Situation in the Middle East, support for Ukraine, global divisions and migration on the agenda during President Niinistö’s official visit to Germany

The Presidents shaking hands after the joint press conference. Photo: Riikka Hietajärvi/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

The Presidents shaking hands after the joint press conference. Photo: Riikka Hietajärvi/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö and his spouse Jenni Haukio paid an official visit to Germany on 15–16 November 2023. The visit was hosted by President of the Federal Republic of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his spouse Elke Büdenbender.

President Niinistö and Federal President Steinmeier held formal discussions at the Federal President’s official residence Villa Hammerschmidt in Bonn on Wednesday 15 November. In addition to bilateral relations between Finland and Germany, the discussions covered the situation in the Middle East, support for Ukraine, deepening global divisions and current security issues, including migration.

At a joint press conference, President Niinistö said that for Finns, economic cooperation has been an important part of the good relations between Finland and Germany. “The growth of our society and the development of the Finnish community into a welfare state has very much depended on the fact that one of our biggest trading partners throughout the ages has been Germany. And in this respect I also see a future.”

President Niinistö also raised the question of migration, noting that it is once again a topical issue in Finland. “There is a need for unity and consensus on migration issues at a European level. Of course, national measures matter, but in the end, the European Union’s borders are its external borders. And we must be able to secure them”, he said.

“The difficulty we are facing here is actually a very deep-rooted problem. We have to balance the security, resilience and endurance of the nation on the one hand, and human rights on the other.” The President said that there has not yet been enough open debate on the balance between these different interests. “It is a sensitive issue, but Europe is now facing the challenge of solving this equation.”

As regards the situation in Gaza, the President said that Israel has the right to self-defence, but that there is also a proportionality aspect to self-defence. “I believe that everyone is deeply concerned about the fate of civilians in Gaza today. It would be of utmost importance that all parties involved are prepared to allow the free departure of civilians, including hostages, and to allow humanitarian aid to arrive. This, of course, requires some sort of collective pause in the military action, whether it is called a cease-fire or a pause for humanitarian reasons.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Presidents also discussed security issues with foreign and security policy experts and academics. The day also included a visit to the Old Town of Bonn and a dinner hosted by the German Federal President and his spouse.

On Thursday 16 November, President Niinistö and Federal President Steinmeier visited the Federal Ministry of Defence, where they were introduced to modern defence technologies. After that, the presidential couples visited the Old Town of Unkel.

In addition to the joint programme, Jenni Haukio and Elke Büdenbender visited the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and a local UNICEF Child Rights School, where they attended a meeting of the Children’s Parliament and met schoolchildren.

President Niinistö previously visited Germany in February 2023 to participate in the Munich Security Conference. Federal President Steinmeier last visited Finland in 2017.