The past year has left us with many good memories, but also memories that may not grow sweeter with time. We are occupied with three major issues: security, economy and the environment.
We have seen that Europe is not the haven of peace that we imagined it to be. The Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s actions in it proved otherwise. We have also learned that the economy will not fix itself if we just sit back and wait for the next upturn. And we were chilled to learn that global warming will have a particularly great impact here, in Finland.
So, we have moved from fine-tuning back to fundamental issues, and we must calibrate our actions and objectives accordingly.
The Ukrainian catastrophy, which has claimed thousands of lives to date, has taken us back in time – to the questions of war and peace. War is no longer only news from far-off lands; it is reality in today’s Europe.
Finland has followed a consistent policy regarding events in the Ukraine from the very first. We condemned Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea as soon as it happened and then condemned Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine. We have done this in the EU context but have also made this clear in our direct contacts with Russia. We condemn any illegal occupations, illegal use of force or attempts to limit the sovereignty of independent nations. Such actions never achieve anything but danger and increased tension. While power may have once grown out of the barrel of a gun, these days it leads to nothing but chaos.
The Ukrainian crisis has led to a new polarisation between the West and Russia. The increased tensions are reflected in Finland’s neighbouring areas, even though we are not under threat. It is vital to find a peaceful solution in Ukraine, and it is equally vital to interrupt the vicious circle of confrontation. Therefore Finland supports and actively seeks ways of finding a solution.
Russia has always been and will always be Finland’s neighbour. We will continue to maintain close dialogue. We aim to facilitate any efforts to resolve the conflict and to pursue all forms of cooperation possible under these circumstances. Russia is well aware that Finland is and will remain part of the West.
Finland’s foreign and security policy safeguards the continued existence of our country and the liberty, security and wellbeing of all Finns. Finland pursues an active policy of stability intended to ensure stability in northern Europe and contribute to decreasing broader confrontation. Finland plays an important role in its region.
Finland is one of the few European countries that continued to see military conflict as a potential threat even after the end of the Cold War and therefore maintained an appropriate defence capacity. This has proved to be a sustainable solution. However, we face the challenge of safeguarding a credible defence in changing circumstances and against the emergence of unexpected threats. This will not be possible without substantial extra investment.
Our Western partnership is one of the pillars of our security. Membership of the EU is an important security solution for Finland, even if it is not a defence solution. It is inconceivable that the EU would simply look on if the territorial integrity of one of its Member States were violated. If that were to happen, the Union built on values of peace and liberty would be standing on feet of clay. The EU has means that it can bring to bear, economic means above all, and these do have an impact.
Ever since I took office, I have stressed the importance of bilateral defence cooperation with Sweden. We are pursuing this together, step by step. Both governments are highly committed to the effort, and we are expecting new practical applications to emerge in the year now beginning. We have taken our NATO partnership to a new level and continue to pursue this angle. It goes without saying that we can always apply for NATO membership, if we wish to do so.
Citizens of Finland,
We are a stable community, even ranked number one in the world, and we have the basics needed for a good life. We have safeguarded the integrity of our society and must continue to do so, leaving no one behind. The common good is the most important natural resource we have.
Our problem is that the foundation of our economy is eroding. We have been papering over the cracks for years, counting on the next upturn to fix everything or lending more money to cover public expenditure, but now it is time for an open and thorough renovation. We are facing many changes: technology, automation, production methods and working practices are all changing. Yet human factors remain the same: Finns are regarded as reliable, loyal and responsible professionals. Whatever the future may bring, our wellbeing ultimately still depends on the attitudes of the ordinary Finn.
We all know that change and reform are difficult things. I am reminded of what the current President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said about decision-makers years ago: “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.” But what if the voters are tired of no one doing anything? What if they change that saying to this: “They all know what to do, and if they do it, we will re-elect them.”
I am also reminded of a list from the 1990s known as ‘Liisa’s list’, a proposal for cutting government expenditure. There was nothing new on the list, but what was new was where the proposal originated from. It prompted many people to ask why the opposition would advocate something that is contrary to the opposition’s short-term interests. They must soon have realised that a virtue was made out of necessity.
We are very concerned about our price competitiveness and the state of central government finances. Many people are firmly of the opinion that someone must give up something – preferably someone else than the speakers themselves. To make a real difference, someone would have to say: we are prepared to give up this important benefit – what benefit will you give up? We should make a virtue out of necessity, again.
I encourage all decision-makers to be courageous even when facing their own supporters. Enough speeches; it is now time for action.
My fellow citizens,
It is also time for action at the Paris climate conference towards the end of this year. The international community faces a tough challenge: are we able to find a common solution to a problem that we all have in common?
Combating climate change and the economy seem to correlate: our efforts to combat it weaken if there’s an economic downturn. Our national debts and our common carbon debt are put in the balance, even though both debts eat away at our future.
Finland has acted responsibly but has also recognised opportunities: we are involved in combating climate change, but we are also developing business potential in doing so. Both are worth investing in.
My fellow citizens,
On Independence Day, the Finnish public was introduced to Hannes Hynönen, the 101-year old war veteran and expert on life. He cut through today’s incriminating debate on liberal versus conservative, tolerant versus intolerant, important versus less important, with a healthy dose of common sense.
My understanding of what he had to say is that to achieve a good life you must know yourself. You must measure your expectations of other people against what you do yourself. You must remember the good but be aware of the bad. And you must see that none of us is that much more special than the other but that together we are a force to be reckoned with.
I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year. God bless!