President Niinistö on Europe’s global role: We need to be able to hold to our own principles – to be independent

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö spoke at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank event on Tuesday, 17 November 2020. In a virtual conversation with Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Brussels correspondent for the New York Times, President Niinistö discussed the future of transatlantic relations and the global role of a stronger Europe.

Common denominators of transatlantic relations

At the beginning of the discussion, President Niinistö stated that the world is currently changing very rapidly. In the face of challenges, we are traditionally accustomed to seek out friends and common denominators. In transatlantic relations, instead of dreaming of the past, we should, in the President’s view, be looking to the future.

The President highlighted three important factors that still unite Europe and the United States: values, security and prosperity. Europe and the United States have a very similar tradition of respecting Western values – democracy, the rule of law and human rights. According to the President, partners with similar values should work together to promote them.

With regard to security, President Niinistö said that NATO is important to Europe, perhaps even more important than to the United States. “In Europe, it is understood that we need to take more responsibility for our own security. Understanding this will contribute to transatlantic cooperation.”

President Niinistö also emphasised the importance of the status of the dollar. The Bretton Woods system brings much influence and prosperity to both the United States and Europe.

Where is Europe’s influence?

When asked about security and Europe’s influence, President Niinistö drew attention to the fact that in Finland there has long been discussion about the need for a stronger Europe. This has now been awakened elsewhere in Europe. “Instead of military autonomy, however, I would speak of capabilities. I believe these will be beneficial to both NATO and the United States. The stronger Europe is, the stronger NATO will be.”

According to the President, despite its economic and military potential, Europe currently does not have a loud voice at the tables where important geopolitical decisions are made. To return to them, Europe should strive for better cooperation and unity.

The President raised China and the United States as an example. He considered it important for Europe to continue to be able to form its opinions independently. “We are not automatically on someone’s side, despite the demands,” he said. “In the future, too, we need to be able to hold to our own principles – to be independent.”

Although President Niinistö identified lack of unity as the biggest threat to the EU, he said he believed that Europe still believed in a common future: “And which kind of future we create is in our hands.”