Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the opening of Parliament on 25 April 2019

Photo: Hanne Salonen / Eduskunta
Presidentti Niinistö avasi vuoden 2019 valtiopäivät. Eduskunnan puhemies Antti Rinne ja pääsihteeri Maija-Leena Paavola kuuntelevat. Kuva: Hanne Salonen / Eduskunta

Honourable Mr Speaker, Honourable representatives of the Finnish people,

The Parliament which begins its work today looks again quite different from its predecessor that went out two weeks ago. The power relationships between the parties have changed. The number of women in Parliament is now higher than ever before. The average age of Members of Parliament is lower. In addition to those members who held on to their seats or returned, I see almost as many new faces.

This renewal shows that our democracy is alive and well. It is particularly significant that we saw the highest voter turnout in decades this spring.

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Honourable representatives of the Finnish people,

I heartily congratulate each one of you for being elected.

One hundred years ago Max Weber, a German political scientist, defined politics as a strong and slow boring of hard boards. He described politics as a vocation and a calling, which takes both passion and perspective, a sense of proportion.

For the duration of this electoral period, the following four years, politics will be a vocation for each one of you. I do not doubt your calling and passion for it. The mandate you have received from the people comes with a great responsibility. When carrying this responsibility, it is important to bear in mind the perspective Weber called for.

Before the election, differences are sought between competitors. Now you must seek the common interest of the nation. Rather than widening the gaps, your task here is to bridge them, to take care of our common issues. There are plenty of hard boards in front of you. You can only cope with this work together.

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The intense excitement of an election spring is now followed by negotiations to form a government. At this point, a look back might give something worth remembering. During this decade, we have already changed governments five times; on average, this is more than once every second year. The old normal was solid government policy shaped over a full four-year term.

I stress the importance of commitment. At the individual level, this applies to both the Government members to be appointed and to you, Members of Parliament. The trust expressed by the voters is also trust in the complete fulfillment of the task.

At the party level, the Government undertakes to work together. The formal word to describe the way the Government works is collegial; this means that the members of the Government make decisions and stand behind them together.

It has been striking to hear, also outside the context of the health and social services reform, the Government Programme or a decision made by the Government being characterised as something that was “our demand”, whereas that was “proposed by them”. It is equally striking when you hear a Government decision being described as “just the policy of this or that minister”.

Each political party in the Government has its own goals, but when these goals have been reconciled, the Government only has one working method: the collegial one. When you make a decision together, you will stand behind it together.

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During my term of office, I have had the habit of inviting the chairpersons of all parliamentary parties to a joint discussion. These discussions have focused especially on topics related to security, often sensitive issues. Our discussions have always been constructive, and I believe they have given food for thought also for others, besides myself.

The world is full of anger and evil. Suffering caused by terrorism was most recently experienced in the bloodbath of Sri Lanka over Easter. The weapons never fall silent around the world. Calculating power policy has returned.

The good must be steadfast. I would also like to repeat this to the new Parliament. Our security is something we should talk about together. If you would like to continue the old custom, I will be at your disposal.

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The next election is approaching, the new Members of the European Parliament will be elected in a month’s time. I think we should improve our voter turnout in this election, too; it would be a very good start for Finland’s Presidency!

And many other good things would also be needed to improve the way in which we see the Union. If a European person in the street were asked about his or her opinion of what is going on in the Union, the answer would probably be that there seem to be lots of quarrels.

At the beginning of Finland’s Presidency, it would be tempting to put to the Member States the basic question of relationship problems: do we have anything in common?

I am an optimist: I believe we do. At least we have plenty of reasons to find something in common. The tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting, and Europe is facing external pressures and temptations from different directions. We can only thwart them together, within the framework of a well-functioning European Union. Otherwise we run the risk of allowing Europe to fall apart into different spheres of interest.

Security is something else we have in common. It is one of the priorities of Finland’s Presidency. There is no shortage of topics: combating terrorism, arms control, everything related to cyber and hybrid threats and artificial intelligence, climate change, migration – all issues that cannot be managed without close cooperation.

Europe is also the most highly evolved economic area in the world. Free economic activity creates opportunities and also contributes to the prosperity of the Finnish people.

And last but not least: our common values from which the European spirit stems. It has been said that this spirit originates from the triangle formed by Jerusalem, Athens and Rome. The religion and ethics, culture and order inherited from them have been refined to create a Europe of democracy, equality and human rights. Let us hold on to these values.

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The task you are now beginning will demand much of you. And by this I do not mean only the hard work burden but also the trials you will encounter as individuals, as human beings.

Before the election, there was a broad concern about the heated atmosphere which was expressed as words on the social media and even as acts of violence in the field. The feelings are now cooling down, but a vicious circle can easily leave some traces behind.

You will certainly be facing unpleasantries even evil and maliciousness. For outsiders it is easy to say that you should just ignore it, but as a target you cannot help feeling it inside.

Even if the issues argue here, we must respect each other. And this respect does not know the boundaries of political parties. A discussion conducted in this manner would also set an example for the general public.

An election held is always a victory for democracy. The Finnish nation now looks up to you as symbols of representative democracy. Carry on the triumph of democracy, boldly and with the confidence that the voters also showed in you.

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Mr Speaker, Honoured representatives of the Finnish nation,

I congratulate the presidency for the support you have received. I wish you all success and wisdom in your demanding work for Finland. I declare the 2019 Parliament open.