Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at a banquet in honour of Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic of Estonia and Mr Georgi-Rene Maksimovski at the Presidential Palace on 7 March 2017

This is our third meeting within a short time span. While it is rare for high-level meetings to be so frequent, this is customary between Finland and Estonia.

Our shared and partly separate histories loom large in our minds as Finland celebrates its centenary and Estonia prepares for its own anniversary. There are times when history is written by stronger states, at the expense of smaller ones. We have not had to submit to this. As the descendants of rune singers, we tell our own stories. This continues to be important during our age of information influence.

The key moments during our independence have been entwined in many ways. There were only 11 weeks between Finland and Estonia’s declarations of independence. With the support of its Finnish brothers, Estonia fought a victorious war against foreign enemies. Estonia returned the favour, when its ‘sons of Finland’ came to our aid during the Continuation War. This is a debt of honour, which we Finns will never forget.

Despite our shared experiences, there have also been differences in our political history. It is little wonder that we sometimes disagree on details, emphasise different aspects or use different expressions. No one should be alarmed by this. The main thing is that we respect each others’ views. And when we meet often enough, we hear and listen to each other’s arguments. By doing so the gap between us then either diminishes or simply disappears.

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The entire Western world is living through a period of confusion. In Europe, we are used to taking democracy, reliable media, equality and the rule of law for granted. Causes of uncertainty have now taken their place alongside these. New social undercurrents have sprung up due to uncontrolled immigration and growing, populist extremism and intolerance, combined with economic uncertainty. Terrorism affects us, too. Estonian lives were lost in Nice and Finns were injured in Brussels.

Much has also occurred in our shared Baltic Sea region. Geopolitics is said to have returned, if it ever really left our neighbourhood. Tension has certainly increased in our region.

I think that such tension reflects the cold winds blowing through the wider, international scene. Yet we, too, can feel these cold gusts on our faces. The result is uncertainty and unpredictability, which feels particularly unpleasant for small countries which respect international rules.

Finland and Estonia rely on international law and have a right – and even obligation – to demand that it is upheld. We must be scrupulous in our own actions, even if major powers occasionally interpret the rules to their own advantage. Only then can we demand the same from others. Finland and Estonia have fulfilled their EU and other international obligations well. This is both noted and appreciated.

However, the power of values and examples are not always sufficient. Initiative and actions are also needed in order to defuse tensions and demonstrate the value of cooperation and joint structures for all. A good example of this is the meeting, held last week in Helsinki, of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s ICAO working group on aviation safety in our region. I am delighted that the meeting was arranged and that a further meeting will be held. I would like to thank Estonia for its support in promoting the initiative.

However, we are not alone, either individually or as a pair. A united European Union, mutual solidarity and the determination to find solutions lie in our own hands. I am confident that Estonia will provide a skilful EU Presidency in the second half of this year. Finland will support Estonia in every regard in this task.

The EU certainly needs reform and must focus on activities which generate added value for its people. An example of this, which comes to mind, is guaranteeing national security. It is often forgotten that the EU underpins the close interaction between the economies and people of Finland and Estonia. Without EU support, workers may well have remained immobile, energy and infrastructure projects unimplemented, and the Gulf of Finland much wider than it is now.

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Finland regarded Estonia as a partner from the moment the latter regained its independence. Our Finland100 slogan is ‘Together’.  Although the original idea was perhaps to give the celebrations a Finnish stamp alongside other Finns, the slogan fits Finnish-Estonian relations perfectly. It should also resound around Europe.

To quote from Lennart Meri, individuals and even whole generations are always pursued by a human temptation to say: we have reached our goal. However, and in spite of our joint celebrations, this is never true for nations themselves, or – in our case – between nations: Our joint work and common journey is only just beginning.

Let us raise a toast to the singers of our ancient chants – to our shared mind-set and language, and to the many ways in which they are expressed.