New Year Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on 1 January 2018

My fellow citizens,

A year of celebrations is behind us. The centenary of our independence was fêted in many ways and recalled with gratitude.

It has been rousing to see how people’s festive mood took over the country during the course of the year. We recapped the past, looked to the future and, above all, felt genuine joy of our own Finnishness.

A milestone year easily leads us into thinking that it is as if we were at a watershed, where there is a time before and a time after. However, the clear message of the centenary year was that Finland’s course has been successful, and that this is a good path to take into the future. The theme of the centenary year was “Together”; this was seen as the secret of our success and also the key to our future.

The year now beginning is a time that immediately pauses one for some self-reflection, however. The memories of 1917 and 1918 are almost diametrically opposed. The best that any nation could face came first, only to be followed by the worst. The year in which we gained independence was followed by a year in which civil war broke out. Not even long after have all the scars been healed.

And so in the early days of independence we were not “together”, but very badly apart. This cannot simply be swept away. We must have the courage to be honest about history, because only honesty creates a foundation for trust. A strong society is able to face up to painful things as well. We must try to reconcile the past.

Nevertheless, the question of the diametrically opposing years remains. It took decades to gain full trust in democracy. Participatory patriotism was born; I, too, am part of this, together.

These stages teach us a clear lesson: there is diversity, people have different backgrounds, convictions and goals, we have a right to disagree. This is something we must be able to respect, however differently we ourselves might think.

Connection is a good word. We have a connection; this could just as easily mean deep similarity as being able to understand each other despite our dissimilarity. The path shown by understanding and the connection it brings is a good one for us to proceed along together also from now on.

* * *

Independence is both a gift and a vocation. There is certainly much to do.

After a lost decade, the economy is in an upswing and employment has begun to improve. This turn of events is sorely needed. Even so, our economy has yet to reach the level it was at in 2008.

Yet even without growth, heavy borrowing has increased public and private consumption. Massive stimulus measures by central banks have resulted in the availability of loans.

It is a well-known fact that as an export-driven country, our economy depends heavily on global demand. We must now note that our indebted economy is also very dependent on the policy of major central banks. 

The warning that abundant funding has been channelled into increased debts and asset values is well founded. Tighter monetary policy, which is inevitable in the world at some stage, will lead to a more challenging situation. Reasonable caution is now called for.

A deep change is now under way in the global economy, where technological advances are quickly forging completely new sectors of industry and changing the traditional forms of work. We must ensure that we keep up with this development and competition. And not just keep up, Finland has the know-how to be a leader in this development.

A cause for joy in recent years has been the enthusiasm of young people to become entrepreneurs. The atmosphere from vocational colleges to Slush reflects this changing attitude more broadly. Young people trust in the prowess of their heads and their hands.

Young people also have their concerns. A study published in the autumn mapped the feeling of security among young Finns. The message was a serious one. Insecurity is penetrating their environment. The feeling of threat is not so much external, but comes from within our society. Concerns include livelihood, inequality or immigration.

Many young people are still marginalised and school bullying continues in Finland both face to face and in social media. The #metoo movement has made everyone aware of just how much also young people are harassed. Much would improve if we showed empathy or at least if we were able to respect each other. There would be understanding and the connection that ensues.

The only way to respond to young people’s concerns is to galvanise their trust in that the difficulties will be overcome. We have often reiterated that everyone has an opportunity in Finland. Yet a point often raised is that the high cost of school books or learning materials frequently undermines the continuation of teenagers’ education. Or that despite good efforts, young people cannot find a path to working life. Let us make sure that everyone indeed has a genuine opportunity.

* * *

Whereas Finland’s foreign and security policy situation is stable, in other parts of the world there is upheaval. This affects us and everyone else. 

In recent times few international political events taking place have been desired, let alone a cause for joy. Aggravating weapons development in North Korea during the past year has been a new addition to an already lengthy list of security threats.

It is increasingly apparent that China, Russia and the United States, in various line-ups, sit around those tables where the way of the world is regulated. Of course, dialogue between major powers is a good thing. But as far as we are concerned, the problem is the missing seats: The EU has remained on the sidelines and the role of the UN seems to be diminishing.

Fortunately, there is always room for small actors between the major powers. Finland is more than pleased to provide good services when required. Finland is also active in supporting stability and dialogue in the Baltic Sea area, Arctic areas and also globally. 

Two messages came about of the UN before Christmas. On a positive note, the Security Council was able to agree unanimously on additional sanctions against North Korea. Whereas on a gloomier note, the United States bluntly criticised the activities of this global organisation.

Finland supports the proposals of UN Secretary-General Guterres to reform the organisation. The aim is to increase the effectiveness and responsibility of UN activities. And this is only right since, despite its shortcomings, the UN is an irreplaceable actor in promoting international peace and security.

* * *

We are now living in a critical time for the whole of the human race. Climate change is not a matter of opinion, but a real threat. For many of us this realisation has come too late and would have come even later had it not been for those people who started to ring the alarm bells. What a good thing they did!

Now is the time to act, not at the normal pace, but quickly. We are running behind.

Finland assumes and takes responsibility. We are committed to the implementation of the Paris Agreement and have just increased our international climate funding. The Finnish clean tech industry is also contributing by developing sustainable solutions. 

Each of us must assume and take responsibility; our way of life is resulting in a critical burden on our plant. The world does not exist solely for us, but for continuity. It is ours to safeguard and pass on. 

The world’s population is increasing rapidly. It is paradoxical that the population is increasing fastest in those regions where it is difficult to take responsibility for children, where living conditions are otherwise poor and facing the greatest threat because of climate change. There will be atrocities, immigration, perhaps even mass migration. 

This is why we must help and support women in developing countries to take a step to the front lines. Girls must be allowed to go to school and determine the course of their lives. This is not only right for them themselves, but at the same time, it is of utter importance for all of us. Women have made an invaluable contribution in Finland’s own story. It is hard to imagine how humankind could afford not to set this potential free.

* * *

The world is changing, but something remains the same. In Aleksis Kivi’s Seven Brothers, Juhani already knew how “… all will be well, if each of us works on his own part for harmony and peace. But if it’s trouble we’re looking for, we’ll always be finding something to set our neck hairs bristling.” 

I wish you all a happy new year and God bless you!