Mr Speaker, honoured members of the Parliament of Åland,
The last time when I opened the new term of the Parliament of Åland in 2017, I spoke about the strengths Finland has, such as equality, stability and safe living environment.
Today, the tone of my speech is slightly more concerned. We have not lost our strengths, but the world around us has become increasingly unstable and unpredictable.
No peace is in sight for the unlawful war in Ukraine. The situation requires perseverance from us as well. We will do our best to secure the stability of Finland, the Baltic Sea region and the whole Northern Europe. We will also continue to support Ukraine for as long as necessary.
The tensions between the great powers and global division lines are no longer “somewhere out there”. Their impacts also extend all the way to us and our neighbouring areas.
We cannot always control the changes in the world, but we can choose how we react to them. Currently we have to defend our own strengths and hold on to them even more tightly than before. The war in Ukraine led to the repositioning of the Finnish defence and security policy. Finland is now a full member of the defence alliance NATO. This strengthens the security of the whole of Europe, and the Åland Islands at the same time.
But we must also look further: We are now following with great concern what is happening in the Middle East. Human distress in Gaza is enormous. It is evident that Israel has the right to defend itself in accordance with the international law. However, the protection of all civilians must be ensured at all times, and international humanitarian law must be followed under any circumstances.
It is not in Finland’s interests to remain a bystander nor to exacerbate confrontations or deepen division lines with its own actions. It is in our best interest to alleviate mutual hatred and to promote trust, constructive dialogue and negotiations between people with different views, which is most important. As well as to courage to find solutions, whenever that is possible.
Here, in Åland, you have a lot of experience. It is of primary importance for Finland in which direction the world situation will now turn, and how and on whose terms the problems at hand will be solved.
It is understandable that the increasingly tense security situation provokes discussion also here in Åland.
The position of Åland is not built upon impressions. The demilitarisation and neutralisation of Åland has a clear international legal status, based not only on international agreements but also on customary law. A report on the legal status of Åland is soon to be completed at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. However, the issue is not limited only to the principles of international law nor is it limited to borders of Finland. We also need to take into account our Western partners.
When push comes to shove, Finland will definitely secure Åland with its allies. But overall security is strengthened and ensured through everyday actions. Therefore, I encourage everyone here to discuss what people could do themselves in Åland to enhance security.
There are also other actual projects regarding Åland. Such as the reform of the Act on the Autonomy of Åland, which still awaits completion despite several attempts and hard efforts. I hope that there will be political agreement and mutual will to compromise, so that the new Act on the Autonomy of Åland could be enforced soon.
Much to my delight, I have also noticed how practical and even unofficial cooperation between Åland and the State has increased over the recent years. The Åland network of civil servants as well as the Ålandsakademi are examples of everyday cooperation improving dialogue and mutual understanding.
Furthermore, the Swedish-language special course on comprehensive security and basic courses for soldiers, which have been attended by people from Åland, are important new openings. National defence and its foundations should also be discussed in Åland. It is important that all Finnish people share the same picture of how Finland is to be defended.
During my term of office as President of the Republic, I have regularly discussed actual topics with the representatives of Åland. Through these discussions, I have heard your concerns. And, for my part, I hope that I have succeeded in passing on your sentiments to mainland Finland. I greatly appreciate this informal cooperation we have had.
You have many good things here. The beautiful nature, the diverse archipelago, rich language traditions and your own cultural heritage and history. You have vitality and small entrepreneurship. You have a lot of things worth cherishing and holding on to.
I am convinced that Åland will continue to remain a safe, beautiful and vital region. Let us all bear our responsibility for this and work together for the advantage of the province.
I wish you all a successful new term and wisdom in your important task for the benefit of Åland and the whole of Finland.
I hereby declare the parliamentary year open.