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When President Halonen opened Parliament in 2011, she said that “we cannot know what this electoral period will bring”. How right she was. We did not even know how accurate her prediction would be.
What was thought would happen or what one wanted to happen when the electoral period began in 2011 never happened. Instead, what eventually took place one had no idea of back then. But this of course should not be surprising. Almost always at the end of an electoral period, the circumstances at its beginning seem very distant.
Throughout this electoral period, Parliament has been dragging a stone-laden sledge uphill, with more stones being added all the time: the Eurozone’s problems, ever-weakening economic prospects, the effects of the Ukraine crisis. We may not have reached the top of the hill yet, but we have also not crashed back down.
We have also heard it said that “politics is broken” or that “there was paralysis due to an overly broad base” or that “ideology was thin on the ground”. For the person in the street, such utterances say nothing, promise nothing and explain nothing. I suspect that such a person might now expect politics without divisions, as well as a functioning base and sufficient cohesion.
We have not crashed, and we will not crash. Crashes have been avoided by sticking together. I am reminded of the previous time our economy took a nosedive. The important thing back then was the will to cope with it. No one even said it out loud, it was just mutually understood. It was also understood that we had a mission, a great task, and one undertook to fulfil it – less with publicity, more with practical effort – and perhaps eventually achieved something.
It is said that the representatives mirror the people. This is good. But the people are also a reflection of their representatives. You have also been closely followed, and your actions have had an impact on citizens’ minds. Good things unfortunately tend to be overlooked.
The working practices and debating culture of Parliament have clearly improved. This indicates that representatives have an appreciation of their work and position. This development is important for democracy, and thanks are due to the Speaker of the Parliament and his staff and equally to each and every Member of Parliament.
I would like to acknowledge one of you in particular. Member of Parliament Anssi Joutsenlahti has set us a fine example of unselfishness, which is needed in these difficult times. After all, we have all seen plenty of selfishness.
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Parliament is not only a legislative body but also expresses its views on developments in society at large. As an example, I would like to mention the extensive study conducted by the Audit Committee concerning the prevention of the social exclusion of young people. Initiatives like this, on the part of Parliament, are and should be important wake-up calls for public debate on key domestic issues.
I would also like to address something that concerns our mutual work. At the start of my term of office in 2012, the constitutional amendment enacted by the previous Parliament entered into force. Parliament took the reins by declaring that in case of a disagreement between the President and the Government – however theoretical such a situation may be – Parliament would be the final arbiter. I was Speaker of Parliament back then, and my personal contribution to this enactment was limited to banging the gavel. When I spoke at the closing of the electoral period in 2011, I considered that amendment to be a great achievement.
Now that I look at it from where I am standing today, I consider it an even greater achievement. What I am trying to say with this is that I feel that I have a kind of informal parliamentary legitimacy in my office and that I feel supported and empowered by it. I would further like to emphasise that I deeply appreciate the cooperation with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees, involving a direct, confidential and informal exchange of opinions. This is exactly what we need in times like this.
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Europe has seen not only seven lean years in economic terms but also complications in the security environment. The Arab Spring, that emerged in spring 2011 and prompted a whole range of expectations, has degenerated into a cluster of dangerous conflicts on Europe’s southern borders.
During the past year, the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s actions have destabilised the security situation of the eastern fringes of Europe. Thousands of people have been killed, the stability of security policy has been compromised, and key principles of international law have been violated. At the same time, relations between Russia and the West have soured in a way not seen since the days of the Cold War.
Only a few years ago, we envisioned our continent surrounded by a ring of stable friends, but this has not come to pass. Rather, we are now surrounded by a ring of strife. Circumstances have forced us to reorient ourselves from a European expansive policy of values to a defensive security policy. There is no need to spell out the magnitude of this shift, as we can all see it plainly. It is equally obvious that Europe must face these challenges in ways to which we are perhaps not accustomed to.
Finland has followed a steady and consistent policy. As a European nation, we have stood and will continue to stand for international law and the sovereignty of nations, by imposing sanctions if necessary. We have helped and will continue to help those in distress. We have aimed and will continue to aim to promote stability in northern Europe.
Russia is a superpower that will remain our neighbour, and we will remain Russia’s neighbour. In geographical terms, one cannot choose one’s neighbours, and so neighbourhood relations must be taken care of for better or for worse. Relations between Finland and Russia have not been unaffected by the broader tensions that I just described, especially as far as the economy is concerned. However, it would not be in anyone’s interests – least of all our own – for us to deliberately undermine our mutual relations.
Developments in recent years have shown that Finland has made the appropriate fundamental decisions as far as upholding our national defence capacity is concerned. Chasing trends would have led us astray. In the past electoral period, we have commendably implemented a reform of our Defence Forces that has enhanced operations and cut costs.
Now we face a new challenge: ensuring the up-to-date performance of our national defence capability. This will require decisions and actions. Recent events have also reminded us that national security requires a wide range of readiness and risk management. This includes, amongst other things, up-to-date intelligence capabilities and legislation to back them up.
Close international cooperation has been an essential part of our security and defence policy in the past electoral period, and it will continue to be so. The nature of this cooperation will shift as circumstances change, and in addition to crisis management, joint exercises and the maintaining of performance capabilities will also become increasingly important. Finland should participate in this cooperation on our own terms, without excluding any of our options.
Foreign policy will continue to be at the forefront of ensuring Finland’s national security, but a credible national defence is its vital ally.
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I would like to extend my thanks to Parliament for the valuable work you have done for the nation, and I hereby declare Parliament closed for the present electoral period.