(check against delivery)
In my inaugural speech, I repeated my thoughts on what I consider to be important to our nation. I can summarise them in just a few words: a sense of justice and integrity. These thoughts still hold true.
The past couple of decades have been very eventful. We have experienced both good and tough times. Now, we are once again living in an unprecedented and confusing period. The control of the economy is no longer solely in our own hands.
Information, skills and expertise have increased. However, this has not made it any easier to operate and adapt in the global environment. In fact, the reverse is true. Globalisation first resulted in greater unity – and even homogeneity. But now, globalisation is also leading to a redivision of power and wealth. This affects everyone and no one can be certain of success. And no one is entirely sure where this trend is taking us.
Many severe warnings have been issued in Finland – and some of them are well-founded. I am sure that these warnings have made people feel even more confused. On the one hand, we are afraid of growing unemployment. On the other, we forecast a shortage of workers in the future. Likewise, we demand expenditure cuts while also hoping for an increase in consumption to pave the way for future growth.
Finland is in fact facing two problems that partially overlap and are partially contradictory. First, the country is becoming indebted – perhaps not at a faster rate, but more carelessly than ever before. Second, our population has never been ageing as it is now and in the next few years. Growth is the only medicine that can cure both of these ills at the same time – but we cannot lull ourselves into believing that we can rely on it alone. We also need solutions that are targeted at each of these problems. And these medicines may be hard to swallow.
Before tough political decisions are made, people talk at cross-purposes, pursuing their own agendas. The time for talk is running out. It is the time for solutions. I encourage all members of government and parliament to be bold. Now, it will not be enough to settle for the lowest common denominator. The Finnish people have rarely punished their leaders for having the boldness to consider matters from a larger perspective. In fact, leaders have often been rewarded for seeing beyond their own interests when this is the just thing to do.
Even the representatives of labour market organisations have expressed real concern about the slowdown in employment and the economy. Much is now expected from them – shared concerns generally lead to agreement, not disputes. That would be a valuable message to bring to the political table.
* * *
Many studies have shown that the Finns are a trustworthy and also a trusting people. We have traditionally had great trust in each other, our community and our society. This sense of trust is built on our firm sense of justice. We act and make decisions on the basis of what is right. This has fostered social integrity – which is also our best competitive edge.
The power of integrity is the power of overcoming difficulties. We have experienced this before. We have overcome many tougher periods than we are facing now. Is this fundamental Finnish virtue changing somehow? What if the most decisive structural change concerns the structure of our values?
We have seen an increase in selfishness and downright greed. This is a sign that people’s sense of justice has withered – they might no longer do what is right, but instead seek to maximise their gains. This attitude erodes trust in the community. But we are living in lean times. And thus we must now consider whether there are benefits we can do without. That is the way to build integrity.
Work has always been important to Finns, both as a source of income and as a life value. All work is valuable. It is likewise valuable to seek work. But it is difficult to understand those who think that this is a society in which one can merely exist – those who consciously choose to not make the most of their opportunities and expect others to put food on their table.
Many are also wondering where the line is drawn between the responsibilities of individuals and Finnish society. The third sector is increasingly taking on functions that should be taken care of by society. And society is increasingly taking on responsibilities that should be shouldered by individuals themselves and their families and close ones. When we are drawing these lines, we must not forget that which is most important – people and ensuring that they have lives worth living. I encourage everyone to think whether there is something that we can personally do to mitigate human suffering.
* * *
The task of our foreign policy is to ensure the security and wellbeing of Finland. Stable foreign policy is not stagnant. In a changing world, we must be able to act flexibly across the board – and sometimes fast, as well. Predictability and consistency are also important. Slogans and abrupt changes in direction should play no part in our policy.
We implement our policy through actions and cooperation. We cannot cooperate without partners. For this reason, we maintain a strong focus on building relations with not only our neighbouring countries, but also those further away. For this reason, we seek to strengthen the joint security and defence policies of the European Union. To that end, we will keep developing our partnership with NATO.
It is natural for us to build up our partnerships with the other Nordic countries. Of all the countries in the world, their histories, social structures and values are the closest to ours. Finns value Nordic cooperation. This cooperation has also expanded to defence. We should do our part to develop it. The Nordic countries are also important to the Finnish economy. In particular, I focus on the economic opportunities that have opened up in the Arctic. We cannot afford to let these opportunities pass us by.
In the past two decades, Finland has been an integral member of the EU. For the most part, we have made progress during these years. A stable and thriving Europe benefits Finland. We need the European Union to function well. But we cannot outsource responsibility to the EU – or to any other actors, for that matter. European countries need strong national will and leadership. Those countries that are in good shape must ensure that they remain so. And those that are weaker must do everything in their power to remedy the situation. The future of Europe depends on this.
Finnishness must not be a barrier. We must keep Finland open to the world – to help, develop sustainably, trade, build peace and forge relationships. That said, we must not claim that we know and do things better than others. Know-it-alls are not in great demand – in fact, they get the cold shoulder. It is more natural for us to do our part in helping to promote the good and working with others to find effective solutions, both bi- and multilaterally.
The Finnish economy beats in sync with the global economy. Our economic relationships are global. The sources of our daily bread are all around the world and we earn it piece by piece. For this reason, we are strengthening the economic dimension of our foreign policy. Around the world, including the west, governments still uphold heavy industrial policy that protects big industry. This poses a great challenge to Finland. We aim to do everything in our power to support the international success of Finnish companies and entrepreneurs. It is equally vital to support investments into Finland. All of these aim to maximise Finnish work – the sole foundation of our well-being.
Finland has been an independent nation for 95 years. It is the responsibility of each generation to write the next chapter in the story of Finland. Each generation faces its own challenges and burdens. This is equally true now. Wisdom means learning from the experiences of one’s predecessors – from their mistakes and successes. We must know the past, but not be stuck in it. We must base our choices and actions on our assessments of what is in the best interests of the entire nation.
I wish you all a happy new year. God bless you.