Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the Senate of the Republic of Mexico on 26 May 2015

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This state visit to Mexico is a great honour for me and my spouse. I particularly appreciate having the opportunity to speak here in the cradle of Mexican democracy, during the ceremonial session of the Senate’s permanent committee and the Chamber of Deputies. Alongside meeting the President of the Republic, this is the highlight of our visit. I would like to take the opportunity to refer to the spirit of respect, friendship and cooperation that exists between our countries and which I hope will be further strengthened as a result of my visit.

The last state visit by a President of Finland occurred over 16 years ago. In 1999, my predecessor President Martti Ahtisaari met with President Ernesto Zedillo, a strong supporter of inclusive globalisation, in Mexico City. Much has happened in both Finland and Mexico since that meeting.

Since then, we have seen both the positive and negative sides of the further acceleration of globalisation. We have also witnessed the growth and development of Mexico’s economy as a result of free trade.  This is no source of wonder, since Mexicans are known to be hard workers. Such growth is earned by hard work.

During that time, economic relations between our countries have flourished; with trade between Finland and Mexico amounting to almost 550 million euros last year. However, the key issue is that such trade is still growing. We can further increase and even strengthen such economic cooperation. Together – by combining Mexico’s dynamism with Finland’s innovation environment – we can achieve even more than now.

Finland’s strength has lain – and will continue to lie – in the quality of its education. Free, equal education for all irrespective of origin and wealth has proven to be our best investment in our country’s wellbeing. We do not compromise on this.

In Finland, we also believe in the power of innovations to improve competitiveness. Finland currently invests around 3.5 per cent of its GNP in research and development. I understand that Mexico too aims to invest in innovation and improving the quality of its education.

On this visit I am accompanied by representatives of the Finnish maritime, energy, telecommunications, green mining, clean technology and education sectors. These representatives have already shared their experiences with their Mexican counterparts and have proposed joint endeavours. Yesterday, the Finnish export organisation Finpro signed an important cooperation document with ProMéxico, with the objective of increasing economic and commercial cooperation between companies within our respective countries.

However, we cannot live by bread alone, but also need culture. Cultural exchange has also increased between our countries.  Design, science and architecture are areas of Finnish culture that have been particularly popular in Mexico. I find it particularly exciting that young people, based on their common tastes in music and cinema, are at the forefront of modern culture. Even I have been aware of the success of Mexican directors – even if I do not view myself as being ‘over the hill’ just yet.

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Finland and Mexico share certain aspects of their history. Mexico’s constitution was enacted in 1917 after the Mexican revolution. In the same year, Finland became independent from the Russian Empire during the upheavals of the October revolution. We both experienced a civil war and we both learned how to live next to a giant.

On behalf of the Mexican government and its people, a former President of the Republic of Mexico, Lázaro Cardenas, expressed his sympathy with the Finnish people after the Soviet Union attacked Finland to begin the winter war in 1939. Our nation greatly appreciated this important gesture.

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At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned that globalisation has created problems as well as benefits and would now like to shed some light on these by returning to the present day and its challenges. As in Finland, intensifying competition has seen traditional industries shrink or even disappear from Mexico. Adapting to the situation has been difficult and, in places, has even led to increases in inequality.

However, Mexico has shown how capable it is of meeting even the most difficult of challenges in renewing and developing. Your 62nd Congress approved 11 large-scale reforms, some of which were difficult. These reforms are not only proof of Mexico’s capabilities, but also of how democratic countries can still keep pace with intensifying competition without renouncing the basic values of democracy, equality and justice. These are both remarkable achievements.

In Finland, we too are facing structural changes in industry. However, the parties involved in our government negotiations have already proven themselves capable of taking responsibility and taking decisions – difficult as they may be – to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities that a society based on wellbeing can offer. May your example and actions inspire us in this respect too!

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The economy is not our only common challenge, and perhaps not even our greatest. The world that we inhabited in 1999 seems very different to the one in which we now live. We are now wealthier, but also more vulnerable. An arc of violent conflict has developed on the verges of Europe from Ukraine through Syria and Iraq to Libya and Yemen. Events have outpaced our ability to respond. In Africa and Asia we have witnessed an escalation in confrontations and the use of force, or in the threat to use force. At the same time, the risk of misunderstandings and accidents is increasing at an alarming rate.

As a result, the stability of the international system, which has given so much to Mexico and Finland, is under threat. I am particularly concerned with how interpretations of international law and its binding nature have been undermined as countries short-sightedly pursue their own interests and even distort the very basis of legal provisions. However, a more confrontational approach serves no one’s interests. A joint future, that in which Finland and Mexico share, can only be achieved by building bridges, not walls.

We have witnessed constructive cooperation between our countries in UN forums in particular, in which we are both pursuing a more effective and fairer way of responding to crises in the international system. We have worked together on behalf of the Convention on Small Arms Trade. We have also cooperated on important human rights issues, for instance by improving the rights of indigenous people and the disabled.

In EU-Mexico relations, Finland has played its part and more in improving the possibilities for cooperation between the European Union and Mexico. We also have similar environmental objectives; the achievements of the Cancun Climate Change Conference are one milestone in our preparation for the Paris Climate Conference. Only by acting together can we respond to what may be the greatest threat of our time.

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The great Mexican author, Carlos Fuentes, once said that ”Culture consists of connections, not separations: to specialise is to isolate”. I have often recalled these wise words when meeting with Mexico’s political leaders over the last few days. In a world of connections it has become more important than ever to focus on what connects us rather than complaining about what separates us. In Mexico, I have seen a genuine willingness to build such connections.

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The relationship between Finland and Mexico is a relationship between two independent, successful and democratic countries. The physical distance between us does not separate us, nor will it prevent us from strengthening this relationship. In fact, the distance that previously separated us may now offer a new perspective on how similar challenges have been faced and overcome in a far away country. At the same time, we can realise how similar we are at heart and how much unites us, regardless of the physical distance between us. – Not that I would mind being able to escape the depths of the Finnish winter more quickly in order to enjoy the Mexican sun and hospitality that we have enjoyed on our visit here.

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I would like to thank you for the opportunity to visit the ceremonial session of the Chamber of Senators of the Honourable Congress of the Union and the Chamber of Deputies – this has been a great honour. Furthermore, I would like to welcome you, honourable members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, to visit Finland some day and to benefit, in your turn, from the resulting change in perspective. Thank you!