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The President of the Republic of Finland: Baltic Sea

The President of the Republic of Finland
Speeches, 11/10/2010

Speech by President of the Republic Tarja Halonen at the reception hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in honour of the state visit in Moscow on 9 November 2010

(check against delivery)

On behalf of myself and my spouse I would like to thank you for the invitation to make a state visit to Russia. I am very pleased that this visit became a reality and also with the opportunity yesterday and today of continuing our discussions on the relations between our countries and on international themes. President Medvedev, I highly regard the direct personal relationship between us – we are able to discuss any matter in an open and constructive spirit.

Mr President, you visited my summer residence in Kultaranta in July and, all in all, this year has been a remarkably active one in the relations between our countries. For example, according to my calculations, members of our governments have already met around fifteen times during the year.

Trade between Russia and Finland is gradually returning to brisk levels after the financial crisis. Your country is an interesting investment destination for both Finnish industry and the Finnish service sector. Finnish businesses already employ tens of thousands of Russians, and the total amount of investment stands at over six billion euros, or around 250 billion roubles. There are many opportunities for further growth; the esteemed business delegation accompanying me on this state visit demonstrates this. I also hope that Russian companies will discover Finland as a destination for investment.

The talks for Russian membership in the World Trade Organisation are under way. I hope that the current talks will come to a swift and positive conclusion. Russian WTO membership would clarify the relations between the European Union and Russia, and would also have a positive impact on global trade.

Mr President, you have repeatedly spoken on the importance of good government and striven to expedite the rule of law development in Russia. The confidence of citizens and businesses in the functionality of the state and public services helps to lay the foundation for a broader sense of social responsibility and the courage to foster our common world.

We in Finland are also interested in the opportunities created by the modernisation of Russian society. This was a topic of lengthy discussion at our meeting in July. Nokia is involved in the Skolkovo technology park project. Finland and Russia have enhanced cooperation to promote energy conservation and the use of renewable energy. Finnish and Russian scientists are working together to design technology enabling the utilisation of the natural resources of the arctic regions. The interest towards joint ventures is not limited to the private sector, but is shared by several sectors of Finnish society, ranging from authorities at various levels to universities and numerous non-governmental organisations, which all possess a great deal of expertise.

Both Russia and Finland have drafted their own arctic region strategies. This is only natural; both countries wish to be active in the development of the northern regions. However, we could further increase our cooperation, which would allow us to gain results faster and improve our opportunities for protecting the vulnerable and delicate nature of the arctic region.

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Russian tourists have truly discovered Finland. For several years, they have been the largest group of foreign travellers to come to our country. This year Finland will grant nearly one million visas to Russian businessmen and tourists, more than any other EU country. Furthermore, over 80 per cent of the visas will be multiple entry visas.

Transport connections are also being developed. Finland has decided to improve the E 18 road from Helsinki to the Russian border. Within one month new, high-speed trains will commence service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg, shortening the travel time to three and a half hours and offering an ecologically sustainable transport alternative. Another excellent example of the sustained nature of our cooperation is the signing in May of the new lease for the Saimaa Canal, which will remain in force until 2063.

The interaction between our citizens and civic societies has witnessed an unparalleled increase. Established as a showcase for Finland and Finnish culture, the Finnish Institute has commenced its operations in St. Petersburg. Russian theatre groups, musicians and singers are annual visitors to Finland’s music and theatre festivals. A growing number of Russian students and researchers have discovered Finnish institutes of higher education. In the field of sport, ice hockey in particular appears to be an area of increasing cooperation.

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The environmental sector is one of the cornerstones of our mutual cooperation. Our mutual work for the protection of forests and biodiversity has a long history. One of the results of these efforts is the network of nature conservation areas in both sides of the Finnish-Russian border.

Specialising in the protection and regulation of frontier waters, the Joint Finnish-Russian Commission on the Utilisation of Frontier Waters will soon celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Water protection is an area where we have achieved substantial improvements, especially in the Gulf of Finland. I greatly value Russia’s active participation in the Baltic Sea Action Summit organised in Helsinki last February. I would even be so bold as to call the improvements achieved in wastewater treatment in St. Petersburg a world-class accomplishment. I am also hopeful that the construction of the treatment plant in Kaliningrad will proceed with equal efficiency. As concerns cooperation on maritime security, we have got off to a good start both bilaterally and among the Baltic countries. This is an area where a great deal of work remains to be done.

Great global challenges are ahead of us on the road to securing sustainable development. My hope is that Russia will continue its active role in multilateral cooperation for securing ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development. I also have something of a personal interest in appealing to you in this matter, as I co-chair the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Our task is to prepare the Rio +20 Summit to be held in 2012.

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Russia and Finland are neighbours. The bilateral relations between our countries are excellent. The turn of the year will mark the ninetieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. This occasion will be celebrated in a seminar organised in Helsinki next week.

Mr President, I would like to conclude by proposing a toast to the fruitful and versatile cooperation between Finland and Russia and to the health of you and your spouse.

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Updated 11/10/2010

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