Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the banquet held on 17 September 2018 in honour of the official visit by President of the Federal Republic of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Mrs Elke Büdenbender

Dear Federal President, dear Mrs Büdenbender, it has been a great pleasure and honour for my wife and I to welcome you today on the first day of your state visit to Finland.

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“This evening, Pacius and I dined together, two Germans far away from home. I have come here to build a city, and Pacius to compose music for the city.” This quote from the diary of Carl Ludvig Engel, from the year 1835 in Helsinki is fiction, from Jukka Viikilä’s Finlandia Prize winning novel Watercolours from the city of Engel.

What is a fact, however, is that the impact of these two Germans, Engel and Pacius, is still profoundly felt in Finland. A contemporary of Schinkel, Engel studied architecture in Berlin and went on to leave his indelible mark in the city blocks surrounding the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The composer Friedrich Pacius, born in Hamburg, penned the melody of the national anthem of Finland, soon to be heard in this room.

When our nation was built during the Russian rule, a number of other building blocks were also of German origin. Our national philosopher Johann Vilhelm Snellman based his work on the philosophy of Hegel. Already for several centuries before that, trade and religion, art and science had served as bridges between our two countries across the Baltic.

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Therefore, it is only natural that Germany was among the very first countries to recognise the independence of Finland in January 1918, and we are this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Germany and Finland.

Next year the constitution of the Republic of Finland and the presidential institution will also turn 100 years old.  Finland came, however, very close to following a completely different path thanks to our close relationship with Germany. Friedrich Karl, Prince of Hessen, was already elected to become King of Finland in the autumn of 1918, but the end of the First World War also put an end to these monarchical aspirations. As the current President of the Republic of Finland, I dare say that I feel relieved that this particular link between our two countries was never actualised. Had this happened, it would have had an impact on my own career plans.

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The Federal Republic of Germany and the institution of the Federal President are 30 years younger than their Finnish counterparts. In 1949, two German states rose from the ruins of the Second World War. Finland maintained equal relations with both states, but the difference in their true nature was, naturally, quite clear to us. One of them carried the word “democratic” in its name; only the other actually was one. It was not until the German reunification that democracy, as guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic, reached the eastern part of Germany.

We have every reason to be proud of the democracy our respective republics have systematically and solidly built. But there is ample reason to be concerned about its future. Democracy is not self-evident. It has to be nurtured in order for us to sustain it. . If our citizens’  sense of justice weakens and their sense of uncertainty, insecurity and inequality grows, the lure of undemocratic forces will grow in equal measure. There is no denying that these forces always exist, both within and outside our societies.

Dear Mr Federal President, you have repeatedly called for courage to be democratic – Mut zur Demokratie. I have myself often referred to something coined as ‘participatory patriotism’. It means that in return for the support and protection society provides us, we must contribute to building and defending that society. I believe our goal under these  headlines is common: keeping democracy alive and well is the best guarantee for the stability of society. Without the citizens, their courage, participation and commitment, this goal cannot be achieved. People must feel ownership of the community and the world in which they live.

A special responsibility for this rests with political decision-makers. We must show people that we are worthy of their trust. We must be clear about how important democratic values and institutions are to the security and welfare of our citizens.

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The same need applies to our common Europe and the entire rules-based international order.  They are also based on values and institutions badly in need of brave defenders. Here, Germany and Finland have an opportunity to work together even more closely.

The connection between Germany and Finland in the framework of European integration has been very close over the past decades. In the wake of German reunification and the end of the Cold War, new pathways into Europe opened up for Finland. Germany promoted this process both indirectly and directly. The support we received from Germany during the different stages of the negotiations for our accession to the European Union was decisive. For this, we are truly grateful. Throughout our EU membership, we have repeatedly found ourselves in a like-minded group, whether on issues regarding the entire Union or the Eurozone.

In today’s Europe, however, likemindedness threatens to be overshadowed by discord. The pan-European spirit– a form of participatory Europeanness – we know from past decades appears to be in short supply. We must work together to reverse the direction of this development. I have repeatedly emphasised the importance of European defence. If we can show our citizens that Europe will carry its responsibility for our common security, it will be easier to build a sense of belonging together in other areas as well.

A stronger Europe will also have a stronger voice outside its boundaries. Our contribution is vital for the United Nations and other international organisations. The ranks of those defending the jointly agreed rules and norms could grow dangerously thin in the absence of us Europeans. I have noted with great interest the recent ideas originating in Berlin of a new alliance for multilateralism.

We have had many opportunities within a short space of time to discuss the future of democracy, Europe and the world order: today in Helsinki and last week in Riga with several other European presidents. I hope that the next opportunity to continue this dialogue arises soon.

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The bilateral relationship between Finland and Germany is in excellent shape. Year after year, Germany has remained Finland’s most important trading partner. Investments and commercial exchange between us range from traditional industries to new technologies, involving large corporations as well as small enterprises at the top of their league. The modern-day Engels and Paciuses, women and men alike, move between our countries in both directions. Finnish design, music and literature have become increasingly popular in Germany. We are welcoming ever-increasing volumes of tourists and exchange students. Yet there is always room for improving and deepening our mutual understanding and co-operation. Your state visit is an excellent opportunity to promote this goal.

Herr Bundespräsident, Frau Büdenbender, as you dine together with us in Helsinki, the city of Engel, I hope you don’t feel that you are far away from home. May I propose a toast in your honour, and to the friendship between Finland and Germany.