focused on the outlook for world politics, economy and society at large.

President Niinistö, Archiater Risto Pelkonen and Adina Nivukoski, chairman of the national association of upper secondary school students, opened the 2020 Kultaranta Talks by discussing the impacts of the coronavirus on the value of life, on our future and on our priorities.

The participants agreed that the world, the way we live and the way we think have been quickly and radically reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic. Risto Pelkonen said he believed that when the world stops, a new beginning ensues. The coronavirus has made people pause and reflect on what they consider important in life; also, appreciation for other people has been heightened.

Archiater Risto Pelkonen and Adina Nivukoski, chairman of the national association of upper secondary school students, in the opening session of the Kultaranta Talks. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

“What is really striking is the need for other people. We live our lives through other people, and a good life is about the good we can do for other people,” said Pelkonen. Adina Nivukoski concurred: “It’s been excellent to see people coming together but at the same time protecting at-risk groups and their loved ones.” “Yes, I suppose you could say that wellbeing means that no one feels bad,” President Niinistö summarised.

The President noted that although the coronavirus pandemic has only lasted a few months, we have already transitioned into a different kind of life. “An interesting question is that once this storm has passed, will we simply revert to our old ways of thinking and living our lives?”

“We’ve seen arresting moments like this in world history before. Every time we have to stop, it changes us somehow, but we should think it’s a positive change rather than a negative one. Every hiatus is an opportunity for reorientation and for exploring new pathways,” said Pelkonen. He also voiced concern about what will happen in those parts of the world with extreme poverty and squalor. “It’ll be a huge effort to bring those people along into this new world.”

Nivukoski said that she considered the important thing for the future is to take care of each other. “If we make sure that no one falls or is left behind right now, we’ll be able to think about our future much more confidently.”

“And it could become the new normal to make sure that no one is left behind,” continued President Niinistö.

President Sauli Niinistö, Archiater Risto Pelkonen and Adina Nivukoski, chairman of the national association of upper secondary school students, in the opening session of the 2020 Kultaranta Talks. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

A crisis is an X-ray exposing the strengths and weaknesses of international systems

Hiski Haukkala, Professor of International Politics at the University of Tampere; Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships; and Matti Kalliokoski, head of the editorial department at the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper discussed the outlook for world politics in the following session. The topics covered included the future of geopolitics, the future role of the European Union, the risk of power politics in vaccine development and the unifying force of science.

“A crisis is like a magnifying glass that makes tensions visible,” Kalliokoski said about the impact of the pandemic. Urpilainen compared the crisis to “an X-ray exposing the strengths and weaknesses of societies and international systems”. The participants agreed that tensions in the superpower politics between the USA and China have intensified with the pandemic. “The EU might act as a mediator here,” said Urpilainen.

Hiski Haukkala stressed that it is too early to say how the pandemic will eventually shift relations between the superpowers and how the EU will position itself among them. Urpilainen said that we should ask ourselves how we would want geopolitics to develop after the pandemic. We should also address the issue of how the prolonging of the health care and financial crisis is connected to security. The participants considered that in the best case the pandemic might lead to further integration within the EU, but in the worst case it might further erode the already fraying cohesion of the EU. “If we are able to resolve the challenges of the crisis by working together, confidence will be strengthened,” Urpilainen summarised.

Matti Kalliokoski said that science had shown its strength in coping with the crisis. As for power politics in vaccine development, Haukkala estimated that what will be crucial are the terms on which any forthcoming vaccine will be available. Urpilainen added that the EU seeks to establish a basis for cooperation, for instance in health policy.

The first session in the Kultaranta Talks was about world order. The participants were: Hiski Haukkala, Professor of International Politics at the University of Tampere; Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships; and Matti Kalliokoski, head of the editorial department at the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

What functions will be revitalised after corona?

In the session focusing on the economy, the participants were: Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Boards of Nokia and F-Secure; former Prime Minister Esko Aho; and Anu Partanen, senior advisor at the Nordic West Office. They noted that the pandemic had brought into sharp focus the economic differences between the northern and southern countries in Europe. Both Aho and Siilasmaa pointed to flaws and development needs that had emerged in the EU, such as digitalisation in the Member States, development of the internal market and internal differences in the Eurozone.

Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Boards of Nokia and F-Secure, in the second themed session of the Kultaranta Talks. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

There is much talk of the additional debt that needs to be taken on for revitalising the economy, and Siilasmaa noted that where to apply this funding should be carefully considered, i.e. which investments should be made in the future. Aho noted that borrowing does not solve any problems; instead, we should explore how the technological competitiveness of Europe could be leveraged for addressing our current challenges.

