Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the 100th anniversary of Finland’s constitutional democracy celebration on 10 September 2019

Share

Honourable Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and gentlemen,

“First and foremost, Parliament is called upon to enter into records the new Constitution Act, which lays down the foundation for the political life of a free, independent Finland,” said K.J. Ståhlberg, the author of the Constitution upon the closure of the 1919 parliamentary session.

The legislative process to draft the Constitution Act was the touchstone of the young republic. After the civil war, a wide range of opinions – white and red, monarchist and republican – were voiced, but the objective was common. A united nation which also stood firm in its relations with others.

This ambitious undertaking was accomplished successfully. The Constitution Act became a foundation that sustained society. Untypically, it has remained, in its broad outlines, unchanged throughout the decades.

Today, we may safely say that this foundation holds up. Finland is one of the world’s most stable countries and ranks high among rule of law states. A country known as a clear-headed and reliable actor.

***

Constitution is an impressive appellation and may sound alien in everyday speech, yet it has a profound impact on our daily lives.

I approach the topic in terms of two themes, trust and social inclusion. While neither of these are strictly speaking legal concepts, they still reflect the spirit of the laws regarding our social arrangements.

All social life is based on trust, the assumption that each and everyone acts in a manner that may be reasonably expected.

The fundamental rights recorded in the Finnish Constitution created a sound basis for assessing such “reasonable expectation”.

Often, the thinking stops at the notion that fundamental rights are something that society must guarantee and the citizens enjoy. However, citizens too are duty-bound to respect the fundamental rights of others. If the rights of the fellow-man are not upheld, very little is left of one’s own rights.

The Constitution expressly states that nature and its biodiversity, the environment and the national heritage are the responsibility of everyone. It means all of us.

Individuals are also called upon to assume responsibility for their own security. The Constitution includes a provision on the right to social security stipulating that “those who cannot obtain the means necessary for a life of dignity have the right to receive indispensable subsistence and care.” The Constitution goes on to say, quite rightly, that specific laws are to be enacted to provide support in special situations and guarantee adequate social and health services for all. But as I see it, it also presupposes that every individual makes a genuine effort using his or her best endeavours, each according to his or her ability and capacity.

However, the highest expectations are pinned on those who exercise public powers, that is, all of us in this room, the authorities. It means that we are called upon to uphold the Constitution which “guarantees the inviolability of human dignity and the freedom and rights of the individual and promotes justice in society”.

The foundation set out one hundred years ago in our Constitution Act have remained firm in both difficult and positive times. To put it briefly: Trust and responsibility – these are the concepts that our Constitution still rests on.

***

My second theme is social inclusion: the sense that one belongs and can have a say.

The Constitution creates a firm framework, a sort of safety backdrop that guarantees opportunities and room for social engagement.

For people today, some of the rights are self-evident, such as universal suffrage. At the time when the Constitution Act was enacted, it was this right that contributed to the sense of belonging and created the foundation for the advancement of the republic.

Similarly, the freedom of assembly or freedom of religion and conscience are taken for granted. We are, as it were, lulled into thinking so.

But this involves a number of risks. Both in the European and Finnish context, the question of how to safeguard freedom of speech has risen to another level compared to recent years, when its value and limits were clearer.

The world of opposite truths leaves little room for knowledge. It creates confusion in the audience: what is it that I am actually involved in?
In my view, the Constitution becomes less of a framework and more of a tangible reality closer to daily life in guaranteeing a range of educational, linguistic and cultural rights. When educational opportunities are abundant and diversity is accepted, a large number of people are able to be include for this reason alone.

No law, not even the Constitution, is all-powerful. At this point, I wish to return to my concerns about young people threatened by social exclusion that I expressed a few years ago.

Each and everyone of us can support a young person to become integrated into everyday life. Personally, I would probably not be where I am today if I had not come across understanding adults in my youth. And they were numerous. I assume that many of you share this sentiment.

