Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the Ambassador Seminar on 22 August 2017

Today, we have gathered for the Ambassador Seminar in a Finland that is celebrating 100 years of independence.

Over the past year, we have drawn attention to the many areas of society and life in which Finland is in international comparison strong. We are not emphasising these areas in order to boast our achievements, but to remind ourselves how much we have to cherish. 

The terrorist attack in Turku has forced us to confront this issue right now. The most important thing we have to protect is people’s security and their feeling of safety. This has been shaken. 

In Turku, the police, rescue personnel and fellow citizens did everything that could be done. Whatever can be done must be done. I believe that the required majority in Parliament is ready to supplement the inadequate powers of the authorities and also to carefully examine whether we have sufficient resources to ensure security.

As we have already seen, immigration – the process of entering our country – is inevitably and intrinsically linked to this discussion. Opinions are very divided on this matter. On the one hand it has been proposed that the borders should be closed, on the other hand forced deportations have been opposed. Many people do not see this issue as being so black and white, however.
Those people are right.

Finland is bound by international agreements on refugees and asylum seekers and we comply with those agreements. Finland also has its own binding judicial system. We also comply with that.

This has has to be said clearly: Finland cannot close its borders without closing off itself. 
A return to border checks in the west will not prevent asylum seekers from entering the country; it did not do so on the eastern border a few years ago. People also apply for asylum without grounds, and thus the court rules on the deportation of individuals residing illegally in the country. Our judicial system is one of the best in the world, also in matters of asylum. Disregarding or even directly resisting court decisions undermines our entire social order.

Immigration is not going to end. We face a difficult debate: How can we sustain our humane community without at the same time endangering it? This question must be addressed thoroughly.

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In view of our size, Finland has a strong international status as it celebrates 100 years of independence. This both enables goal-oriented activities and obliges us to nurture that status.

Our international status is based upon solid democracy, and well-being and stability built through years of hard work. It stems not only from our deep and global international connections but also from the desire of Finns and our country’s ability to take part in international burden – sharing and cooperation.

Our status is also stable in terms of security. Although no-one can ever be completely safe in these times, our choices concerning key guidelines have proven to be effective in rapidly changing conditions. Our pillar model provides opportunities for balancing actions. We can always compensate for the weakness of one pillar by strengthening the others. Still, the goal is to keep all the pillars functioning.

This is not an easy task. The world and, as a result, our own position appears unlikely to settle into a peaceful routine in the foreseeable future. This means that our solutions and structures must stand up to continuous critical examination. And although we have already achieved a lot, plenty of work still lies ahead.

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Our times yearn for stability, responsible leadership and compliance with common rules. Demand for all of these is high at the moment, but unfortunately supply is very low. On the contrary, the world is extremely volatile right now.

Serious conflicts continue in Europe’s neighbouring areas. The Ukraine conflict is stuck in its own instability: ceasefires do not last and implementation of the Minsk agreement is not progressing. The parties involved are blaming each other, and it is hard to find any signs of positive development.

The same applies to the Syrian civil war. Human suffering continues and the west – Europe in particular – remains powerless. Although violence in the region has now decreased, this state of relative calm has been achieved by means of brutal killing that took place earlier. This extended period of mutual cruelty and hatred is not a good foundation for building the future of Syria.

Turkey occupies a key position between Europe and the currently unsettled south. It is unfortunate that relations between the European Union and Turkey are subject to ever-increasing problems. Turkey is an important partner for the EU and for Finland, and Finland has always supported Turkey’s European path. In light of this, Turkey’s recent development and actions, particularly those aimed at suppressing the free media and human rights defenders, are cause for great concern.

There are continued tensions in Finland’s neighbouring areas, in part because this autumn will be marked by a number of large military exercises. I consider the related alarmism presented in public discussion to be exaggerated at times, but it is clear that a greatly increased amount of military activity also involves risks, intentional and unintentional.

Finland is dynamic and proactive with regard to supporting stability in northern Europe. Last summer’s proposal concerning flight safety over the Baltic Sea is one example. As a result, the work of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Baltic Sea project team has been reactivated, and new measures to improve flight safety in the region were agreed upon in a spirit of cooperation. It is worth noting that both NATO and Russia have participated constructively in the project team’s work. At the same time, support has been provided for activating dialogue in a NATO-Russia council.

