Photo: Matti Porre/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Alexander Stubb at a Gala Dinner in Stockholm on 23 April 2024

Your Majesties
Your Royal Highnesses
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

I would like to express my warmest thanks for your kind words to my wife and I, to my country and its people.

Today, I feel a great sense of humility, gratitude and joy. Humility for being one of the many Finnish presidents who have visited Sweden shortly after taking office, in fact, Your Majesty’s sixth President of Finland. Gratitude for receiving Your Majesty’s gracious invitation on the very day of my inauguration. And joy for being able to continue the fine tradition of making the first state visit as President of Finland to none other than Sweden. Thank you for the warm reception and diverse programme, which will continue in Gothenburg tomorrow. The best thing about visits like this is when you feel genuine warmth and friendship, and that is what both Suzanne and I have felt all day.

I have an exceptionally close personal relationship with Sweden. As you know, one of my mother tongues is Swedish and my contacts with Sweden have always been close. In fact, I was recently on a television programme that explores the ancestry of public figures. In Finnish it is called “Sukuni salat”, I guess you could call it “Secrets of my family”. The programme revealed something that was new to me: My distant connection to the Royal Court of Sweden. Now, unfortunately, this is top secret information. The Royal Family is the only one who has this top secret information about our family ties, the rest of you will have to wait until next autumn.

However, such family histories should come as no great surprise. After all, we were one country for 600 years. The western and eastern halves of the empire were united by the sea.

Today, our two peoples have contacts at every level of society. It is estimated that there are some 700,000 people living in Sweden with Finnish roots in the first, second or third generation. We would of course like Swedish-Finnish discus thrower Daniel Ståhl to have Finnish citizenship, but that’s not the case. We listen to each other’s music, watch each other’s films and television series and read each other’s authors. Our business sectors are tightly interwoven. We share similar societal challenges – so it makes sense to look to our closest neighbour for solutions and ideas. We learn from each other and become stronger together.

Your Majesties

My predecessor, President Sauli Niinistö, and his wife Jenni Haukio made a state visit to Sweden just under two years ago. It was a historic visit of great importance. Our two countries submitted their applications to join NATO together after a synchronised process. Now we meet again on this festive occasion, just over a month after Sweden became a member of NATO, thus completing Finland’s NATO membership. Today, the circle is complete.

Our nations are now establishing their profiles as allies. We will be reliable, responsible and solidary member states. The fact that all Nordic countries are now NATO members has strategic significance. This will also strengthen our bilateral defence cooperation.

Your Majesties, Distinguished guests

On occasions like this, it has become something of a tradition to mention that there are certain areas where we are also friendly rivals. And it just so happens that I come from a hockey family. If I fail to mention our rivalry in ice hockey tournaments – not to mention other sporting events – as a vital aspect of our relationship, my 89-year-old father will wonder what went wrong in my upbringing. He actually retired last year, but still watches 200 ice hockey games a year. The Stubb family is no doubt looking forward to some exciting matches against our beloved neighbour when the Ice Hockey World Championships kick off in a few weeks’ time in the Czech Republic.

Last year, we also saw our rivalry play out in the Eurovision Song Contest. Sweden claimed victory that time round, and Malmö will be hosting the Contest in a few weeks. Well, well, well. Sweden’s Eurovision success began almost exactly 50 years ago with Abba’s winning entry. In 1974 in Brighton, Finland was the country to award the most points to Waterloo. I can’t remember for sure, but my guess is that we got zero points that time as well. Many of us in Finland will certainly be turning our attention to Malmö in May.

I have always been a fan of Swedish music. I grew up with Tomas Ledin, Eva Dahlgren and Gyllene Tider,  and yes, even Magnus Uggla. I later became a fan of Lisa Ekdahl, Lisa Nilsson, Kent and Bo Kaspers Orkester, just to name a few. Nowadays, I listen to Melissa Horn, Veronica Maggio, Darin and Hov1. While preparing my speech for tonight, I thought long and hard about which song would best describe us, Sweden and Finland, together. I arrived at Ulf Lundell’s classic “Open Landscapes”. Why? Well, because this description could just as well come from the eastern and western realm of the former empire:

My love is for open landscapes, near the sea is home for me
A few months of the year, to give my soul peace
My love is for open landscapes, where the winds run riot
Where the larks soar high in the sky, singing lovely and bright
Where I distil my own spirits, seasoned with St. John’s wort
And drink them with relish, with herring and a home-baked rye
My love is for open landscapes, near the sea is home for me.

With these thoughts, I would like to propose a toast to Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, to Sweden and to the people of Sweden!

Thank you!

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