New Year’s Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö on 1 January 2024

Photo: Matti Porre/Office of the President of the Republic of Finland

My fellow citizens

At the turn of the year, we usually wish each other peaceful and happy days to come. Today, those wishes are more emotionally charged than before: things must get better.

Grim news and forecasts have taken up more and more space. They should be discussed openly. But, meanwhile, we easily miss the signals – maybe weak ones – of a better future.

As far as the global future is concerned, I see two fateful questions that dominate the scene.

Climate change touches each and every one of us and is leading us towards unpredictable consequences. The latest Climate Change Conference in Dubai, however, created a glimmer of hope: the world leaders acknowledged for the first time the need to move away from fossil fuels.

Reaching a shared understanding is in itself significant. That is something sorely needed in many issues.

The other major question concerns the global division and the relationship between China and the United States in particular. The mere fact that the presidents of the two nations met after a long while was significant as such. It also gave both parties an opportunity to map attitudes and positions.

The steps taken in these meetings were important, but only deeds will tell whether they were big for the humanity.

* * *

The new year does not augur well for peace everywhere in the world.

In Ukraine, the front line remains almost unchanged, but the war is in motion. It is being fought on the battlefields where every day claims new lives. And even civilian population is not safe in any way.

The war is raising its head and evoking emotions in other parts of the world as well. The situation in Gaza is terrifying. First the evil of terrorism showed its cruellest face. Then, it was responded to with very harsh measures. The worst is the suffering and distress of civilians on both sides of the conflict. It is now urgent to achieve a humanitarian ceasefire and the release of hostages. After that, it is imperative to find the will and means towards a lasting two-state solution. There is no other alternative.

Wars do not happen in a vacuum. Chaos in one part of the world often also stirs up chaos elsewhere.

The past year has continuously brought images of war before our eyes. At the same time, rhetorics have become tougher. We do need to be firm in times like these. But we also need patience and careful analysis. Shifting our gaze further every now and then.

We also need to talk about peace. Promoting peace does not mean weakness, turning the other cheek. Peace is always a victory. A victory for life and normal development. Recognizing the fact that lasting solutions can never be generated by force and violence. And our time is crying out for lasting and sustainable solutions louder than ever.

* * *

Russia is never as strong as she looks; Russia is never as weak as she looks. This phrase, presented in many forms over time, holds a grain of truth.

At first, Russia was supposed to defeat Ukraine within a few weeks. It did not go that way. The bravery shown by the Ukrainians repelled the attack.

Then it was believed that the Russian economy and military capacity would collapse. It did not go that way either. Full-scale war still continues, nearing its second anniversary.

Now Russia is regaining some of her self-esteem.

There have been concerns over the continuation of the assistance given to Ukraine. In my opinion, in this matter it is not so much a question of lack of will or weariness. A more serious issue is ensuring the capacity to provide long-term assistance, availability of sufficient resources.

Europe must wake up. We do not need investments in military production solely to provide necessary assistance. It is needed as a means to convince that Europe is strong.

Strong not to wage wars but to secure peace.

It is also clear that, in the transatlantic relationship, the Europeans are expected to bear much more responsibility. In other words, more European NATO in Europe.

Taking clear and rapid steps to take on this responsibility is also the best response to all speculations on how the U.S. elections will affect the security cooperation.

* * *

The times are changing. And when the world is changing, our actions must change as well. These things happened, and Finland became a NATO member.

Our position in the Western community has been clear for decades. The Russian demand to prevent Finland and Sweden from joining NATO was an indication of her efforts to change the status quo and to create a grey sphere of interest within Europe. This demand alone changed our position in such a way that staying still would have robbed our NATO option of all credibility.

Finland defined her own position and will continue to do so.

Today, Finland’s security is even more firmly established. The foundations were in good shape even before the NATO membership. Even to such an extent that the Finnish model is now attracting a lot of attention. In fact, when it comes to comprehensive security, Finland’s example may actually be a goal worth striving for for many others.

NATO membership was a major change in our security policy. However, as a foreign policy actor, we are still the same Finland as before, without any epithets. I repeat what I said already back in spring 2022: Finland has not grown any bigger than it is, and our security is without detriment to anyone.

It is in our best interest to keep on looking for partnerships and common denominators widely. In foreign policy, the European Union and the Nordic countries will remain our most important reference groups.

The Nordic security community in particular has taken a major leap forward. Our joint meetings with the Presidents of the United States and Ukraine have further enhanced our capacity for seamless collaboration. On the other hand, they have shown that our Nordic connection is recognised and respected. Today, being part of the Nordics has attractive power. It is something we should make the most of together, in anything from work for peace to economy.

At the moment, the Swedish NATO membership seems to be moving forward. This will also make Finland’s membership complete. The DCA agreement and the intensified JEF cooperation will for their part enhance security to a major extent. Finland’s security is now sealed behind multiple locks.

* * *

External security has risen to the centre of political debate. That is quite understandable as there is plenty to discuss and endless room for speculations and comments.

It would also be advisable to emphasise everyday matters, matters that have an immediate effect on people’s lives. The concern over the Finnish economy is not only a chronic issue but it is also becoming an increasingly acute one. It applies to the weak development of the national economy, the large public debt as well as the difficulties individual people have in earning a living.

These are difficult topics. Unlike under the security theme, in these matters it can be measured relatively accurately what kind of impacts the content of different opinions have. And, first and foremost, they are open for immediate public assessment.

In security policy, we have a fine tradition of parliamentary cooperation. For example, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group builds a longer-term perspective across parliamentary terms to security and defence policy reports. What if we could do something similar in the area of economic policy? Not necessarily in the most controversial issues of topical interest. But perhaps it could help in seeking common views on how to enhance the national economy that would carry from one parliamentary term to the next.

Our sights should be set on the future. The movements in the geopolitical arena, disruptive technologies, climate change – so many factors are changing our world into something totally different.

But we should still keep certain things in mind.

Finland’s national capital lies in competence. We have had competence because we have valued learning, teaching and teachers.

Reading, mathematics and physical education – they may appear as terms of the past from the primary school. But no matter how modern teaching methods or learning environments we develop, without those skills or good physical condition young people will not manage in life.

Preparing people for a complex world may begin from quite simple starting points.

* * *

My fellow citizens

I now greet you officially for the last time. I do that with deep gratitude for having had the opportunity to present my views – be they more or less accurate.

Now I propose to you that we all make a common New Year’s resolution: that we would encounter each other fairly, showing understanding for one another and respect for the humanity, and cherishing our traditional connection and mutual trust.

We all certainly hoped that the new year would begin under luckier stars. Let us keep in mind, however, that even the heaviest clouds dissipate one day. That things will get clearer again.

I wish you all a happy New Year and God’s blessing.