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The President of the Republic of Finland: Press Releases and News

The President of the Republic of Finland
Speeches, 2/4/2009

Speech by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the opening of the 2009 session of Parliament, 4 February 2009

(check against delivery)

Mr Speaker,
Members of Parliament

During the session of Parliament now opening, the Government report on Finnish security and defence policy will be submitted to Parliament. The report has been drafted in co-operation by the Government and the President of the Republic.

Parliament has already influenced the report through a follow-up group. Parliament's mandate is now to assess the Government's proposals and provide definitions, according to which Finland’s security and defence policy should be carried out.

It is vital to have a broad consensus on our country's key security policy issues. In this regard, reports have proven to be useful. This is why I believe that report practices should be continued in one form or another also in the future. Security policy is a long-term effort. The investments required for its implementation alone are large and inevitably extend beyond electoral periods.

The world is changing and our politics is of its time, but our policies must still be sustainable. The report is based on a broad concept of security. According to our consideration, any form of military pressure or use of force against Finland would only happen in the context of a wider international conflict. Finland builds its security through its own foreign policy, international co-operation, national preparedness and a credible defence.

A credible defence that conforms to international treaties and conventions is a challenging matter. Credibility requires not only the will to defend, but also appropriate means, such as general conscription, a properly planned troop structure and effective training system as well as the weapons systems related to them. We have a lot of everyday work to do in this regard. Maintaining a credible defence also requires sufficient financial resources.

In a declining economic situation, where there are a large number of other important needs to be addressed, committing to a major increase in defence spending is not simple. The reason for increasing costs is above all the constant and rapid rise in defence material prices. This is the result of technological development in the sector and also new international arms limitation treaties and conventions. The Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions have forced the development of new weapons systems, which often are clearly more expensive, even if more effective than existing systems.

* * *

Finland decides for itself on its security policy. The report addresses issues related to NATO more comprehensively than before. The actual policy definition reinforces our position, according to which we reserve the possibility of applying for membership in the organisation. In my discussions with the Government, there has been a clear agreement that, despite amendment of the wording, our policy will not change.

The report does not bring NATO membership any closer or push it further away, but it keeps the applying for membership just as much a possibility as it was before.

The report states that Finland enhances its participation in international crisis management through the promotion of peace and security, development and respect for human rights. This participation in crisis management is part of our international responsibility and it strengthens our national defence. Maintaining the current level requires a gradual increase in the funds allocated for military crisis management to 150 million euros.

Participation in international crisis management is an important tool of foreign policy for Finland. It must be assessed and further developed. In this work, attention must be given to the needs of international peace and security, the increasing demand for civilian crisis management, and national crisis management resources.

Today’s crisis management tasks are increasingly challenging and often also dangerous. We must always carefully consider what type of missions we send our peacekeepers and where our expertise is most effective.

In addition to the report, a proposal will be submitted to Parliament on reinforcing Finland’s participation in the ISAF mission to secure the elections in Afghanistan. Even though temporarily increasing the number of soldiers by one hundred is strongly justified in terms of supporting the democratic development, I hope that Parliament will follow the situation in Afghanistan closely and give careful consideration to this proposal.

* * *

The core of a broad concept of security is a strong, integrated and healthy society. In the current economic situation its importance is further emphasized. International demand has declined and for the first time in decades international trade has slowed. This situation has also drawn Finland into downturn. According to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, there were over 234,000 unemployed job seekers at the end of last year. The forecasts for economic and employment growth in the coming months are expected to remain grim. Many households are, with good reason, worried about the future.

The economic crisis is the result of international financial markets failing in such a way that gives cause also for moral and ethical considerations about excessive risk, greed and dishonesty. During the time of rapid economic growth, biased incentive systems were implemented. These systems did not create sustainable growth or co-operation and trust in the workplace. The weaknesses of the system must be corrected through international co-operation. At the same time, governments in different countries must aim to minimise the damage at the national level and build a foundation for new growth, as market forces are incapable of correcting the situation that they themselves have created, whether at the international or national level.

Economic policy is surely one of the most important issues for this session of Parliament. The foundations of the Finnish public sector, business sector and households to meet these economic challenges are better than in many other countries. Social safety nets have been established together, and together we can also move forward. In an environment such as this employment and education, social and health care sectors are emphasised.

The economy must be revived in a manner that unites society. Fairness, humanity and solidarity are principles that must be evident in the actual performance of work. By making wise decisions, we can prevent the country from being divided and invest in new competence for the future of our people.

Now is the time to do everything in our power to keep people employed and in the workplace. Layoffs and redundancies might help the company get through the tough times, but they will not help us climb out of this deep economic downturn.

We will need a lot of patience and mutual trust to get through this difficult time. The pension and unemployment insurance agreement signed by labour market organisations is an example of co-operation and shared responsibility. In addition, the supplementary budget estimate proposed by the Government is a step toward economic recovery. We now need will to work together and creativity in both the public and private sectors.

* * *

We are commemorating the year 1809 by remembering of the various chapters in the building of our nation. The events of two centuries ago meant the beginning of a new age for Finland and development toward independence. The Nordic countries' linguistic, cultural, legal and religious bonds that evolved through the centuries have remained strong.

This commemoration not only gives us a reason to learn about our history, but also encourages us to take a closer look at present-day Finland as well as its future. Indeed, we are building our nation every day.

Our Constitution declares that Finnish and Swedish are the national languages of Finland. The cultural and societal needs of the Finnish and Swedish-speaking populations must be provided for on an equal basis. This means not only the formally equal treatment of the two languages, but also the de facto securing of equal rights for both the Finnish and Swedish-speaking populations.

In addition to our two national languages, other languages have always been spoken in Finland. Mother tongue has a very significant meaning to a person. Language is the home of the mind. Basic linguistic rights are also often a prerequisite for the realisation of other fundamental rights.

Linguistic rights are protected by law. However, in daily life the right to use one's own mother tongue is not always respected to the letter of the law. We need the will and resources to ensure that people can use their own mother tongue and access services in their own mother tongue. Peoples' attitudes and values must also be influenced. We must encourage ourselves and others to put their language skills to use. Multilingualism and multiculturalism is richness of our society.

Mr Speaker,
Members of Parliament

I would like to congratulate you, the Speakers, for the support you have received, to thank you for your co-operation, and to wish you success and wisdom in your demanding task.

I hereby declare the 2009 session of Parliament open.

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Updated 2/4/2009

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