Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the Opening of Parliament on 5 February 2013

(check against delivery)

Just under a year ago, at the start of my term in office, the latest amendment to our Constitution entered into force. This change was the culmination of a long development that resulted in the strengthening of the parliamentary characteristics of our form of government.

Our amended Constitution permeates co-operation as well as parliamentarism. For my own part I have tried to follow the will of the legislator and to foster the realisation of the parliamentary requirements. I am confident that in the session now starting we can continue the successful co-operation with the Parliament. I consider our discussions and at times informal contacts to have been extremely useful, and my hope is that you also have shared the same experience.

In connection with the preparation and processing the amendment a wide ranging discussion took place on the correct interpretation of the clause relating to “co-operation” in directing foreign policy. Here, doubts were raised as to whether this had any chance of working. The Constitution indeed stipulates that the “foreign policy of Finland is directed by the President of the Republic in co-operation with the Government.”

It has been a relief, at least for me, to observe that no lexical analysis has been necessary, let alone lawyers – issues have simply been dealt with, and in an atmosphere of mutual understanding. This has indeed been very necessary, now that the line dividing foreign policy and EU affairs is becoming notably thin. This situation was also emphasized by the Constitutional Law Committee in its report of the time.

A significant new awareness of foreign policy discussion has taken hold in the country and, I feel, with good reason. Parliament will indeed soon begin handling the security and defence policy report, and discussion here will certainly provide additional food for thought. For me the key questions boil down to just two: one from afar, in how we assess the development of the global situation; the other is close to home, in how to make our resources last so as to maintain our key defence principles of compulsory military service, defence of the entire country, and military non-alliance. The feedback from Parliament is important.

There is however a need, however, to continue foreign policy discussions even in between reports in view of the relentless pace of world change. My idea is to organize a recurring foreign policy reflection session, where I would hope for the participation of Parliament and several other interested parties. I freely admit to having borrowed the idea from a next-door neighbour.

* * *

Noah, as the story goes, divided the world among his sons into three parts. The supremely virtuous Japheth was presented with Europe. As a consequence, the rest of the world was interpreted as being in a subordinate position.

We, too, became Europeans. Indeed, what else could we have become? Finnish democracy, the judicial system, the way we live, our ethics – all originated from Europe. The same is the case with the other Nordic countries. By holding on to our own traditions, we hold on to our Europeanness.

A new world order is taking shape. Although the eventual outcome is difficult to predict, it is certainly best to encounter it as part of a larger community. Let Europe be our community.

The European Union is not, by any means, without its faults. The euro zone has endured highly damaging problems, and with the benefit of hindsight it is difficult to see how sound economic sense could have been mislaid so completely by governments and financial markets alike. Excessive borrowing has been criticised, but equally under criticism should be excessive loan provision.

I think it is right that Finland has spoken out and consistently demanded behaviour that would lead to a return to mutual confidence. This is the key question when considering the future of the euro zone. It would be good perhaps to nail some theses, this time on the Brussels’ door, and in support of good governance. Agreements could also be revisited, although changes cannot be based on the needs of individual countries, but for the overall good.

Europe is now at the cross roads. It is no longer enough to be lulled by a splendid, previously incomparable Western tradition. Japheth’s time has run its course. Six billion people, coming from a variety of traditions, are now, quite rightly, in search of well-being. We must learn to understand these different cultures, as mutual dependency and the need for intercommunication continues to grow.

Finland has an important field of work with regard to the EU’s external relations. It is the nexus between Europe and Russia, where there is much improvement to be made. Finland’s initiative in the Northern Dimension Partnership Programme was a success, and it is good that the momentum has since been maintained. Its success can be measured in concrete terms, with the progress made regarding the Baltic Sea. Its success as an operating model has also been demonstrated, with Russia closely involved in the mutual planning of the programme. The Arctic dimension will continue to grow in importance. There is reason to consider how the beneficial experiences of the Northern Dimension can be exploited or linked directly even to Arctic activities.

* * *

Much was talked about competitiveness at the economic forum in Davos; the impression gained, in fact, was that all supported each other regarding improvement in their individual competitiveness. At first glance it appears to be a zero sum game, but this is not necessarily the case in everything. I will now take energy economy as an example.

Understanding or the lack of it, with regard to energy economy forms a truly astonishing episode in recent world history. By this I mean, for example, that a few decades ago the greatest worry was over the supply of oil drying up, something that should have happened many times over up to the present day. Now that we seem to have found enough fossil energy to last us for up to a century, the worry is that if we keep burning fuel at the current rate then life will end before the oil does.

Progress in creating international co-operation for combating climate change is painfully slow. The financial crisis and its unheeded calls for increased consumption was frankly a psychological step backward.

The decisions of Germany and Japan to relinquish nuclear power may signify a major turning point. Not perhaps the decisions in themselves, on which views vary, but in the challenges they pose: Where to find alternative sources of energy? A return to traditional fossil fuels would amount to something of a belly landing. A change over to renewable energy and advanced emission cleaning technology would constitute a significant model for the entire world.

Finland’s voice in combating climate change can also be heard through visible expertise, where we punch above our weight. Now is the time for Finland and Finnish enterprises to invest in the field of environmental technology, with Germany’s change of course opens the way to a steep increase in the demand for expertise.

In spring, Parliament will be faced with a demanding task. Much has been said about the economy, debt and the sustainability deficit; now we are left to await the measures the Government and Parliament will take.

This is not the first time.

I remember a few decades ago, in this very hall, Prime Minister Aho’s non-socialist coalition presenting a list of cuts and support for the banks. These brought a chill to presenters and to everyone listening. The programme was carried out, nevertheless, because it could not be left undone.

I remember too, a little later on, in this same hall, Prime Minister Lipponen’s rainbow coalition presenting a list of cuts. These were even more extensive, nor was the chill any less evident. The programme was carried out, nevertheless, because it could not be left undone.

I also remember the determination of the Finnish people in working to overcome the recession, and how well they succeeded. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that too heavy a burden was left for many entrepreneurs to carry, and the many people who were left permanently unemployed.

Times change, and so do the problems and the need for action. What remains, however, is the necessity for a will to do what the task demands, no matter what. This is now expected of you, because this cannot be left undone.

Esteemed Speaker, distinguished representatives of the Finnish people,

I shall close with something about Finnish democracy and the integrity of the Finnish society. These are monumental values. They are not sculpted from sameness, but out of respect for the humanity and thoughts of others. We can demand understanding for these principles from those from other lands or those who think differently, once we follow them ourselves. If any individual in a democracy pursues his affairs through the use of violence, in word or deed, it is violence against all.

I would like to congratulate the Speakers on the support they have received, to offer thanks for the excellent co-operation, and to wish you success and wisdom in the demanding work ahead.

I hereby declare the 2013 session of Parliament opened.