Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 11th October 2012

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It is a great honour to speak before such an esteemed audience. I wish to extend my warmest thanks to our hosts for making this possible. In this I include the cordial welcome that my wife, I and the Finnish delegation have been given here in Norway. This is surely not a coincidence. Finland and Norway may be tough competitors in winter sports and javelin-throwing. But it feels like this competition is very much a family affair. For that is indeed what we are: one Nordic family.

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My predecessors have brought into focus the importance of geography in the Finnish foreign policy. Geography has indeed had a profound impact on our lives. But if through history Finland’s geographical position has occasionally cast a shadow on us, we now see it as a window of new opportunities. One such opportunity is Norway, with whom we share a common border of 736 kilometres. We are welded together by sheer geography.

Diplomatic jargon often repeats phrases such as “our countries have good and well-functioning relations”. Where Finland and Norway are concerned, such a phrase is certainly true. Only it seems that this expression is not powerful enough. There are so many ties that bind us. And I believe that in the future these ties will only increase.

Finns and Norwegians share the same conception of society. It aims at legality, justice and equality. We have succeeded in building a Nordic society that is internally cohesive. We know from experience that this cohesion is challenged from time to time. But we are able to face these challenges.

Both Finland and Norway are competitive economies. Norway’s natural resources, and the expertise connected with them, promise prosperity for decades to come. Finland’s success has depended mostly on technology based on human capital. This success is also challenged now and again, but the basis is strong for maintaining our position. Even in the midst of our success we have kept our feet on the ground and concentrated on the future.

We are also united by our similar views on world politics. We share the premise of a functional multilateral system and respect for international law. We are not known for being hermits or problem-creators. Instead we look for solutions. One example is mediation, where Norway has been a forerunner. Today, mediation is also at the heart of Finland’s foreign policy. Neither of us believes in a zero sum game. Our success does not come at the expense of others, nor is the success of others at our expense.

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If everything is looking good, does this mean that the Nordic story is complete? Have relations between Finland and Norway already reached their summit – an easy and harmonious relationship combining like-mindedness and cooperation? I believe the answer to this question is no.

The role of the Nordic countries, together with the opportunities for their joint cooperation, is rising into a new level. The Nordic welfare state model is perhaps more attractive than ever before. The interest is explained by the success of our method of combining a cohesive society with a requirement for competitiveness.

We need to take advantage of this interest. There is still room for the Nordic countries to strengthen their common profile in the eyes of the world. Together we form a tightly integrated entity of 25 million people. Together we represent an area of high expertise that belongs to the top ten of the world’s largest economies. This entity – our northern home if you will – has all the fundamentals to attract more businesses and investment. In a world of rising major economies, we should not assume that any of us alone will be considered sufficiently interesting by others.

We should also set more ambitious goals for the relations between Finland and Norway. Let´s start with the economy. Trade relations between Finland and Norway have not met their full potential. Our trade with Norway clearly lags behind compared to Finland and Sweden. Nor are investments particularly significant. Finnish direct investments in Norway are estimated at 2.2 billion euros. Viewed from the other direction, the situation is frankly worrying. Norwegian investments in Finland are below 400 million.

What is the reason for this? My feeling is that Norway’s potential has simply not been properly realised by Finns. Let me give you an example. The Offshore Northern Seas Conference and Exhibition was held in Stavanger at the end of August. It was revealing that out of 1,400 exhibitors only 15 were Finnish companies. The neighbour has been neglected if one looks at it from the other side too. Finland is perhaps thought of in Norway as being slightly exotic. This state of affairs we would need to change.

The Nordic Cooperation in security and defence policy has made good progress. Here also Norway has played an important role. In 2009, the Stoltenberg report created a clear vision of how the Nordic countries could work together in foreign, security and defence policy. The report’s focus was on the long-term, but I have noted with satisfaction that the majority of the report’s recommendations have already been implemented, or are currently in the process of being implemented.

We have every reason to continue and develop this cooperation. The common will is strong. Close contacts are needed to achieve better results in procurement, exercises and training. The pressures on the defence budgets only increase the need for cooperation. We are also seeking new forms of cooperation. A good example is the establishment of a Nordic cyber security network by the end of this year. Currently, we are considering the possibility for Finland and Sweden to participate in Iceland’s air surveillance. Norway would also have a central role in this form of cooperation.

