Inauguration speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on 1 February 2018

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Free for publication on 1 February 2018 at 12 hrs 25

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Madam Speaker, representatives of the Finnish people,

Madam Speaker, thank you for your thought- and emotion-provoking speech. It reminds me that I am here in front of you as a link in a chain of which we are all parts, and it is our turn now to keep Finland strong, united and a good place to live in.

You are the representatives of the people, and I also received my mandate from them. Elections are the culmination of our democratic system. The Finnish flags are waving, and all of us candidates are in anticipation of finding out what is in store for us. But fostering democracy requires persistent work every day. For you, the arena for this work is this recently renovated Parliament Building. Your work is to exercise the powers of the State vested in the people. There is nothing greater.

It is a great honour to be elected President, and it also entails a great responsibility. I take this responsibility humbly but with determination. I will devote myself to this task, and this is the biggest promise one can make.

Politics is about taking care of our common affairs. The people have given us their trust and a valuable mandate. But this mandate is not for us to keep: it requires us to take better care of our common affairs than we would of our own.

During the Presidential campaign the candidates discussed how each of us would take care of our common affairs. And by doing so each of us eight candidates rendered a service to Finnish democracy. For this I thank all my fellow candidates.

Hearing and listening to each other is valuable. We need different viewpoints and opinions. And, most of all, we also need to appreciate people who think differently. Friday last week, a special event was organised here at the Parliament. The leaders of the political parties together honoured the memory of civil war victims and made an appeal for reconciliation, democracy, social equality and unity. This was a valuable thing to do.

* * *

The past six years have been turbulent. There have been conflicts both in Europe, its surroundings, and the world over. These conflicts have tested our regional stability and those four pillars that are crucial for our own security. They may have been put under pressure, but they have not swayed.

Our most important pillar is the national one. Its development is mostly and most directly in our own hands. Its solid core is our credible national defence. But our security is not based only on arms. We also need profound national unity, will and preparedness.

Crises also pose serious challenges to the international community. Few of the crises in this decade have been solved. On the contrary, they have typically dragged on and become protracted. Crises often appear local, but the aims and objectives of global power politics often loom behind the scenes. This reduces the chances of traditional peace processes. Geopolitical interests have been stronger than the desire for peace.

I can see to ways to improve the situation. The first one is the way of the international order: the positions of both the UN and the EU must be strengthened. The days when the organisations led by Hammarskjöld or Delors were taken into consideration are but distant shadows of the past. The UN will have to regain its position as the forum of peoples and the forum for peace; Secretary-General Guterres will need all our support in his reform process. The EU is an organisation with plenty of desire for peace, but it continues to punch below its weight. We need a union which is also a security community with a unified voice that is heard. Finland has an active role in this, we are not a mere observer.

The second is the way of direct contacts: dialogue between the west and the east is essential. And west means not only the United States and NATO but also the EU, and east means not only Russia but also China. Maintaining a dialogue is the first step towards building peace.

I have sought to promote steps along both ways. And I will continue to do so. I have done my best to keep Finland at the tables where the future is decided. And by future I also mean the huge challenges faced by humankind, such as poverty, climate change and gender inequality.

I have sought to find the common ground and interests between the great powers, from improving the Baltic Sea flight safety to reducing black carbon emissions in the Arctic. The more the great powers have in common, the less room there will be for disputes, which is good for the whole world and good for us.

Mitigating climate change will be the most important issue in the next few years. It is a fact that the humanity cannot afford to lose our planet. For a long time people thought that there is unlimited room up there in the atmosphere, as tens of billions tonnes of carbon dioxide end up there every year. It is getting cramped, and it shows.

I am not expecting the world significantly to calm down in the near future. But this cannot be an excuse to give up. On the contrary, Finland can and should do its best to strengthen both our own security and international stability.

* * *

I have often discussed unity and stability. Trust is key in both. The ability to trust each other, the Finnish society and our democracy. Trust does not equal like-mindedness but reflects an appreciation and understanding of the other person's genuine thoughts.

According to research, Finland is the least fragile country in the world. In other words, Finland is the most stable country in the world. It is an extraordinary legacy for this country of trust. I cherish it.

Many good things are happening in Finland right now, but not to everyone. We should particularly take notice of the young. We cannot afford to lose a single future talent. Once lost, they are difficult to retrieve.

Even the wisest decision-maker cannot alone understand and much less solve all our problems. As far as young people are concerned, this is why we need also their help. My wish is: talk to us. We are listening, and we have to take action. We can all take action.

We also have to work actively against loneliness. Loneliness is a serious national disease of our often serious nation. It can haunt anyone, young or old. Also in the fight against loneliness, we can all take action: a small gesture can make a big difference – greeting an elderly person in the supermarket or inviting a young person to join in your street games. No gesture is too small. And every kind word is worth saying. Let us take action and encourage each other. Let us be compassionate, that is what loving your neighbour means.

Six years ago in this same event, I quoted a friend of mine who said: “As President, you cannot just slip into the circle where you will only meet the winners. The winners do not need the President. The President must know how to find and stand by the people who are losing and being lost.” The past six years have only reinforced the value of these words as a guiding principle. The less ill-being there is around us, the better we all are.

The President of the Republic of Finland can be nothing less than the President of the whole country and the whole nation. This is how I understand the office. And this is how I will continue in my job.

Madam Speaker, you asked me which of the five senses would be the most important one for the President of the Republic. I answer with two different kind of senses, the sense of justice and the sense of responsibility and the trust that is built on them.

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for your words of encouragement that you conveyed on behalf of Parliament. I would also like to thank the Parliament for their cooperation and involvement that I we will actively advance in the next six years. I hope that you and all the people of Finland will support me in my efforts for the good of our country and our nation.

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