Opening speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the Kultaranta talks on 19 June 2016

Prime Ministers Löfven and Sipilä, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I wish you all a warm welcome to the Kultaranta talks. It is always a pleasure to see a group of enthusiastic and articulate participants at Kultaranta as mid-summer approaches. A busy day of discussion lies ahead, to which I am greatly looking forward.

I am particularly pleased that – for the first time – Sweden is represented here. Indeed, such representation, including Prime Minister Löfven himself, could hardly be stronger. In Finland, we always feel that Swedes love discussion. This can be confirmed by the fact that I borrowed the model for the Kultaranta tradition from Sweden. My salient memory from there is the spirit of the Sälen defence conference; the urge to understand each other and champion a common cause. 

We are holding these talks at a time when many truths once regarded as self-evident are being questioned. The European security system created at the end of the Cold War has sustained considerable damage and is under unrelenting pressure. Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine are having a broad impact, including here in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe.    

But we face problems that are even wider in scope than this.     Conflicts and instability in the Middle East and North Africa, and the difficult living conditions that prevail even further afield, present Europe with a major and, perhaps, growing challenge. These clouds are unlikely to clear from our skies for a long time. 

The European Union, too, is in turmoil – next Thursday’s UK referendum may mark a turning point, or even a fateful development. At any rate, the EU, which has proudly exported its security and values, must now defend them in its own backyard.

Finland completed its latest foreign and security policy report just the other day. The report immediately sparked a lively discussion exploring the issues in question. I will now highlight just a few of the ideas to emerge from the report, which I would like you to reflect on. They are all issues that we have in common with Sweden.

With respect to our security policy, I have often referred to the four-pillar model. All of these pillars – defence capability, western integration, relations with Russia and international law – are discussed in the report. Peace and security are the aim of our active, stability-focused policy, which depends on both dialogue and preparation.

Finland and Sweden are united in highlighting the importance of international law and consensus, especially the security of small countries. Have we reached the point where the significance of such issues is being forgotten and confidence in them is waning? If so, how can such confidence be restored?

The threat posed by hybrid warfare is a hidden reality, which can be realised in forms that we cannot even guess at. It could pose a threat to all aspects of our lives, in which case all citizens form part of our national defence. This restores the neglected notion of national resolve to a position of importance in relation to defence. Finland and Sweden are at the forefront of the western world in giving this value its due recognition and are united behind its common message.

The first pillar in my model has been a strong and credible national defence.   We believe that strong armed forces prevent conflict by raising the threshold for aggression. It is perhaps less frequently recognised that they also create interest in partnerships. In this way, a strong defence capability provides options in the unlikely event of deterrence proving insufficient.   

Ladies and gentlemen,

Finland and Sweden have a history of responding to the challenges of the time. One approach to this is closer mutual cooperation. Our mutual defence cooperation has deepened markedly in recent years. I have long been of the opinion and have said that defence and military cooperation must be combined with a closer foreign policy partnership between Finland and Sweden. After all, foreign policy and the related instruments are the most customary means to both of us.

The rift between Russia and the West, which was deepened dramatically by the Ukraine conflict, but whose origins lie deeper than the current crisis, is having a direct impact on Finland and Sweden. While there is no easy and quick solution to the situation, I refuse to believe that it is not worth continuing, unremittingly, to seek one. This too is an issue we should ponder. 

Dear friends,

I hope that, both today and tomorrow, we can raise joint questions and seek and find shared answers to them. I am very grateful to Prime Minister Löfven for agreeing to give the opening speech for the Kultaranta talks. May I express my appreciation for this, both personally and on behalf of the whole of Finland.

And by the way, our guests will see that we too know how to talk. We may also indulge in a little friendly rivalry. However, the emphasis is on bringing forth new, bold and concisely expressed ideas, rather on who can speak longest or with superficial conviction.

With these words, I would once again like to bid you welcome and wish all our guests rewarding Kultaranta talks which, this year, will be held bilingually in a bilingual country. I hope that you enjoy your time here and gain something worth taking home with you; if nothing else, at least the feeling that we Finns and Swedes have, and have had, much in common. I believe that we will continue to do so in the future – such is the link that connects Finland and Sweden. Thank you! Tack!