Inauguration speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on 1 March 2012

(check against delivery)

Having been elected President of the Republic, and having made a solemn declaration to Parliament, I am now taking up the duties of this office.

I would like to thank you, President Tarja Halonen, for your valuable efforts for the benefit of the Finnish people and your contributions towards international security and co-operation. Your work has laid down an excellent path for me to follow.

I would also like to thank you, Dr Pentti Arajärvi, for your services to the country.

President Halonen, you said in your speech on this same occasion six years ago that change is a constant thing in the world.

This is very true. In the six years between then and now, we have seen many strange things. The top performer on the global market is China, an economy based on State-led capitalism, where as the Western free-market economies seem to be sinking deeper into debt with each year. We now see the formerly poor funding the formerly rich.

Countries in rapid growth and countries in rapid decline share one particular problem: they are all concerned with how to preserve social integrity and stability. Integrity can only be guaranteed through a sense of justice.

In the meantime, Finland has survived quite well in the middle ground. We have upheld our welfare state, and the stable model on which it is based perhaps looks more desirable than ever from the viewpoint of the rest of the world.
It is sometimes said that our northern model is not a sustainable one because of its overdeveloped public sector. We have nevertheless weathered storms better than the Western world on average, in terms of both economy and integrity. The common good comes with a price, but it is obviously a price worth paying.

I do not presume to claim that continuing to uphold the welfare state will be simple. We will have to ask where to draw the line between individual responsibility and the responsibility of society, but we must always remember that every Finn is entitled to basic security. We cannot outsource caring.

Our economy has had its share of warning signals. Our balance of payments has plunged to negative figures for the first time in two decades. We cannot keep borrowing more money. And we must also work to maintain integrity in our society.

We can only enjoy wellbeing through growth: we must grow as individuals, as a nation and as an economy.

We represent only one thousandth of the world, but being the thousandth with the highest learning capacity in the world gives us more weight than our numbers would suggest. We have learned the courage to grow, and we must continue to nurture this courage. The alternative to growth is stagnation and petrification.

The President of the Republic is an agent of the economy and an agent of integrity.

We need courage to make our economy grow. It is my desire to contribute to the systematic enhancement of Finnish expertise and work and their success worldwide. I also want to encourage the new rise of the entrepreneur spirit. Growth must respect human and environmental constraints.

We need courage to develop our sense of justice. It is my desire to contribute to a Finland where integrity prevails, where every human being is important and where everyone has their place.
There is a profound conflict at the heart of Finnish society.

Finland is growing older, and we need more young workers. Yet at the same time, more than 30,000 Finnish young people have fallen completely beyond the reach of society.

We have tried to tackle this problem – the authorities in their official ways, volunteers in the community – yet social exclusion persists.

Social exclusion is a big problem, but it cannot be an insoluble mystery.

I will be convening a group of experts to consider how best to bring together young people’s sense of responsibility, the parents’ responsibilities and outside help.

But more than anything else this problem requires each one of us not to turn a blind eye and think that it is someone else’s problem. Every one of us has eyes to see, and every one of us can do something. There may be someone near you who is in danger of dropping out of society. We have to catch and hold on to these young people.

It is everyone’s responsibility, yours and mine.

Many people are worried about the viability of sparsely populated areas. Even people living in remote locations must not be detached from life. In forthcoming reforms in Finland, securing the availability of services in sparsely populated areas is a key issue. We cannot trust the market economy to manage that. The President must be ready to lend an ear to those areas and those people who are far removed from the centres of power.

Balancing public finances will require a great deal from our sense of justice.

To those of us who are doing well, my message is this: We will be all the more certain of continuing to do well the fewer people there are who are doing poorly.

To decision-makers and opinion leaders, my message is this: Confidence can only be inspired by setting an example. Particular steadfastness is required from those who are in a position to influence benefits accruing to themselves and people near them.

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The principal message in the amended Constitution entering into force today is smooth co-operation. I shall comply with this in my work.

Continuity has its place in foreign policy; it brings predictability and stability to our environment. However, considering all that is changing in the world, we must look to the future too.

The values important to us are fairness, strengthening sustainable development, and supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

We enjoy widespread trust worldwide. Finland is a good neighbour and a desirable partner in international operations. We should build on Finland’s strengths and explore further opportunities, not slam doors shut or turn our backs.

I already referred to the Nordic model, which is known and acclaimed worldwide. I am fully in favour of investing in Nordic co-operation and joint international actions. I consider it a very good thing that the Baltic States have joined the traditional Nordic community.

Our relationship to Russia remains at the centre of our foreign policy. Both our bilateral relations with Russia and the evolving co-operation between the EU and Russia are important for us. Human and commercial interaction is increasing, and it is important to develop an operating environment as predictable as possible.

Regional co-operation is of fundamental importance of Finland, whether in saving the Baltic Sea or exploring the emerging potential of the Arctic.

Finland has a reputation for responsibility and solidarity in the European Union. Our EU membership has brought us stability and a clear framework within which to plan for the future. We should seize the current opportunity to contribute to the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy.

The international environment is changing: while mutual dependencies grow in the world, discrepancies and new competition scenarios are emerging too. Here in Finland we must recognise these trends and reposition ourselves in the world. Therefore it is important to maintain a strong rapport with the United States while seeking new opportunities in China and other emerging economies.

The various areas of Finland’s international activities, from development policy to crisis management, must be mutually supportive. They must all comply with the overall orientation of our foreign policy.

When we give aid, it must be on a long-term basis. In recent years, Finns have made significant contributions to operations for instance in Afghanistan. As the focus of international operations in Afghanistan shifts from military action to civilian action, Finland’s contribution will evolve similarly.

This year, Finland is a candidate for non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council for the years 2013 and 2014. On the Security Council, Finland would represent a strong commitment to developing the multilateral global system. We would also be in a better position to offer our services for promoting peace and international security.

This year we will also be taking a look at the basic tenets of Finland’s security and defence policy, as Government will be submitting a report to Parliament on the subject. The reform of the Defence Forces will form part of this report.

We already know what shape this reform will principally take in the near future, and the inevitable changes that must be made are very concrete and in some cases painful. It is good that the Government has taken action to provide assistance to the regions hit by these structural changes. When inevitable sacrifices are required, we cannot expect the brunt of them to be borne by a minority of people.

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In the course of history, we have rebuilt Finland many times. We have always ended up with something better than we used to have. Sometimes we have flown high and then come back to earth, learning from our mistakes. Amidst each influx of new ideas we have also remembered our traditional values, which bring us a sense of safety.

The most important of our traditional Finnish values has to do with the Finnish work ethic.

I respect Finns who do their duty without putting themselves forward. I respect Finns who contribute to the building of this country in factories, in offices, on fields, in businesses and in homes. They have earned their world view and their values.

Equally well I respect Finns who pursue a path different from others: an engineer who eliminates an unnecessary quirk in production; an official who cuts through unnecessary red tape; an artist who creates a new perspective; a construction worker who discovers a new practical solution; an entrepreneur who sees an opportunity where others see none.

What we need is the sum total of all of these Finns. We need bold visionaries who have ideas, and we need the steadfast and reliable men and women who make these ideas come true.

The President of the Republic of Finland can be nothing less than the President of the whole country and the whole nation. A friend of mine gave me an excellent piece of advice: “As President, you cannot just slip into the circle where you will only meet the winners. The winners do not need the President. The President must know how to find and stand by the people who are losing and being lost.”

Mr Speaker, I would like to thank you for your words of encouragement on behalf of Parliament. I hope that you and all the people of Finland will be prepared to help me in our shared efforts for the happiness and prosperity of our country and our nation.