President Niinistö at the Opening of Parliament: There’s a Rising Need to Review our National Preparedness
President Sauli Niinistö opened the 2022 parliamentary session on Wednesday. President Niinistö talked about the pandemic, foreign policy, diplomacy, security politics, and the duties of the parliament.
Here are the Finnish president’s remarks in full:
Mr Speaker, Honored representatives of the Finnish nation,
We live in a country cited as the happiest country in the world. And indeed, a lot of things are well here. This is a good thing to remind ourselves of every now and then. Gratitude is not known as a particularly Finnish virtue, but we owe a great deal of thanks to those who have built our well-being and those protecting it. In my opinion, this includes all Finnish people.
Of course, there is also always room for improvement. Building a society, no matter how stable it is, requires constant effort. On the other hand, defending common achievements, no matter how widely celebrated they are, requires constant vigilance.
The time we live in does not make the task easy. But it does make the task necessary. We have serious concerns, both domestically and internationally. The coronavirus continues to test us. The threat of war is growing at the borders of Ukraine, and Russia is challenging the foundations of European security. And, behind these urgent problems, the common threats and challenges mankind is faced with, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, are left without the attention they would require.
Before these challenges, we are all accountable. This means particularly us, the people entrusted with the power to make decisions. But each and every one of us is a doer—some in a bigger, others in a smaller role—everyone according to their capacities. The truth is that the condition in which a country is and the capacities it has stem from its people. Sometimes it is also advisable to change the scale: to shift the focus from the strict consideration of our personal rights to that of our common rights.
* * *
Our fears of a low voter turnout were proven right by the county elections. The hastiest have wanted to interpret the result as a sign of a crisis of Finnish democracy. A better description might be: the beginning is always hard. Furthermore, with the coronavirus pandemic tightening its grip again, the circumstances were far from easy for both the candidates and the voters.
The newly elected members of county councils will start their work for building the new well-being services counties. If, and hopefully when, they succeed in their work, our well-being will improve. And where well-being improves, citizens will also have more trust and interest in common issues. Trust is the basis on which the community is built. The new counties and elected council members have been vested with a great responsibility.
Ultimately, however, the persons responsible are found in this plenary hall. The well-being services counties are reliant on state funding. And you are the ones who make the decisions on how it is used. But pressing a button in this hall does not bring money nor wealth. Finland needs both economic growth and balancing of public finances. One of the promises of the health and social services reform was that it will help in reaching the latter goal. We also have the right to expect it to deliver on that promise.
* * *
The geopolitical situation has changed rapidly. The list of demands presented by Russia in December aims at a fundamental change in the structures of European security.
Even though there is no military threat against Finland, the situation also touches us deeply. The increasing military tension on the Ukrainian borders is reflected over the whole of Europe. No one can close their eyes to the situation. This kind of attention is also the thing Russia is seeking.
Those Russian demands that are shaking the foundations of the European security order have been decisively turned down. However, diplomacy is still needed. Regarding the situation in Ukraine, the Normandy talks continue, still aiming at promoting the Minsk agreement. We can probably also find substance for continuing negotiations on arms control and risk reduction.
The idea at the core of diplomacy is to find a feasible solution to an impossible situation. At the moment, this is something we all need to seek with vigor and promote with the best of our ability.
In spite of the growing tensions, Finland’s international position is good. This has been confirmed by the many discussions I have had recently. We have determined in building partnerships and maintaining functional unneighborly relations. And we will continue to do so in the future. That is what I mean when I refer to the stability of Finland’s foreign policy line.
In this situation, Finland’s first and foremost line of defense is found within the national borders—and between the ears of the people living here. We must be able to trust one another, to trust each of us to do our share, according to our abilities and capacities.
Differing opinions and even heated debates are part of both international politics and national democracy. In our conversations, we should keep trying to understand that someone else may see the matter differently from us. But there are matters that must be solved. And that can happen only if we stand by the jointly agreed rules.
* * *
Even though we are not living under emergency conditions, the prevailing conditions are still exceptional in many ways. If we are wise, we prepare ourselves for the possibility of exceptional circumstances becoming a recurring experience.
In recent years, we have seen new phenomena in our security environment that give rise for reviewing our national preparedness. One example of such operations is a large-scale entry to the country organized by external hostile parties.
I have already earlier expressed my concern for how the security situation requires us to remain well informed at all times. Whether we are talking about hybrid threats or other forms of large-scale influencing, the challenge for Finland is clear. Foresight and vigilance are also required in legislative work. Being lulled into doing things the way they have always been done may make us an attractive target for various forms of influencing or other action.
It is noteworthy that, in the time we are living, we can detect significant amounts of effort aimed at protecting ourselves. Our close partners, the Nordic countries, are enhancing their legislation related to national security and improving the resilience of their societies. We have woken up to the fact that one part of being focused on human rights also means protecting our own citizens from evil.
The reform of the Emergency Powers Act, which has finally been launched in parliamentary co-operation, is a necessary initiative in this time and age. However, the outside world and its events will not necessarily wait until we have taken the time to put our preparedness and laws into order. It is not wise to make haste slowly in all matters.
* * *
Mr Speaker, Honored representatives of the Finnish nation,
Today, I have reminded you of the exceptionally heavy responsibility resting upon us all in these times. At the same time, I also want to thank Finnish people for all the sacrifices these past two months have demanded from all of us.
Furthermore, I want to thank Parliament for the great work you have been doing over the past year. Parliament has convened for extraordinary sessions and maintained a readiness to rapidly enact laws for managing the coronavirus epidemic and reacting to other new situations. The Speakers have honorably fulfilled their duties under Speaker Vehviläinen.
I congratulate the Speakers for the support you have received. I wish you all success and wisdom in your demanding work for Finland. I declare the 2022 Parliament open.