Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the banquet held on 29 August 2018 in honour of the official visit by President of France Emmanuel Macron

Monsieur le Président, Madame Macron,

nous, mon épouse et moi, sommes très heureux de vous accueillir à Helsinki.

A hundred years ago, France was one of the very first countries to recognise Finland’s independence, and our countries established diplomatic relations. We greatly value the good relations between our two countries.

Our connections with France certainly began well before Finnish independence. For Finns, France has through the centuries been a source of inspiration and knowledge in the arts and sciences. Already in the Middle Ages, Paris was a seat of learning for Finns. A Finnish priest, Olavi Maununpoika (Olaus Magni), even served as rector of Sorbonne University.

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In the 21st century, the cultural and scientific cooperation between our countries continues to become more valuable. We have much to give each other, whether in the field of contemporary literature or in high technology.

Economic growth creates the conditions for a continuation of the growth trend in bilateral trade between France and Finland. It is pleasing to note that besides the major and visible transactions, also small and medium-sized Finnish enterprises are increasingly interested in France.

Innovative technological enterprises in particular are currently active in the French market, attracted by the reforms of business legislation made by your government and by the good reputation of FrenchTech. In turn, we are pleased with the growing visibility of French start-up companies in Finland. Finno-Franco cooperation will help the whole of Europe to keep up with the rapid advances in digitalisation and artificial intelligence.

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Europeanness began to unite our countries in a completely new way when Finland joined the European Union in 1995. As a founding member of the Union, France has a special role in European integration – and also particular responsibility for it. Your visit is very helpful as our country makes preparations for its third EU Presidency, due to begin in just under a year’s time.

The European spirit highlighting the sense of belonging together has not been at its strongest in recent years. I have been longing for a return of that spirit, familiar from the early days of our EU membership. The leadership you have taken in laying out the common future of Europe has responded to this need excellently.

Finland considers it important that the mutual assistance clause in the Lisbon Treaty is no empty shell. This is why it was natural for us to respond to France’s request and to show solidarity after the terrorist attacks of November 2015.

I have often posed the question: what is a union that does not guarantee the security of its citizens? The EU must assume more responsibility for this in the future. Finland, alongside France, belongs to the core group that wants to broadly strengthen the European security and defence policy. Tomorrow, our countries will issue a joint statement on European defence. We consider your European Intervention Initiative to be an important part of this development. Alongside this, it is also natural to intensify our bilateral defence policy cooperation.

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There is also much more than EU policy between two EU member states. In addition to security and defence policy, our foreign policy cooperation extends to defending our shared values and responding to global challenges.

We agree that the voice of Europe should be heard more strongly in the world. It is important to ensure that our voice is both coherent and credible in defending traditionally important European values and the principles of human rights and the rule of law. We will have an excellent chance to do this during the coming year when Finland and France have the successive chairmanships of the Council of Europe.

We need to strengthen multilateral cooperation and the institutions maintaining it also outside the borders of Europe. A crumbling of the rules-based international order would be a real threat to our wellbeing and security. We Europeans must stick together in defending this order. It is essential to reform the United Nations into a more efficient and effective actor. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, France has a special role in this.

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We can only respond together, not separately, to the common questions concerning the destiny of humanity. This past summer has been a concrete reminder and, at the same time, only a pale foreboding of what climate change could herald. There is no time to lose: the commitments under the Paris Agreement must be implemented as a matter of urgency. Finland, like France, wants to be among the leaders in climate policy within the framework of both the EU and the UN. In addition to intergovernmental cooperation, we also need new openings to engage the business world in climate action. Here, too, Finland and France could take joint steps.

As chair of the Arctic Council, Finland is very concerned about the rapid loss of the ice cover in the northern regions. Black carbon emissions in particular are accelerating the melting of ice and so, together with our Arctic partners, we are now striving to reduce these emissions. We hope France will support these efforts in other international forums since, like carbon dioxide, black carbon is a factor accelerating climate change, not just in the Arctic, but globally.

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Finally, as a former chairman of the Football Association of Finland, I have to admit that there is one field where we Finns still have particularly much to learn from the French: the football field. Perhaps the recipe for success could be similar to that of clergymen in the Middle Ages – it would seem we need to start sending large numbers of our young players to French football academies. Congratulations on the superb performance and the well-deserved World Cup!

Mr President, dear Emmanuel, I would like to propose a toast to you and your wife and to the friendship between Finland and France.