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Arctic cooperation is a third area with strong potential for cooperation. I don’t need to convince Norway of the increasing importance of the Arctic region. This has been a reality here for some time. We woke up to it in Finland much later. But we are definitely wide awake now.

Finland is not an Arctic coastal state. But Finland is an Arctic country. In fact, it is one of the world’s most northerly countries. Of all the people living above the 60th parallel north, every third person is a Finn.

Finland’s role is strongest in Arctic expertise or know-how – we might call it the “cold-how”. Finland invests strongly in research of the northern regions, as well as in innovations. Many of our universities carry out major research, with universities of Lapland and Oulu being prime examples.

Finland has long traditions in Arctic navigation and shipbuilding technology. An expedition led by Finnish polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld was the first to achieve a complete crossing of the North East Passage. For Finns the ability to navigate in winter has not been only a means of livelihood. It has also been our country’s lifeline. Finland is the only country in the world where in winter every single harbour may get frozen. Seeking solutions to this problem has turned Finland into one of the leading experts in Arctic navigation and offshore operations.

Internationally, Northern Finland is becoming increasingly important for mineral production. Finland offers mining companies a safe operating environment and an excellent infrastructure. Finland’s strengths also include advanced technology expertise, mining equipment manufacture and comprehensive basic geological mapping. The potential is significant. At the same time development of the Arctic region must remain environmentally sustainable.

Finland sees Norway as its key Arctic partner. The cornerstones of our partnership are our common border, close contacts and mutually complementary expertise. These already exist. Nevertheless, we need to increase the recognition of each other’s potential, as well as our willingness and practical work.

First of all, it would be natural for us to strengthen our political cooperation. We are both members of the Arctic Council. We share the goal to strengthen the Council. The Council should be capable of responding to the increasing need for international cooperation in the North. We must also focus on development of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC). In fact, Norway hands over the chairmanship of this organisation next year to Finland. We will continue the fine work carried out by Norway in the current term.

As a second dimension I see the cooperation in the Arctic know-how. It should focus on the economy and the environment. Close networking of our companies and research institutes is essential. Development of the Arctic infrastructure and environmental protection are areas where the interests of Finland and Norway run side by side. We need to explore these opportunities open-mindedly. Thirdly, in developing our arctic cooperation we should also bear in mind the significance of local partnerships. Strong cross-border cooperation at a local and regional level offers new opportunities that we need to utilise.

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The North has long been a key economic compass point of our mutual neighbour Russia. The bulk of Russian exports is based on the natural resources of its northern regions. Russia has a keen interest in the development of these areas. This is good news for Finland and Norway.

Finland and Norway have good relations with their Russian neighbour over the border. The border agreement between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea played a significant part in this. This also sent signals further afield. Relations with Russia always involve challenges. But they also contain significant opportunities. These are clearly visible in the Arctic region. The area forms a natural crossroads for developing cooperation between Finland, Norway and Russia.

The Arctic economy is not measured in quarters. The perspective is closer to a “quarter-century” than a “quarter-year”. But in time the changes in the North would seem to provide far-reaching opportunities. The opening of the Northern Sea Route is one such factor. This will change the logistical reality for Europe and Asia. Equipping the new sea route will nevertheless require a huge financial input. The best possible expertise will be needed to operate it. This offers opportunities for both Finland and Norway. Navigational safety and oil pollution preparedness on the Northern Sea Route are also enormous challenges in which Norway is already engaged.

People have easily crossed the border between Finland and Norway already for some decades. The same is now happening with the border between Finland and Russia. Last year Finland issued approximately 1.2 million visas in Russia. We expect to break this record once again this year. This is a significant trend that is also visible in the North. The agreement between Norway and Russia on a visa-free border area is a fresh step in this direction. Tourism and the issuing of visas are rapidly on the increase. Finland´s and Norway`s close cooperation at the level of our consulates in Murmansk is very useful and we should continue it further.

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Finland and Norway have much in common. We are not identical, but we are very similar. Although we are very close, we have not yet fully found each other. Or, paradoxically, perhaps because of our closeness, we have not identified the full potential of our relations. It is surely time to open our eyes and ensure that we never lose sight of each other and these possibilities.