Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the banquet held in honour of the President of Italy Sergio Mattarella at the Presidential Palace on 27 September 2017

I and my wife Jenni are very pleased and proud that you are honouring us with a visit to Finland on this year, when we are celebrating our 100 years of independence.

The 100-year-old Finland is anchored to the traditions dating back to Ancient Rome with many ties. Our top-quality classical research and lively cultural exchange tell of our strong connection with Italy.

As a lawyer, the Roman law helped me deepen my reasoning, and the lessons I learned have benefited me in the world of politics as well.

Finnish people are fascinated by Italy. Every year a few hundred thousand Finns visit Italy. I am very pleased that also Italian tourists have found Finland as a travel destination.

However, the connection between our countries is nothing new. Over the past hundred years and more, numerous Finnish artists have visited Italy to get acquainted with its art treasures. Our national composer Jean Sibelius was studying the first chords of his second symphony in the coastal town of Rapallo, our most famous architect Alvar Aalto borrowed influences from the magnificent churches and palaces of Italy, and – while preparing to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy – our national poet Eino Leino enjoyed the hospitality of the Romans to its full extent.

For both of us, Europe is a choice based on values that endures the geopolitical conflicts of pressure and the shifts in political conjunctures. Both Italy and Finland underscore these common values, are committed to the development of the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy, and want to strengthen the European Single Market and expand free trade. I hope that the dialogical connection between our countries will remain close, as, indeed, we do not lack common challenges.

It has been very interesting to exchange views on the situations of the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. In Finland, we closely monitor the security political situation on the Baltic Sea. The build-up of tension has been quite worrying.

In Finland, we are well aware of the Mediterranean being in the vanguard of the EU in migrant and security issues. I would like to thank Italy for its leading role on the Mediterranean and its active approach to migration issues. Your operations deserve support from all of us.

Finland supports Italy with practical measures: we were among the first EU Member States to receive the full migrant relocation quota assigned to us from Italy. Finnish soldiers, border guards and equipment are serving in Italy and the Mediterranean. Currently, a surveillance aircraft of the Finnish Border Guard is providing support for Italian border authorities in Southern Italy. Even though our resources are limited, we consider it important that we contribute to the joint efforts on the Mediterranean.

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It is great that tonight we also have many business sector representatives present here. The volume of trade between Finland and Italy has recently begun to grow after some slightly leaner years. I believe that this trend will continue.

The productive investments between our countries reveal that our economies are compatible. In the future, I hope to see increasing numbers of Finnish-Italian joint ventures that collaborate successfully on the global markets.

I have understood that in Italy Finland is known particularly for its high technology, well-functioning society and clean environment, and, of course, its racing drivers. I am sure that our strengths will be preserved and together we will find new ones over the next hundred years.

I would like to propose a toast in honour of the excellent relations between Finland and Italy, and, at the same time, also to celebrate the forthcoming hundredth anniversary of our diplomatic relations a little ahead of time. Let us raise our glasses to the next hundred years!