Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the diplomatic dinner held at the Presidential Palace on 23 April 2015

My spouse and I once again have the pleasure of meeting you, the representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited to Finland. I would also like to take this opportunity to present my sincere thanks for the energy you have shown in promoting relations between your home countries and Finland. Diplomacy consists of frenetic, intensive bursts of activity between periods of slow plodding, but it is always important.

In Finland, our general election is now behind us. It has given you, who have the task of following developments in Finland, plenty to do. The election result is always right, as I commented yesterday to the media. The result was just as Finland’s voting public wished. Power and responsibility ultimately rests with the people. This is the iron law of democracy. At any rate, the result reflects the spirit of Finnish democracy. Despite differences of opinion, this spirit emphasises joint responsibility and calls for cooperation and trust. These will all be needed.

The election also involved a lively debate on foreign and security policy, even if there were no major points of disagreement. This was only natural considering Europe’s more difficult security situation and the nature of the Finnish elections. No one, whether inside or outside Finland, can suppress such discussion. We have freedom of speech, leading to a broad range of analyses and conclusions. Under all circumstances, a responsible government will agree on a common policy and act accordingly. If necessary, the policy can be adjusted – together.

Of course, our national foreign policy discussion will continue. That is why we will again hold the Kultaranta talks in mid-June. At those talks, we will discuss broader international themes and our national security.

In the year since we last gathered here, we have become used to repeating that European security policy has entered difficult times due to the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s widely condemned actions. We have nothing to add to such an assessment today. Although we have the Minsk Agreement, the violence has not ended.

Neither is today the first time that I have expressed my concern about the clear, widening gulf between the EU and Russia. This gulf has sometimes broadened at a slower and sometimes at a faster pace. Unfortunately this process of estrangement has not stopped. At stake are not only interests but also principles and values.

There are many reasons for this parting of the ways. Relations between the EU and Russia were in difficulties even before the Ukraine crisis, based on new positions in which we engaged in a dialogue of the deaf, or interpreted events from opposing standpoints. Our basic perspectives were already diverging. In the West, many saw Russia as being on a path of convergence with the West. However, Russia may have changed its idea of where it was going mid-journey. Little wonder, then, that we drifted into difficulties.

I doubt that this situation can be turned around quickly. There is no smooth development path to which we can return, even if gong back were possible. This is not an occasion for off-the-cuff decision-making. Now is the time for cool-headed analysis and thinking, and the step-by-step diplomacy that follows. 

In any case, containing and resolving the Ukraine conflict represent the first step in this process. The Minsk Agreement provides a basis for this, if the parties have the willingness to adhere to it. There is no doubt that the EU has reacted strongly to the Ukraine crisis through measures that include economic sanctions. This has been the only alternative in a situation without good alternatives. It is also Finland’s position on the matter.

On the other hand, I regard it as important that we do not allow the crisis to spill over into new areas and sectors. We must also nurture our cooperation and contacts of various kinds. I think that this involves areas such as contacts between citizens and Arctic cooperation, which cover a range of common interests. Even if there is no return to normal, this does not mean that we should continue moving towards an abnormal situation without stopping to look at what is going on around us.

Thirdly, I also regard it as important that, in a responsible fashion, we keep our communication channels open with Russia’s leadership. During times of crisis – especially during such times – we have to keep talking. However, at EU level we need to ensure that this does not undermine the EU’s solidarity or the credibility of joint decisions.

Whatever the outcome, a long road lies before us and there are many more questions than answers. The pressure will continue.

Europe has woken up to a steadily deteriorating situation to the South, which has coincided with the conflict in Ukraine. We are surrounded by an arc of conflict. Violent clashes in North Africa and the Middle East have led to regional catastrophes whose consequences are rippling out into Europe. The whole world has been shocked by the many victims among the waves of refugees sweeping across the Mediterranean The threat posed by growing terrorism has also been brought home to us. In all honesty, no end is in sight for this worryingly unstable situation.

It is clear that Europe cannot section off its problems in the north, east or south. These problems are common to us all. No one is immune. The call for shared responsibility is understandable, wherever it comes from. But the challenge now lies in finding effective and balanced ways for Europe to meet its responsibilities. Issues need to be rethought. Europe must take more responsibility for its own security.

I have recently pointed out that Europe is shifting from a policy of value expansionism to a defensive security policy. This means that rather than merely wondering how to export its values and models of governance, Europe must also consider how to defend them at home. The situation is now more complex and the certainties of the 1990s are behind us. Repeating past glories will not be enough – we also need a new approach.

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In these challenging circumstances, Finland will remain an open member of the world community and a proactive builder of international cooperation. Of course, we will attend to our own security and interests, but without turning inwards to protect those alone. We want to continue living in a country which joins others in seeking better solutions to the broader issues facing the whole of humanity, such as climate change or the need to increase gender equality. Naturally, I hope that you, the heads of your embassies and missions, will lend us your practical support and efforts in this work.

With that, I would like to wish you continuing success in your work in and alongside Finland. We Finns truly value your work. Thank you!