Mr Speaker, Honoured representatives of the Finnish nation
Years ago, a parliament member, getting ready to leave this building told me how he once had walked across the Hall of State when the night was falling, people had left the Parliament building and the lights had been dimmed. Alone and in deep thought, he had been assessing the mark he was leaving behind. For him, the 40-metre stretch across the Hall of State had been a mental milestone.
Maybe he was thinking something along the lines that this is what I think and feel, but do I always act accordingly. Or that a lot has been bestowed on me, but have I been worth it?
When emotions are running high and the world is in turmoil, one gets easily carried away, from one moment to another, and from one mood to another. Therefore, every now and then it is good for all of us to go back to our roots. From that perspective, it is easier to structure the continuous flow of events and find our own understanding of them.
Europe is currently living in belligerent times. This is most concretely happening in Ukraine as Russia continues its aggression. But at the level of words, it is present all across the continent. Even, and perhaps particularly, in places, where security has been taken as a given for a long time.
There has been concern also in Finland. My response has been that we are not afraid, but we are awake. In the same way as we have been for many decades. This has been noticed also elsewhere: the Finnish model has gained admiration across the Western world. Not so much for us having joined NATO, but for building our own security. The capabilities of the Finnish Defence Forces, the reserves, conscription, national defence work and the will to defend the country are highly regarded.
This Finnish model is a guarantee of peace. Let us assume that all NATO countries in Europe acted in the same way – our common power would be
immense. Nobody would attack someone that strong. It is a good thing that Europe is waking up. That also strengthens the transatlantic relations.
Ukraine is actively advocating peace, most recently in the Davos meeting. Peace is being talked about, but it is nowhere in sight yet. In Davos, the direction was right: there were more participants than ever. From there, it is good to continue towards a summit at the level of heads of state with as broad a participation as possible.
Finland has not experienced significant real economic growth for 16 years. At the same time, the worryingly strong growth in public debt has continued. In maintaining our economy, we have adopted a permanently debt-based approach.
I do not believe anyone would raise their hand in support of continuing the current approach. But I do believe that the support for putting things right in our economy would be unanimous. In fact, that goal has won support many times over these years. And yet, here we stand.
A quick comparison with other Nordic countries shows that the Finnish economy is failing seriously and permanently. It will not change a thing if we keep on looking for culprits and remain solidly staunched in our positions. However, the situation could change if we took the bare facts and discarded all preconceived ideas and standard phrases. One could start with the conclusion that a dynamic economy and basic security in the labour market are not mutually exclusive. Then it is just a matter of getting there. I wonder if Parliament would be willing to lead this kind of co-operation across party lines and parliamentary terms.
Laws have served as the sword and shield of Finnish people for centuries. Now, attempts are being made to turn this sword against us. Russia uses people as an instrument in its efforts to weaken Finland’s border security, undermine our internal national order and generate discord. I believe we all agree on that.
We do not know on what basis the people coming to our borders are being selected. Many of them seem to be coming from countries to which they cannot be returned even in theory.
The international regulations concerning asylum provide an opportunity to have groups of people transferred or attract them to transfer from one country to another in a managed manner and without any humanitarian goal. For the user of this device, it is like the Trojan Horse in a modern setting, even though the purpose differs from the mythology. That is something no one could even have imagined when the Geneva Convention in 1951 and the regulations enacted since then were drafted.
In Finland, people have kept a cool head. The efforts to stir discord have failed. There has been a shared situational analysis, and a relatively extensive consensus has prevailed on the actions to take.
However, the challenge is tough and twofold: how to have recourse to laws and how to protect them. The approaching spring may challenge us in both respects. It may be that exceptional times require exceptional thinking. At the same time, we must safeguard the core of the legitimate order.
I am now opening the Parliamentary term for the last time. I want to thank the Parliament for excellent cooperation over these years. In the year 2011, when serving as the Speaker of Parliament, I said that, according to the new Constitution, Parliament has been raised to the position it belongs to as the supreme power of the state. In other words, not only as the holder of parliamentary cover but also as an independent actor in foreign policy.
That is exactly why I have considered it extremely important to keep in close contact with Parliament. Sometimes, in my opinion, even in a more open manner than the governments.
During my term, we started regular, although not regulated, meetings with parliamentary committees. The focus was naturally on the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees. These meetings have been more than consultations, actually, more like discussion sessions.
I have valued them greatly, and they have also inspired my own thinking. Very early on, I stated that they generate informal parliamentary cover for the President’s actions.
Mr Speaker, Honoured Members of Parliament
The times are serious and so are the issues you currently have on your table. You may still have many contemplative walks across the Hall of State ahead of you. However, the roots of our democracy run deep. And the greater the matter, such as our NATO-membership, the more stable the mark it leaves. As a bystander, one can remain fully confident.
I congratulate the Speakers for the support you have received. I wish you all success and wisdom in your demanding work for Finland. I declare the 2024 Parliament open.