Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö to the diplomatic corps at a banquet at the Presidential Palace on 26 April 2012

(Check against delivery)

I would like to welcome you all warmly to this dinner, which has become an annual tradition. I have already met most of you at my inauguration, and my cabinet and I will certainly be working with all of you in the future.

I would like to share some of my thoughts about trends in the world and in Europe. Then I would like to say a few words about Finland’s foreign policy and how I see my role in leading it. But because there is nothing as terrible as a long dinner speech, I will try to do all this in less than ten minutes.

* * *

The world has become multi-polar, and new centres of power have emerged. We are now in the midst of this process of change. In 2011, not one of the top twelve fastest-growing economies was in Europe or North America. This is no longer just about China and India: most of the fastest growing economies in that group are African.

The global change is overwhelming: it affects pretty much everything, and it cannot be escaped. Anyone trying to avoid it will be caught by history. Change requires a mindset capable of adaptation, economic flexibility and a constructive approach to foreign policy. Change also requires all parties to be able to take responsibility.

In the midst of all this, Europe is burdened by a debt crisis and a sustainability problem in public finances. Resolving this crisis will require strong political measures: structural changes in the economy, cost-cutting, higher taxes. The political and social sustainability of societies will in some cases be put to the test. But there is no alternative to this rescue operation. Taking responsibility in managing one’s own problems is the most important form of solidarity.

It would seem that the social impact of the global change is hitting our societies hard. For example, the previously secure status of the middle class in the Western industrialised countries is weakening. Labour is increasingly being outsourced to emerging economies. The middle class, historically the backbone of stability, is growing nervous.

Emerging economies are facing a similar challenge, but with opposite dynamics. Their economic growth is strengthening the middle class. This has political repercussions. A stronger middle class typically wants rule of law, democracy, free media and rights for women. Pressures towards these goals can be seen all over the world. As I said, no one can escape global change.

The Nordic countries, Finland included, have weathered these changes well so far. Our Nordic social model has acquired new tones and flavours. We now speak of a stable society and a well-managed economy. These are the building blocks that help us sustain change and seek a new direction while coping with it. But even this is not an automatic or foolproof process. The ageing of the population and the social exclusion of young people are examples of strategic challenges that we absolutely must face.

* * *

I have now been President for almost two months. So far there have been no major surprises. My first trip abroad to the Nuclear Safety Summit in Seoul was an important one and a positive experience for me. My visits to Sweden and Estonia also went very well. This is a good basis to continue from.

Finland firmly supports multilateral co-operation in its foreign policy. Finland will continue to seek shared solutions to shared problems, whether they be in the area of crisis management, peace brokering, environmental issues, trade or development. Finland will carry her responsibility. The cornerstone of the multilateral world order is the United Nations. Without the United Nations, it would be impossible to even dream of sustainable solutions to global problems. This is the context in which I see the Rio +20 summit, to be held in June. The United Nations should also be further strengthened as an organisation.

Finland has been an active member of the UN for 56 years. We have contributed peacekeepers to the UN operations for as long as we have been members, about 50,000 of them to date. We are re-entering the UNIFIL operation, and our military observers will be deployed to Syria. We are seeking membership of the UN Security Council for the term 2013–2014. I would like to ask all of you to support us in this effort – even Australia and Luxembourg!

There is a broad national consensus on the framework of Finland’s foreign policy, which is based on Finland’s membership of the EU and our commitment to strengthening the Union’s foreign and security policy. The EU is facing an uphill struggle, but its mission and its role have not faded. On the contrary: in a multi-polarised world, Europe needs a solid co-operation mechanism of its own more crucially than ever.

Finland’s security policy includes a strong partnership with NATO. Joining NATO is currently not on the table. Finland is actively participating in NATO crisis management operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. We have also joined the NATO Response Forces reserve. I will be attending the NATO summit in Chicago in May, and I expect our partnership to be further strengthened there.

Good and close relationships with our neighbours will continue to form the basis of our foreign policy. Russia is our largest single trading partner, and ties are more diverse than ever before. Russia is extremely important for Finland. Our Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway are strong partners, and we are seeking closer co-operation with them. The same is also true of our southern neighbour Estonia as well as Latvia and Lithuania. Overall, the Baltic Sea and the countries bordering it are of great importance for us.

We are also looking towards the north. The importance of Arctic issues in our politics is increasing as the global significance of the region grows. Finland is working towards multilateral co-operation, the ultimate goal being a stronger Arctic Council. We are also seeking to establish bilateral Arctic partnerships with Russia, Norway and Sweden. We have much to offer in Arctic technology, shipbuilding and community infrastructure.

Finland is a thoroughly globalised country. Our economy is dependent on the surrounding world. We are building partnerships across the globe. By this, I am naturally referring to the United States, but also to emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa.

One of the duties of the President of Finland is to market our country out in the world. This is not only about exports but also about imports. Finland is a competitive place to invest in. As a former Minister of Finance, I know exactly what I am selling: an efficient, smoothly functioning society and top-quality expertise. Our geographical location at a crossroads of the northern hemisphere is a considerable asset for us.

No one is immune to pressures toward change. Amidst the changes in today’s world, Finland will continue to be an active, responsible and solution-oriented international player. We try to help. We are open and willing to co-operate. I hope to enjoy a close working relationship with all of you and wish you all the best of success in your work here in Finland.