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It is a great honour for me to address this distinguished audience. I want to thank the Minnesota Economic Club for this opportunity. In particular I want to thank you all for honouring the Centennial of Finland’s independence in the form of this event.
For any nation, independence and freedom are the foundation upon which everything else is built. We Finns are no exception. Although we rarely boast of our achievements, it is fair to conclude that the first one hundred years of our independence have been a success. In four generations we have managed to transform a poor and agrarian country into a modern and vibrant democracy. And into a country that has assumed leading positions in many international rankings. One ranking is especially important to me: for years Finland has been rated as the world’s most stable country. In the current state of world affairs, this is of great value.
Looking back in history it is often easy to see a direct line between events and the final outcome. But history has very few inevitabilities. Before our independence, Finland had been a part of Sweden for more than 600 years and a part of the Russian Empire for some hundred years. We gained our independence from Russia during the final stages of the First World War, at the time of the Russian Revolution.
The first steps of Finland as an independent nation were far from easy. Almost immediately we descended into a civil war, with brother rising against brother. After the war, the Finns had the wisdom to start healing the wounds quickly. Democracy and equality were used as tools to unify the nation. Almost everyone began to feel as if they were a part of the nation. Keywords included trust and responsibility that resulted in the emergence of what I have called participatory patriotism. This process proved a blessing for Finland. When the Soviet Union attacked Finland twenty years later, the united Finns rose to defend their freedom. The miracle of the Winter War transpired.
There are two stories about these early times that I never fail to share. The first is that after the First World War, Finland was the only country to pay the United States its debts. We honour our commitments. The second is how during the Second World War, Finland was the only European country that fought the Soviet Union that was not occupied. We cherish our independence. I am tempted to add that our foreign and security policy ever since has been aimed at ensuring that there will not be a Third World War.
Today, Finland is a member of the European Union and we are part of its inner circle, the Euro area. For Finland the EU is a value community. We also view it as a security community and are working hard that it would play a stronger role in protecting Europe and its citizens. The EU is important also to our prosperity. Economic vitality is the backbone of any nation. The United States’ economy is on an upswing, and you are close to full employment. The economy is looking up also on our side of the Atlantic.
Finland is a relatively small and export-dependent economy. We support free trade, but not only for self-serving purposes. Free trade produces competition and competition in turn spurs innovation. This benefits companies and consumers alike. I give you an example. If only Ford or Volkswagen had dominated the markets without competition, the Model T or the “Bug” would still today have been our mode of transport to this event. Indeed, free trade has been instrumental on Finland’s journey to prosperity. It is important that free trade is continued and that an open and level playing field exists for everyone to compete. Free is fair.
Geopolitics, or power politics has made a return. Relations between the United States and Russia seem stuck. We also face new threats, as North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons programme shows. Some argue that we are in a new cold war, whereas others do not feel we have reached that point yet, while others still feel we might be in an even worse situation. But all of this is beside the point. For me the real issue is this: as a humanity we face a growing list of burning problems that can only be tackled through co-operation. Arms races, missile programmes and brinkmanship do not take us in the right direction. Moderation and co-operation do. Therefore Finland advocates consensual win-win solutions. From tackling the so-called black carbon in the Arctic to improving air safety in the Baltic Sea Region we want to show that small steps in the right direction are much better than large ones in the wrong.
The United States is one of Finland’s key partners politically and economically. Our relations are strong and good. One indication of this is the fact that this is my second visit to the United States in a month. At the end of August, I visited Washington to meet with President Trump. We had a good discussion of our bilateral relations and about the state of the world. The focus in our discussions was security and economy.
The United States is one of Finland’s most important trade partners. It is Finland’s third most important country of export. Mutual trade has traditionally resulted in a surplus for Finland, but it should be noted that Finland has a much larger base of direct investments in the United States. In 2015, around 250 Finnish-owned companies, which directly employed 34,000 people, were based in the United States.
Finland’s relationship with Minnesota is a special one. Minnesota is one of the most important areas to which Finns have migrated. Today, approximately 100,000 people of Finnish decent live in Minnesota. At the beginning of the 20th century, people moved to the United States predominantly to work in industry and forestry. In traditional manual labour. Today, Finns move to work as specialists in companies or to pursue careers as entrepreneurs. Or to excel in professional sports, culture and science sectors. I cannot go without mentioning that the current Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences Bengt Holmström is a Finn who has worked for years as a professor at Yale and MIT. It is noteworthy that Minnesota, the “North Star State”, and Finland have a great deal in common. Our populations and economies are around the same size. Our climates are similar. We are both known for our thousands of lakes. We value education and invest in it. We develop clean-tech and renewable energy. And of course, as is evident here today, ice hockey is a subject we are both passionate about.
“Together” is the theme for Finland’s Centennial. Working together, the Finns have overcome many hardships, gained many hard-fought victories. But we have never been alone in our efforts. The United States has been and will continue to be a very important partner for Finland. And vice versa. We are not here only to celebrate Finland’s independence and good relations between Finland and the United States, but also the strong friendship between Finland and Minnesota. We are striving to attain the same values and virtues for a better world. I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak here today. I am very pleased that we can now continue our discussion. I wish you and your companies and communities continued success. Thank you!