Siilasmaa pointed to the conclusion reached by the working group he chaired concerning how digitalisation can be used as a resource, naming telecommuting as an example. Aho added that remote teaching had proved successful too. Siilasmaa also brought up how reliant Europeans are on major international cloud services, highlighting the importance of improving those services to reinforce the resilience of Europe.

Anu Partanen, senior advisor at the Nordic West Office, noted that the structures of the welfare state and European regulation had functioned relatively well under the pandemic conditions. She also said that both employer and employee organisations must be involved in systemic revitalisation debates and in outlining new everyday practices introduced by necessity of the pandemic, such as telecommuting arrangements.

The theme of the second session in the Kultaranta Talks was the economy. The participants were: Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of the Boards of Nokia and F-Secure; former Prime Minister Esko Aho; and Anu Partanen, senior advisor at the Nordic West Office. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

Trust is of prime importance

Karina Jutila, Director of e2 Research, in the third session of the Kultaranta Talks. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

In the third session, focusing on society, the participants were: Karina Jutila, Director of e2 Research; Juha Itkonen, author and chairman of the Central Arts Council; and Nelli Hankonen, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki. They discussed how Finland will survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Juha Itkonen noted that this spring has been a major ordeal but that it has also exposed strengths in our society. “Ultimately, I feel that the crisis has uncovered a society that really works quite well, where people have trust in each other, in decision-makers and in the media.”

Trust was also considered important for maintaining young people’s faith in the future and for the economy. “Finland enjoys a world-leading level of public trust and above all trust among citizens. This is also a predictor of economic competitiveness,” said Nelli Hankonen.

There was a consensus that services for vulnerable people in society should be ensured. “Maybe we could make use of the digital leap that the coronavirus has forced upon us and start providing these services increasingly online in addition to face-to-face services?” asked Hankonen. “That would improve regional equality and accessibility, and it would also reinforce our crisis management capacity for the future.”

Karina Jutila said she believed that Finnish society can come through this crisis intact. Jutila described what happened this spring as society being put through a wringer. “It has showed us that we have the will to help each other, the ability to understand each other and the capacity to identify with other people and feel compassion. We are also able to make decisions even under uncertain circumstances.”

The third session in the Kultaranta Talks was about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Finnish society at large. The participants were: Karina Jutila, Director of e2 Research; Juha Itkonen, author and chairman of the Central Arts Council; and Nelli Hankonen, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

Fairness and confidence in the future

The 2020 Kultaranta Talks concluded with a session between President Niinistö, Speaker of Parliament Matti Vanhanen and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin in the concluding session of the Kultaranta Talks. Photo: Matti Porre / Office of the President of the Republic

The central government leadership has kept in close touch during the coronavirus pandemic – mainly through remote connections – and has been able to make quick decisions despite the new and unprecedented circumstances. As President Niinistö summed it up: “I’m sure that there isn’t anything on which the Government has failed to decide or on which Parliament has failed to legislate.” At the beginning of the concluding session, Prime Minister Marin paid tribute to Parliament for its swift actions. Speaker Vanhanen also commended all Finns for demonstrating an excellent capacity for adaptation and willingness to follow instructions.

The audience of the Kultaranta Talks was interested to hear the President, Speaker and Prime Minister estimate how the EU will weather the crisis and how Finland will align itself in the management of the coronavirus crisis. The Prime Minister and Speaker agreed that when talking about shared responsibility we should talk about the matter at hand, not about with whom Finland should be aligned. “We must be able to wield influence both ways,” said Vanhanen.

President Niinistö considered that the EU is facing major challenges, particularly economical ones, if the solution adopted is simply to go further into debt. “We have to put our house back in order. We have to clear the table, so to speak, and then keep it clean.” Prime Minister Marin said she believes that the perceived change in Germany’s policy regarding the easing of the financial impacts of the coronavirus crisis reveals that people are now looking at the situation in a broader perspective rather than just from the national angle. “It’s not an issue of which individual means we should be using; we must also consider whether there is confidence that Europe will find a common way forward even now, even here.” President Niinistö also called for solidarity: “The more unified the EU is, the stronger it can be.”

The participants agreed that the response to the coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that our society must have the capacity to respond to similar situations in the future. “Companies have to plan for the long term and must have sufficient solvency,” Vanhanen summarised. President Niinistö noted as a general principle that everyone must be prepared to carry their share of the burden: “Whenever we introduce spending cuts or tax increases, there is an immediate outcry about fairness: am I being treated equally to everyone else?”

Concluding the Kultaranta Talks, hosts Rosa Kettumäki and Antti Sahlström asked the President for his personal thoughts on how we can move forward after the coronavirus pandemic. “We can move forward with trust and by remembering that everyone is of equal value and must be treated in the same way,” said President Niinistö.