It is a great pleasure for me and my spouse to pay a state visit to your beautiful country. I personally consider this as a great honor, since you accept only one visit annually. I hope that in the course of these few days we can deepen our excellent relations even further and find new ways to cooperate, especially in the fields of economy and security.
The history of our relations dates back to the early days of the Finnish independence. Switzerland was one of the first European nations to recognize Finland in 1918. We also appreciate that my country was in your hearts during the difficult war years from 1939 to 1944. At the end of the war only three diplomatic missions remained open in Helsinki: Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. In addition, during the war Switzerland provided humanitarian assistance to Finland. These efforts and the durability of your stay was a proof of true friendship. We will never forget that.
Furthermore, Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, Marshall Mannerheim stayed here in Switzerland many times during the war and a longer period during the final years of his life. He even wrote his memoirs in Montreux. Another connection I would like to raise as an example is Lieutenant General Lennart Öesch. His father was a citizen of Switzerland, who immigrated to Finland at the end of the 19th century. General Öesch was to become one of the most successful military officers of Finland during the war years.
Switzerland is and has always been well-known in Finland – your country´s image could not be better. “If it is Swiss, it must be good”, we say. Professional and people-to-people contacts have also been very active throughout the past years. But it may be true that we in Finland did not devote enough attention to relations with Switzerland after we joined the European Union in 1995. Our focus shifted heavily to EU affairs and other member states. The fact that the latest state visit from Finland to Switzerland was made 27 years – more than a quarter century – ago illustrates this point. Now it is up to us to make this connection stronger and livelier than ever. I believe we have all the reasons to do so.
Mr. President, Finland and Switzerland share values and experiences. We are old and responsible democracies. Our societies resemble each other in many ways. They are based on openness, rule of law and respect for human rights. Both nations are considered to be hard working and trustworthy. These are all attributes to be proud of.
We are similar and close – but we still can and will learn from you. You have succeeded exceptionally well in the global economic competition despite all its challenges. You have managed to keep your society open and attractive to new people and new ideas while maintaining your distinct cultural heritage. You have also become a key player in the field of peace mediation. You inspire us!
Switzerland and Finland are regularly topping international rankings on competitiveness and innovation. So far, both countries have been among the winners of global economy. However, victories of yesterday or even today do not guarantee victories of tomorrow. We are living in the middle of economic and political turmoil. Adjusting our societies and economies to meet challenges of the future – and win once again – is therefore the main task any decision-maker in our countries has to face.
I do believe we both are better-off if we meet these challenges together. Actually, we are here in order to look for “a Swiss connection” for many things we do. Research and innovation is one such area, where both are strong and close co-operation would be natural. Environment is another sector. Finland and Switzerland understand the world of cleantech. Both countries need competitive industries which are at the forefront of global competition. Our companies stand to gain from intense collaboration. I am glad that we can focus on these issues together with both Finnish and Swiss companies at the business round-table tomorrow.
It is not all about economy. Finland and Switzerland would also benefit from closer political co-operation focusing on issues that bind us together. As an example, peace mediation and conflict prevention could be a fruitful field for some bilateral teamwork, whether in the UN, OSCE or other frameworks. Defence policy and industry are another sector where we share interests.
Mr. President, to sum up my thoughts: I see an opportunity to create a new, future-oriented partnership between Finland and Switzerland. Concrete themes for the partnership could be further developed and elaborated by our respective authorities. I hope we could discuss this idea later on during my visit.