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It is quite difficult to find examples of international processes that have moved in a positive direction over the past year. However, there are some encouraging signs. The situation in the European Union has stabilised to a certain extent. The economy is growing and so is the case with trust that citizens have in the Union. Elections have also demonstrated that stability is gaining a foothold.

From Finland’s point of view, the systematic strengthening of the EU’s security policy role is particularly encouraging. In the autumn, the EU will review topics that include the future of crisis management operations, defence industry development, responses to hybrid threats, and the activation of permanent structured cooperation.

At this moment in time, movement is more important than the eventual destination: every step we take strengthens the EU’s ability to safeguard the security of its citizens. This also increases citizens’ faith in our shared Europe. It has been quite a while since the EU was at the centre of a self-driven positive cycle. We must seize this opportunity.

Activation of dialogue between the EU and Russia is also welcome. Although our views differ on many issues, an effort to find common ground is important. Based on my own discussions with President Putin in Savonlinna, I believe that although Russia remains inflexible on many issues, it is now looking for a more constructive approach in others. This particularly applies to the improvement of flight safety over the Baltic Sea and the problem of black carbon in the Arctic region. The Northern Dimension and its objectives are another such area. 

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Last year in this room, I stated that we need to be able to see not just further ahead, but also further afield. Today, I would again like to encourage you to do this.

The foundations of humanity’s very existence are threatened by our own unsustainable development. Although controlling climate change is the most compelling of these, it is by no means our only challenge. The impending scarcity of resources and a decreased diversity of life also pose serious threats.

I have repeatedly called attention to the Arctic region as a key area in terms of climate change. It is now warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. This is melting the ice cover and the permafrost below it. The dark sea uncovered and the methane released from the ground laid bare by thawing will warm the climate even more. The end of the Arctic region would also mark the end of the world. 

Our chairmanship of the Arctic Council began in May and provides a natural forum for highlighting these themes. However, the Arctic is an issue that affects not only the countries in the region but all humankind.

It is encouraging that agreement on actions aimed at limiting black carbon emissions has already been reached within the scope of the Arctic Council. However, the journey to practical measures is just beginning and success in this task will require constructive involvement on the part of all countries.

A second important theme shaping the future of humankind is the question of weapons of mass destruction, and the future of nuclear weapons in particular. Recently, North Korea’s condemnable activities have made this a very topical issue.

Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme have existed for years. In defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions, the country has continued to develop its nuclear weapons programme and ballistic missiles. This is now a question of global rather than regional security.

At a time when relations between great powers are strained, it is positive to note that the Security Council found common ground on condemning missile tests and applying tougher sanctions. The world needs to engage with North Korea in order to freeze a fast-moving weapons programme and open a path for actual negotiations.

Weaker international security has increased concerns about drifting into a new arms race cycle. There have been signs that the tactical nuclear weapons card may have been played in conjunction with military exercises. This is why we need to discuss the future of nuclear disarmament.

It is easy to understand the objectives of those who pushed for international negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. The goal is a good one, but it is unclear whether this will pave the way to real nuclear disarmament. Nuclear-weapon states did not participate in the negotiations and they do not support the outcome.

Finland, like most other EU states, did not participate in the negotiations. We are concerned that the process may actually do more to hinder than promote nuclear non-proliferation. In order to make progress in reducing nuclear weapons, we need the commitment and participation of nuclear-weapon states. The upcoming UN General Assembly is the next opportunity to find a path that would support both nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. Finland will be an active participant in that discussion. 

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The world, and its geopolitics, are changing at an increasing pace. It almost seems like we’re in a tunnel – one which perhaps promised a way out yesterday but one that is ending up becoming a dead-end of today.

Each year when we get together for this summery gathering, I have been certain that we have already seen everything and that such great changes as we had witnessed over the year will not be seen again. This year is different – I don’t think that I can be surprised any more. Except by that something that will happen anyway.

You have been and will continue to be in that same position. But being small is a strength, because we don’t have to be large.