Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö in Parliament on 1 March 2024

Photo: Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva
Kuva: Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva

Everything has changed and nothing has changed.

We are living in a new kind of an era. War, peace and security are very much on people’s minds. The impacts of climate change cast a shadow over everybody’s life. When thinking about the future, we no longer expect things to always develop in a better direction, in the same way as we used to. Instead, we increasingly often find ourselves hoping that we could avoid the worst outcomes.

Everything has changed.

Technology has developed at a dazzling pace, which only seems to be accelerating. After automation and robots, we are living the eve of the breakthrough of artificial intelligence. At this point, we can only speculate how far it will take us and to which extent it will replace humans. The aim has been to make people’s lives easier. Indeed, physical exertion may have decreased, while the mental pressures have grown.

Unfortunately, the technology of destruction has also developed: drones and unmanned weapons, those insidious operators, are making their entrance. On the other hand, environmental technology gives reason to hope that maybe we could remedy some of the traces left by industrial technologies.

Nothing has changed.

By this I refer to the essence of the human mind, our feelings and emotions. They have remained the same throughout centuries: love/hate, jealousy/compassion, greed for power/submission, bellicosity/desire for peace have all been described already in the Hellenistic literature. The humankind has not generated a new internal attitude for humans nor abandoned the old one.

The old feelings and emotions – the unchanged part of us – control increasingly advanced systems and equipment – the part that has changed.


On a daily basis, we follow closely what President Biden, President Putin or President Xi have said, or how ex-President Trump is endeavouring to get back into power. We follow how their statements greatly affect how we think and how we live our lives. All of us, eight billion people in all.

If one has had thorough or even confidential discussions with those leaders, one will realise that, just like any of us, they are guided by their innermost feelings, and that these also affect the decisions they make. In this respect, diplomacy is also a solo sport.

Finland has tended to be a team player. As customary for small nations, we emphasise multilateralism and the role of the UN. The European Union could also be described as a system between multiple parties, and we have placed our trust in that. The inability or unwillingness in particular of the UN Security Council to find solutions has eroded the whole organisation’s authority. Within the EU, on the other hand, security cooperation has stagnated.

Therefore, when it comes to our foreign and security policy, over the past decade we ended up complementing our security by means of other contractual arrangements. Our NATO partnership was taken to the maximum level. We made bilateral agreements with about a dozen countries and groups of like-minded nations, including the deepening connection between the Nordic countries, as well as Nordic-Baltic and JEF cooperation.

Russia’s cruel invasion of Ukraine in the early years of this decade dramatically changed the security situation in the whole of Europe. Finland responded by joining NATO and continued by negotiating the DCA agreement with the United States. Even though the agreement is bilateral, it has clear interactions with other similar agreements.

All this has been done almost unanimously. I have considered it a value in itself that when we proceed, we do it after careful consideration, avoiding any conflicts. As a small country, we really cannot afford them. Perhaps, every now and then, it has fallen on me to seek mutual understanding, sometimes even within Governments, often also listening to the parliamentary opposition.

Many people think that we should have applied for NATO membership a long time ago. This kind of thinking was valuable. However, there would have been no consensus behind that view, hardly even a majority, before the spring 2022. In retrospect, we could say that we applied when it turned out to be necessary. In addition, it also appears that we lost nothing irreplaceable before that.

The most valuable part of all this has been the fact that we maintained and developed our defence for many decades in such a manner that, today, our new NATO partners seem to regard us as an example. The basic structures of Finnish security are now in as stable positions as can be. Within them, the operating models and ways of working are under careful consideration. Taking care of them is the next task.

At the moment, due to the US elections, there is concern about the future of NATO. The comment “they must pay their bills” was probably drafted for domestic use, but there are many reasons why the European partners should also hear it. It is a high time to awaken to securing the state of peace, in other words, to strengthen ourselves.

What is certain, though, is that everything will keep on changing. And perhaps even at a more rapid pace than before. It requires flexible and rapid ability to adapt oneself. That is something Finland has had, for example, when seeking NATO membership. Another thing that is certain is that a lot will remain unchanged. The human mind, that is. Diplomacy is still also a solo sport that requires discretion. That way even small countries can get their voice heard.

Let me give a recent example of this: the breaking of the Balticconnector gas pipeline was a dramatic event that stirred up big emotions. It has surprised others as well that we have progressed so well in the investigation of the matter; not by raising our voice, but through discreet and determined work by all actors involved.


Many of us has been left wondering how, for a long time, Finland has been among the top players, no matter what is being measured in international comparisons. There is something unusual about it, as we have been rather humble and down-to-earth people. Or is that the reason for our success – this basic nature of Finnish people? This country has indeed been built upon certain values. Upon trust in ourselves and in others, upon taking responsibility for ourselves and others, each according to our ability, and upon having a sense of what’s right and wrong. That is what the happiest people in the world are like.

My honourable successor

The connection with the people; you must also have felt that when touring Finland during your election campaign. During a busy campaign period, it cheers you up and encourages you, maybe even flatters you. But it creates a value that leaves a lasting mark, an ever-deepening feeling: they trusted me, I represent what remains constant for them. You will also come to experience it – the connection with the people is unforgettable.

I want to extend my sincerest thanks to the people of Finland that you blessed me with this connection. And to you, our new President, I want to say: we are with you.

I wish you strength and wisdom in these difficult and unpredictable times. I believe that you will come to earn thanks for building trust, in a fair and responsible manner.