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The President of the Republic of Finland: Speeches and Interviews

The President of the Republic of Finland
Speeches, 3/30/2004

Toast by the President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the gala dinner hosted by His Majesty King Albert II of Belgium 30.3.2004

I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the invitation to Belgium, as well as for the warmth of our reception today. We remember vividly Your Majesty’s State Visit to Finland eight years ago.

Brussels today is a symbol for all Europeans. To those of us whom the European Union brings here ever more often, conference buildings, the streets and restaurants of Brussels have become familiar. But there is a risk that Belgium, as Belgium, remains less familiar to many. I greatly appreciate the opportunity you are giving us on this state visit to deepen our knowledge of this country, which played an important role in the development of European culture centuries before Brussels became the capital of Europe.

Finland’s links with Belgium go back centuries to times when seafaring and trade were carried on from here to all over the known world, including the northern shores of the Baltic Sea. Still today, ships operate between Belgium’s and Finland’s ports and trade is extensive. But during the twentieth century, the mutual interaction of our peoples expanded and diversified into every field of human activity. A decisive change came about with European integration, decades before Finland became a member of the EU in 1995.

For centuries Belgian culture has represented the best of our continent, particularly in the fields of art and music. At its birth, modern Finnish culture took many influences from here, and even today co-operation is active in several areas. One example is the success of many Finnish musicians here, something we have followed with great warmth and pride. Mikko Frank, who is with us here this evening, has been for a couple of years the Musical Director of the Belgian National Orchestra and has, for his part, made Finnish music known in this country.

Open interaction with the world surrounding us has always been characteristic to the culture of both Finland and Belgium. So is also multi-lingualism, and Brussels and Helsinki are, indeed, the only two capitals in the European Union that are officially bilingual. Multi-lingualism is a bridge to understanding other cultures and, in this respect Brussels is a microcosm of Europe.

One of the greatest achievements of European integration is the free movement of people over national borders. This has given especially young people an unprecedented opportunity to travel, study and work abroad and thus adopt new cultural influences in the spirit of common European values of human rights, democracy and rule of law.

Europe will still be more than the European Union even in one month’s time, when it will have grown to be a group of 25 countries and 455 million people. Europe still has much to contribute to the culture of the world. The wealth of our part of the world lies in the variety of our experiences and our cultures which we must make use of in global competition.

The European Union’s central tool for addressing the challenge of globalization is the strategy approved at the Spring 2000 Lisbon Summit, at the core of which lies the reinforcing of our competitiveness, a striving for full employment and support for social inclusion.

There are some shortcomings in the implementation of the Lisbon strategy, however. European countries have indeed to look to the future and on this basis to make the necessary decisions. European countries will not succeed in the world of globalization and modern technology if they make decisions that cling to the past.

In order to promote the governance of globalization, the Union must improve the coherence of its external activities, as Prime Minister Verhofstadt also has recently pointed out. This applies especially to the Union’s development policies as well as trade policies. The Union is the world’s largest donor of development aid, which we can be proud of. Yet at the same time we are considered to hinder the access of goods to our markets from the developing countries. We should consider how we can further promote our sustainable development objectives by means of trade policies.

Belgium has established its position as a hospitable and skilful host to the European Union, being sensitively present in everything yet at the same time keeping that unique Belgian-ness. Belgium has also served as an encouraging example to us Finns, demonstrating what an active and constructive member state can achieve in the Union.

Political contacts between Finland and Belgium are close and we share common objectives of enhancing integration in Europe and of strengthening international security and cooperation. Both countries want the EU to become even stronger and more capable. In the daily business of the Union attention must be paid not to pursuing purely national interests, but rather the common benefits of all the member states.

In the Laeken Declaration we set as a goal a more democratic, a more open and a more effective Union. For two years we have proceeded along this path and much has already been achieved. Reaching a successful conclusion requires flexibility from all parties. We have the opportunity of reaching an agreement which is genuinely acceptable for all.

In conclusion please allow me to thank you once again and to express my wishes for success in two exotic languages, my country’s two official languages Finnish and Swedish.

Kiitän Teitä suurenmoisesta vieraanvaraisuudesta sekä pyydän kaikkia läsnä olevia kohottamaan maljan Hänen Majesteettinsa Kuningas Albertin ja Kuningatar Paolan terveydeksi sekä Belgian kansan menestykseksi.

Jag tackar för den storartade gästfrihet som mött oss här, och ber alla närvarande förena sig i en skål för Hans Majestät Konung Albert och Drottning Paola samt för det belgiska folkets framgång.

I thank you for your great hospitality and propose a toast to His Majesty King Albert, to Queen Paola and to the success of the people of Belgium.

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Updated 3/30/2004

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