(Check against delivery)
It has been a great honour and pleasure for my wife and I to welcome you, President Ilves and Mrs. Ilves, on your state visit to Finland. Your visit underlines the extremely strong and close ties between our countries.
State visits back and forth can truly be regarded as a finishing touch, the high point of diplomatic relations. Such visits epitomise the warmth of our relationship. However, the real diplomatic work is done by the hundreds of thousands of people who cross the sea between our countries, and the thousands of companies and myriad cultural players, writers and their translators who give our relationship its deeper significance. All of these people are building a continually strengthening, lasting bridge across the Gulf of Finland. This bridge is also taking on new forms and changing with the times. It is crossed by both electrical power and digital expertise such as X-road. In time, it will also become a conduit for the supply of gas.
We Finns and Estonians are closely related. We are neighbours. We belong to the same language group. We are bound by a shared history such as our current partnership, which brings us together bilaterally, regionally within the Baltic region, and as members of the EU and the euro zone. We are also united by our future – our determination to build a better, more stable and more successful corner of the world in this, our home in northern Europe. Together!
But we are also bound together by another obvious factor. We are not big countries. We must rely on quality, not weight of numbers. Whatever we do, we need to do well and with precision. There are no resources to waste and there is no room for error. This principle of quality and precision – and I should perhaps also say economy – affects us at all times and in everything we do.
However, I believe that this rule has been and will continue to be a blessing to Finland and Estonia. Both of our nations have succeeded extremely well on its basis. We on the northern shores of the Gulf of Finland have admired Estonia’s rapid rise and its clear, flexible ability to adapt to and assimilate new phenomena and turn them to its advantage. The creation of Skype is the most prominent of numerous examples. Openness, curiosity, boldness, responsibility, the willingness to have a go – these are important to us and will continue to propel our nations forward, no matter what challenges are posed by the international environment and economy.
* * *
In recent months, we have witnessed a dramatic series of events in the midst of Europe. By this, I am of course referring to the Ukraine crisis. This crisis has shaken and undermined the European system and the freedom, shared rules, territorial integrity and peaceful interaction that form its basis. We have all participated in building this system – with great hopes and high stakes. But it is now overcast by a long shadow.
Naturally, as members of the international community, we cannot accept breaches of international law or Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. We have also witnessed the serious disruption of public order in Ukraine – violence, abductions and disappearances. Horrific events such as the recent fire in Odessa, with its dozens of victims, weigh on our minds.
We are painfully aware that unless attempts are made to reach a peaceful resolution and find a path out of the crisis – a resolution which guarantees Ukraine’s unity, freedom, stability and the rights of various population groups – a very difficult situation will arise. Such a situation will pose a wider and more serious threat to European security. The more the situation deteriorates, the harder it will be to mend.
Immediate steps must therefore be taken to stabilise the situation so that Ukrainians can decide on their own development in a lawful and democratic manner – without violence or the threat of violence. Within the framework of the EU, we are working together to create just such a future. I also hope that Switzerland’s intense efforts, in its chairmanship of the OSCE, succeed in this respect. Hard work is required from all those who feel duty bound to resolve the crisis.
Mr President and Mrs Ilves, I would once again like to thank you for your visit to Finland and the fruitful discussions which we have held today. I would now like to propose a toast in honour of the President of the Republic of Estonia and Mrs Ilves, and to Finnish-Estonian relations! To your health!