Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the dinner in honour of the visit by President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite at the Presidential Palace on 18 October 2016

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It is a great pleasure for me and my spouse to warmly welcome you to Helsinki. We are delighted that you are here. I look back with fond memories to my visit to Lithuania and your beautiful capital in 2013.

Our mutual ties are increasing. Political visits and exchanges are frequent. We have a lively dialogue and co-operation in the field of security and defence. Also trade and investments are growing.

All of these activities point to an important common interest: Increasing our connectivity. Rail Baltica, Via Baltica and the new energy connections, such as the forthcoming Baltic Connector, are important to both of us.

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We are both members and partners in the European Union. At the moment the EU is facing many challenges. Brexit, migration and the wider arc of instability around the EU’s borders are causes of concern. I am confident that these issues can be managed but hard and dedicated work looking for common solutions is required. One field where steps forward should be taken is security. The EU is hardly worthy of the name union if it cannot protect its own people.

The security situation in Europe has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Breaches of international law and norms are never good news for small countries. The stability of the Baltic Sea region is a common and vital interest for both of us. Although our security policy solutions are not identical, we share the same concerns.

Finland’s security rests on four pillars – our own defence capability; Western integration and partnership with NATO, US and bilaterally with Sweden and the United States; dialogue with Russia; and international governance and law. They are all important. Finland will not be a passive bystander. On the contrary, our aim is to pursue an active foreign and security policy aimed at fostering regional security and stability.

Times are turbulent well beyond our immediate borders and concerns. The catastrophy in Syria reveal our collective inability to deal with protracted conflicts. The massive movement of migrants over the past year showed that no country, however far removed, is exempted from worrisome developments.

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The future of our shared environment is another key issue. There are some rays of hope. The conclusion of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change was an important milestone.

Closer to home, it is common knowledge that the Baltic Sea is the most polluted sea in the world. Therefore development of technology such as LNG-propelled ships and agreement not to dump wastewater into the sea are important developments. Also the Finnish companies are doing their part. Technology under the brand name “clean tech” is about making a positive contribution both to the environment and the profit margins. This is another sector where I see untapped potential for our countries.

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As I said at the beginning, we are happy to see you here in Helsinki. There is, however, one event where potentially seeing the Lithuanians is not only a source of joy. I am talking about the forthcoming European championship tournament in basketball next year which Finland is co-hosting.

And why is basketball not only a source of joy? We have to fo back in history to the year 1939 when Finland for the first time played in the European championships. We lost all our matches, but to Lithuania we lost 112 to 9.

We have come a long way since then and are eager to follow in your footsteps: You have shown us that also small counties can excel at the highest level!

Even if we do not get to meet in the tournament, we will have plenty of opportunities to get together in the coming years. The next few years will mark some important anniversaries. Lithuania recently celebrated the restoration of its independence 25 years ago. In 2017 Finland will celebrate 100 years of independence and in 2018 you will follow suit.

Yet independence does not mean doing things alone. Increasingly it entails a pooling of resources and working together with others. I want to assure you that Finland is eager to continue working with Lithuania, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to the benefit of all.

Madam President, I want to raise my glass to the excellent relations between our countries, to your health and the continued success of the people of Lithuania.