***

For a long time, all debate on the Constitution was limited to academic or political circles. Over the past few decades, this circle has expanded as an increasing number of public debaters invoke the provisions of the Constitution. In my opinion, it is a sign of our advancement as a civilized country.

Towards the end of the previous parliamentary term, the interpretation of the Constitution became a hotly debated issue. Once again, it focused on the position of the Constitutional Law Committee as the guardian of the Constitution.

True enough, it gave food for thought at a theoretical level. Is it conceivable that the Constitutional Law Committee would have ruled differently on an identical issue if the balance of power in Parliament had changed? And if so, could it be justified by saying that only the interpretation changed while the Constitution remained the same?

It is important to understand that the Constitution was formulated in broad terms to allow for changes in interpretation in response to the times. But even so, if something was constitutional yesterday but unconstitutional today, one is left wondering.

As it is, the courts of law, the highest instances at last resort, may, in individual cases, review the constitutionality of a law after its enactment. Before confirming the laws, the President of the Republic, in turn, may request an opinion from the Supreme Court or Supreme Administrative Court, which may involve an assessment of the constitutionality of the Act. Understandably, it has been proposed that the courts of the highest instance should also be involved in ex-ante control. For example, this could be accomplished by having the Constitutional Law Committee request a statement from a panel composed of members of the highest courts.

***

The present Parliament will also be called upon to enter important decisions in the records. They will undoubtedly show how quickly times are changing and what challenges these changes pose. It is hard even to predict what will happen during a single parliamentary term. But if the record shows that trust is solid and social inclusion strengthened, we will have come a long way.

About Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

Tasavallan presidentin kanslia
Tasavallan presidentin kanslia
Mariankatu 2
00170 Helsinki

http://www.presidentti.fi

Subscribe to releases from Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

Subscribe to all the latest releases from Tasavallan presidentin kanslia by registering your e-mail address below. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Latest releases from Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

President Niinistö to make official working visit to Washington D.C.18.9.2019 16:13:54 EESTPress release

Office of the President of the Republic Press release 30/2019 18 September 2019 President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö will make an official working visit to the United States and will meet President of the United States Donald Trump in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, 2 October 2019. At the meeting to be held in the White House, the Presidents will discuss opportunities to increase cooperation between Finland and the United States, including European and Arctic security. They will also discuss ways to advance shared interests in commercial and technological cooperation. Following their discussions and working lunch, the Presidents will hold a joint press conference. The meeting will occur during the 100th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between Finland and the United States.

President Niinistö på arbetsbesök till Washington18.9.2019 16:12:59 EESTTiedote

Republikens presidents kansli Pressmeddelande 30/2019 18.9.2019 Republikens president Sauli Niinistö avlägger ett arbetsbesök i Förenta staterna där han träffar Förenta staternas president Donald Trump onsdagen den 2 oktober 2019 i Washington. Presidenterna möts i Vita huset, president Trumps tjänstebostad, och diskuterar bland annat möjligheterna att utöka samarbetet mellan Finland och Förenta staterna i frågor som gäller säkerheten i Europa och i den arktiska regionen. På agendan står också olika sätt att främja det ekonomiska och tekniska samarbetet mellan länderna. Efter diskussionen och en arbetslunch håller presidenterna en gemensam presskonferens. I år firas hundraårsjubileet av de diplomatiska förbindelserna mellan Finland och Förenta staterna.

