Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the opening of Parliament on 4 February 2014

(check against delivery)

The Arab Spring, Syria, and now Ukraine – several factors are common to these events. Governments considered even to be strong have come face to face with an opposition whose nature and quality differs from one country to the next. However, the starting points have been almost identical everywhere. The people have had too much to bear and have come to understand more; they have lost trust in their rulers − if there ever was any − while their confidence has grown in the legitimacy of their cause.

This has had immediate consequences. What was considered inevitable and eternal a month, a week or even a day earlier, has suddenly become questionable. What the eventual outcome of the current decade’s uprisings will be, we do not yet know. Unfortunately, these events also share the phenomenon of extremist elements striving to take advantage of instability wherever it appears.

It is not difficult to identify the sources of this dissatisfaction.  There is no such thing as enlightened despotism. When power is used without democracy, the result is always arbitrary rule. This means that the same rules are not consistently applied to all; room is left for inequality, predatory behaviour, concealment of ill-gotten gains and, finally, the erosion of any sense of justice.

We, the European supporters of Western traditions, are closely following these events and are supportive of the associated movements in so far as they are expressions of freedom. But are we aware of all aspects of the new era?

A recently published study claims that the 85 richest people in the world own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion. In other words, the ratio is 1: 40,000,000. No world map has the scale necessary to illustrate this gulf between people’s lives. I do not believe that such a disparity in quality of life will be tolerated for much longer; more uprisings are in prospect. For the moment, the world is far from having achieved its final form.

Neither has Europe. The economic crisis has posed challenges to even the traditional democracies. Strict savings measures – necessary as they are – have been hard on the public, particularly in Southern Europe. But we must learn, even under duress; a nation can pass through hard times by borrowing, but it must wean itself off credit sooner or later.

In Finland, the scale of the issues in question is utterly different: Lutheran modesty is a virtue which we wish to retain. Here, too, the income gap has been increasing, even if the recession has diminished it somewhat as incomes in general have fallen.  We should therefore remember that losses in income hit those hardest who have to compromise on the necessities.

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I will now return to a subject on which I have spoken to you before. In Finland, we must strive to preserve our social stability. At the moment, we have a general consensus that Finland cannot rest on a foundation of growing indebtedness. In other words, a major task lies before the present government and Parliament. Balancing the public sector so as to maintain basic confidence in the economy and future will be challenging.
Some years ago, a young parliamentary candidate addressed decision-makers with a slogan: “We are willing to pay either your debt or your pensions, but not both.” He was not elected. Unfortunately.

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During the last year, even in Finland, various incidents in both the private and public sectors have aroused disapproval and distrust. In most cases, relatively small errors of judgement, with only a minor effect on the overall picture, have been in question. However, even minor misdemeanours are revealing and soon become talking points, particularly if they are indicative of arrogance, or total disregard for moderation and a sense of fairness.

It is a time-honoured saying that one should lead from the front. In other words, set a good example! I would second this idea. If leaders do not set a good example, it is unreasonable to expect others to behave well. Due to the economic crisis, good governance has become a topic of debate – here I am not necessarily referring to the social and health sector reform or municipal reform. Rather, I refer to the general line taken on the economy and public sector activities, encompassing everything from practical ethics to efficiency. There is certainly room for improvement on all points of the scale. We should move on from debating the issue to action directed towards putting sound administrative principles into practice.

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Finland is the promised land of volunteer activity. According to one estimate, some 1. 35 million Finns are acting on behalf of a cause they consider important.  In international comparisons, Finns are also considered a generous people. We bear much good will.

However, people have expressed the concern – sometimes in fervent terms – that volunteer activity and public service are somehow mutually exclusive. This cannot be the case.

I do not believe that a single volunteer wishes to assume the tasks now performed by the public sector. It is similarly difficult to conceive of the public sector crowding out voluntary societies and charitable organisations. Both have enough to do as it is.

The question might be about money. So let us talk about that. I do not believe that tax rates have ever been, or ever will be, reduced simply because people engage in voluntary, charitable donations as well as paying taxes. I am also doubtful that we could capture such donations for the common pot by raising taxes.  The cost of a donation lies where they fall.

The Children’s hospital is another matter. While the public sector did not view the hospital as its most urgent project, many private citizens felt differently and an initiative was launched. This is progressing alongside very strong public investment in the hospital.  We can be certain that this is an excellent way forward and I wish this fine project the greatest of success.

However, it has given rise to a more general debate on where the line should be drawn. In addition to finances and emotions, we should also discuss continuity and long-term commitment, guaranteed by public sector involvement.  It is also difficult to envisage that functions now arranged under a legal obligation could be left to volunteer activity or generosity alone.  We should examine where the line should be drawn, although numerous examples already exist of smooth co-operation between municipalities and voluntary organisations.

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In both Finland and Sweden, national security and defence policy are widely debated issues.  In Sweden, defence has become a focus of attention in a manner unheard of there for decades.

Earlier this year, at the traditional security policy meeting held in Sälen, Sweden, Finland weighed strongly in Swedish considerations.  The spirit of Sälen – as we might refer to it – contained a clear message.  Our security and defence policy interests are largely shared and we have a strong intent to promote these together.

Such co-operation is conducted on multiple-levels. We will develop bilateral co-operation on defence and broader security issues. The defence ministers of the respective countries will proceed step by step in examining new areas of co-operation. Under the auspices of NORDEFCO, we will engage in Nordic cooperation along the lines laid down during the Finnish Presidency of this framework. 

Finland and Sweden have a similar position and ideas concerning EU security co-operation and the development of the NATO partnership.  It is therefore good that we keep each other well informed and strive to agree on a common policy line.

All of this formed part of the spirit of Sälen .

No defence co-operation can replace national defence, nor is it intended to. However, through co-operation national defence will become stronger. The national and the international aspects are mutually supportive.

During its previous session, Parliament adopted the Security and Defence Policy Report. It is good that there is a monitoring group in The Parliament. It ensures the continuity of debate on the issue until the next general election. Especially important will be the group’s views on the impacts of various resource levels on credible defence.

Our security environment has changed. A new dimension has been added: cyber security. Our key functions are more and more dependent on information technology and data networks.  Cyber influence forms a part of the picture of future conflicts separately or alongside other ways of applying pressure or using force.  While the cyber dimension is not pervasive, it is present.

We still have much to do in this respect. We need new legislation. We need to put strategies into practice. All this must be implemented without violating fundamental rights or the protection of privacy. It would be beneficial if Parliament monitored this matter closely.

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Today, you are beginning the last session of Parliament during the current electoral term. The Parliament’s final, busy year lies ahead of you.  I would like to thank you for the smooth co-operation between us thus far. I believe that it will remain equally close over the coming months. 

I would like to congratulate the Speakers of the Parliament for the continued support they have received and wish every one of you the greatest success, as well as wisdom in your demanding work.

I hereby declare the 2014 session of Parliament open.