Opening Remarks by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Opening Forum of the Gulf of Finland Year 2014 on 21 January 2014

It is a great honour to be with you here today to mark the beginning of the Gulf of Finland Year. I am glad to see so many leading figures, experts and decision-makers from Estonia, Russia and Finland gathered here at Helsinki City Hall. We are here to express our commitment to save our common sea, our own “mare nostrum”. It is our duty.

I believe that at least some of you travelled by ferry on your way to this forum. You are not alone. Last year, several million passengers travelled by ferry in the Gulf of Finland. Throughout history, these waters have connected the people living on its shores. Besides bringing them together, the Gulf of Finland is also a source of livelihood. It enables trade and communication. Influences spread from one shore to another.

The ecological state of the Gulf of Finland has been a grave concern for many decades because of pollution and excessive use of natural resources. While significant progress has been made in combating pollution – especially the two main nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen – the situation is far from satisfactory. Excessive inputs of nutrients remain one of the key threats to the marine ecosystem. We need to do more.

We also need to know more. The scientific communities of Finland, Russia and Estonia are working together to study the marine ecosystem of the Gulf of Finland. A basic objective for the years 2014 and 2015 is a full inventory of the state of the Gulf. This will provide the best possible updated information for decision-makers. A strong knowledge base will facilitate cost-effective measures that can provide both environmental and economic benefits.

As we know, nutrients and the excessive use of natural resources are not the only threats to the Gulf of Finland. Over the past 15 years, shipping in the Baltic Sea has grown more than anticipated. The volume of energy transports in the Baltic Sea seems to be now greater than anywhere else in the world except in the straits of Hormuz and Malacca. This means that the risk of accidents has also increased considerably.

A major oil spill in the Gulf of Finland would obviously be a tragedy of historic proportions. Therefore, as oil and chemical transports increase, we must pay ever more attention to safety measures. Further investments in the capacity to combat oil spills are also needed.

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The Gulf of Finland Year is not only for researchers, politicians and officials. In all our three countries, we can already see that there are many stakeholders – municipalities, enterprises, NGOs and schools – who are willing to take part in the activities of the year. We warmly welcome their contribution.

The Gulf of Finland Year is also a part of a wider international effort. Our work is supported by other political and cooperation frameworks, such as the Baltic Marine Protection Commission or the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and EU-Russia cooperation. 

Together with my colleagues from Estonia and Russia, President Ilves and President Putin, I have agreed to become a patron for this common theme year. I consider this a privilege and see the theme year as a possibility for our three nations to act together in order to attain goals that are valuable for all of us. 

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I would like to congratulate all of the organisers and the stakeholders who have been preparing for the Gulf of Finland Year 2014 in our three countries. Now it is up to us all to make this year a memorable event that will help us to better protect “mare nostrum”. This is a duty that we can neither postpone nor transfer to future generations. It is our responsibility. With these words, I would like to wish you an interesting and successful continuation of this Forum.

Thank you.