Presidentti Niinistö työvierailulle Washingtoniin18.9.2019 16:12:28 EESTTiedote

Tasavallan presidentin kanslia Tiedote 30/2019 18.9.2019 Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö tekee työvierailun Yhdysvaltoihin ja tapaa Yhdysvaltain presidentin Donald Trumpin keskiviikkona 2. lokakuuta 2019 Washingtonissa. Yhdysvaltain presidentin virka-asunnolla Valkoisessa talossa järjestettävässä tapaamisessa presidentit keskustelevat mahdollisuuksista lisätä yhteistyötä Suomen ja Yhdysvaltojen välillä muun muassa Euroopan ja arktisen alueen turvallisuuteen liittyen. Lisäksi esillä ovat tavat edistää maiden välistä kaupallista ja teknologista yhteistyötä. Presidenttien välisen keskustelun ja työlounaan jälkeen presidentit pitävät yhteisen lehdistötilaisuuden. Tänä vuonna vietetään Suomen ja Yhdysvaltain diplomaattisuhteiden satavuotisjuhlavuotta.

President Niinistö to attend the UN General Assembly in New York17.9.2019 10:59:56 EESTPress release

Office of the President of the Republic Press release 29/2019 17 September 2019 President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö will travel to New York to attend the opening week of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on 22–25 September 2019. President Niinistö will deliver Finland’s National Statement at the Opening of the General Debate of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, 24 September. On Monday, 23 September, President Niinistö will speak at the Climate Action Summit, hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The summit aims to boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. In addition to delivering Finland’s National Statement, President Niinistö will attend on Tuesday, 24 September, the UN Secretary General’s State Luncheon, and a Reception hosted by President of the United States President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, 25 September, President Niinistö will attend the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustai

President Niinistö deltar i FN:s generalförsamling i New York17.9.2019 10:59:47 EESTTiedote

Republikens presidents kansli Pressmeddelande 29/2019 17.9.2019 Republikens president Sauli Niinistö reser till New York den 22–25 september 2019 för att delta i den allmänna debatten vid den 74:e sessionen av Förenta nationernas generalförsamling. President Niinistö håller Finlands nationella anförande i generalförsamlingen tisdagen den 24 september. Måndagen den 23 september talar president Niinistö vid ett klimattoppmöte under värdskap av FN:s generalsekreterare António Guterres. Mötet siktar på att påskynda och effektivisera genomförandet av Parisavtalet om klimatförändringar. Förutom att president Niinistö håller Finlands nationella anförande deltar han tisdagen 24 september bland annat i en lunch på inbjudan av FN:s generalsekreterare och i en mottagning med Förenta staternas president Donald Trump som värd. Onsdagen den 25 september deltar president Niinistö i FN:s politiska högnivåforum för hållbar utveckling där han är ordförande för en diskussion om vidtagna åtgärder. Vid det

Presidentti Niinistö YK:n yleiskokoukseen New Yorkiin17.9.2019 10:59:32 EESTTiedote

Tasavallan presidentin kanslia Tiedote 29/2019 17.9.2019 Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö matkustaa New Yorkiin 22.–25. syyskuuta 2019 osallistuakseen Yhdistyneiden kansakuntien 74. yleiskokouksen avajaisviikolle. Presidentti Niinistö pitää Suomen kansallisen puheenvuoron yleiskokouksessa tiistaina 24. syyskuuta. Maanantaina 23. syyskuuta presidentti Niinistö puhuu YK:n pääsihteeri António Guterresin isännöimässä ilmastohuippukokouksessa. Kokouksen tavoitteena on nopeuttaa ja tehostaa Pariisin ilmastosopimuksen toimeenpanoa. Suomen kansallisen puheenvuoron lisäksi presidentti Niinistö osallistuu tiistaina 24. syyskuuta muun muassa YK:n pääsihteerin lounaalle ja Yhdysvaltain presidentti Donald Trumpin isännöimälle vastaanotolle. Keskiviikkona 25. syyskuuta presidentti Niinistö osallistuu YK:n korkean tason kestävän kehityksen poliittiseen foorumiin ja toimii puheenjohtajana sen toimenpiteitä käsittelevässä keskustelussa. Vuosittain kokoontuvan foorumin tehtävänä on arvioida kestävä

In our pressroom you can read all our latest releases, find our press contacts, images, documents and other relevant information about us.

Visit our pressroom