Esteemed Speakers, Dear Ministers and Members of the Nordic Council, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My warmest congratulations to the Nordic Council on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. And a warm welcome to Finland to all of you who have come to the Council meeting.
The Nordic countries are regarded as pioneers in many sectors. And that is what we are, at least in our mutual cooperation. Throughout the decades, we have been determined to strengthen our Nordic family. Our cooperation has deepened under different political circumstances and even in tense global political situations. Over the years, we have developed into one of the most integrated regions in the world.
The Nordic Council was founded in 1952 in the middle of the Cold War. Although Finland was not formally a member in the early years, cooperation was close. We knew we had the support of other Nordic countries. When we joined the Council in 1955, we were warmly welcomed. At the first session of the Nordic Council, which Finland attended in 1956, Council President Bertil Ohlin said: “It felt as if a chair was empty when Finland was not here.” For Finland, the Nordic countries were then, and still are, the closest group of friends and international reference group.
Now, 70 years after the Nordic Council was founded, the atmosphere in world politics is even chillier than during the Cold War. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine brought war to Europe. All the Nordic countries have strongly condemned Russia’s actions. All the Nordic countries stand firmly behind Ukraine as it fights for its freedom and for our common values.
In recent weeks, the war has again entered a new phase. Russia has stepped up the destruction of Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, with no regard for civilian suffering or the rules of war. Although Ukraine is fighting back bravely and has made significant progress, it is difficult to see an end to the war.
Our security environment has also changed fundamentally. At the end of last year, we recognized the change as Russia called for a halt to NATO expansion. Finland saw this as an attempt to deny our freedom of choice. Immediately after Russia made its demand, I gave a statement in response, stating: “Maintaining a national room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice is the foundation of Finland’s foreign, security and defence policy. This also includes the possibility of military alignment and applying for NATO membership.” Our decision finally matured after Russia started its attack on Ukraine.
The process of confirming Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership has proceeded at an historic pace: in four months, as many as 28 allies have ratified our membership, the Nordic countries among the first. With Turkey and Hungary, we have a good dialogue. I am confident that the remaining ratifications will be completed. As I have said: We started down this path together with Sweden, and together we will continue.
Over the course of this year, I have often been asked what the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO means for Nordic cooperation. I think the answer is clear: our cooperation will deepen further. We already have extensive cooperation between the Nordic countries in the field of security and defence. Our interests are often similar and our capabilities are strong and complementary. When Finland and Sweden join NATO, there will no longer be empty Nordic chairs in the NATO Council either. Together, we are strong security providers in our own region and beyond. In the future, we will strive to ensure that the whole Alliance benefits from our cooperation.
We share the same security environment also with the Baltic States. I would like to see the well-functioning NB8 cooperation aiming increasingly at security. Cooperation between parliaments is already close, but I would encourage you to further strengthen contacts and the exchange of information and views, for example between key committees.
We are living in dangerous times. Sabotage of gas pipelines and drones flying near strategic targets are examples of hybrid attacks that we need to be prepared for today. Our exchange of information is continuous. We have intensified our cooperation in the areas of security of supply and crisis preparedness. This must continue. Our critical infrastructure crosses national borders in many sectors. We must work together to protect it. When we prepare together, our security is strongest.
As stated in Finland’s Presidency Programme of the Nordic Council, security is the foundation of all wellbeing. Last spring, we took decisions and measures to strengthen our security.
But our wellbeing is challenged also by other means. Rising energy prices and interest rates, as well as accelerating inflation, worry our citizens. And for good reason. This winter, more and more people will have to make difficult choices to reduce their consumption. More and more people are worried about making ends meet.
Russia is using its energy weapon in the hope that our resilience is the first to break. That Western unity would begin to crack and our support Ukraine to falter. This is where it makes a miscalculation. History has shown that, both as individuals and as nations, we find strength in ourselves in difficult situations. Together and alone, we can do things we may not have even known we could do. The Ukrainians are the ultimate example of this. The challenges we face are small compared to what Ukraine faces. I firmly believe that our backbone will hold.
As I said about a week ago when I visited Iceland, I had thought that Nordic cooperation had already reached a perfect level. But during last spring I learned that there is a level that is even better than perfect. The difficult times have brought the North together in an unprecedented way. Contacts between the Nordic countries have been close.
I myself have visited all the Nordic countries in the past six months. And every few days we have picked up the phone to exchange information and ideas with a Nordic colleague. This has been valuable.
I hope that we will seize this opportunity – the Renaissance of Nordic cooperation – to strengthen what we have and create something new. Even the perfect can be improved.
I have often thought that in many ways the Nordic countries are seen as ideal societies in the world. We are known for our strong democracy, equality and prosperity. Whether it is stability, freedom, a sense of security or happiness, we are at the top of the statistics. We are trusted. There seems to be a perception that everything that comes from the Nordic countries must be good. Should we make even better use of this Nordic brand?
In the international arena, we work to strengthen the rules-based system, to promote an ambitious climate policy and equality. Instead of doing things alone, could we rely more on the Nordic brand in our politics?
In business, our companies are often competitors with each other. But in the new technologies sector in particular, we are up against large companies that operate under different rules, with different values. In the 5G and quantum technology markets, reliability is a hard asset. Should we first look at where we have synergies?
There are plenty of examples, and a lot is already being done. But the full potential of the Nordic brand has not yet been realised. Together, we could do even more good by being even more active. Here, The Nordic Council can act as an accelerator and catalyst. After all, it does seem that everything that comes out of the Nordic counties is good.
I would like to raise one more topic that the Nordic countries have traditionally been strong advocates of: peace. Some years ago, the Nordic Council of Ministers published a report on the Nordic peace brand. This is a part of our brand that we should not lose. After all, only peace is the basis for sustainable security. It is also worth remembering what President Biden said when I visited Washington in March. He said that President Obama used to say: “We’d be alright if we left everything to the Nordic countries, everything would be fine.” I think we agree.
This year, as we celebrate the Nordic Council’s special anniversary, our unity, cooperation and closeness is perhaps more important than ever. I would like to thank you for the important work you are doing for our Nordic family and for strengthening our common handprint in our region and in the world. I wish you a rewarding session week, good discussions and many new ideas.