Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the closing of the electoral period 2015-2019 on 10 April 2019
Madam Speaker, Members of Parliament,
It is the duty of Parliament and its members to look to the future. To work to ensure future well-being for us all. During this four-year term now coming to an end, we have nevertheless also been remembering the past. And rightfully so. We have celebrated a number of commemorative years.
In 2016, we marked 110 years since the parliamentary reform granting also women the full right to vote and stand for election. The following year was spent celebrating our 100-year journey as an independent country. Last year, we remembered a dark chapter of our history, the Civil War which was tearing our society apart immediately after Finland gained independence. And now, the Constitution Act, which defines Finland as a republic, will reach the age of 100 years.
Remembering the milestones of the past is of value in itself. It is important for a nation to know its own story. The story, which binds us together. History does by no means repeat itself as such. But the true added value of retelling our story only comes from understanding how the lessons of history guide us towards the future.
* * *
None of the themes of these recent commemorative years has lost its relevance. Equality was at the core of the year 1906. It remains one of Finland’s most important strengths. Plenty of room for improvement still remains, however – between genders, between generations, between different groups of people. Equality requires daily nurturing and bravery to defend it, from us all.
The theme for Finland’s centenary year was “Together”. It is also a good guiding principle for the future. A democracy can cope with differences of opinion, in fact, they are needed. But we cannot allow our disagreements to drive us apart. Splintering into factions would also weaken our security. Working together requires respect for the fellow citizens. Not only prior to elections, but at all times, in politics and in the everyday life.
One of the sobering lessons of 1918 is how easy it is for a cycle of hate to lead to ruthless brutality. When we compare our story to that of other countries, however, we were able to find reconciliation exceptionally soon after the Civil War. But it would have been better if the concord had never been broken. If we now recognize signs of a cycle of hate, we must be able to nip it in the bud.
The old Constitution Act established 100 years ago still lays a firm foundation for our current Constitution. Finland is a republic in which the powers are vested in the people and the Parliament representing the people. Legislative, executive, and judicial powers are separated, fundamental rights are guaranteed. The unbroken rule of this Constitution throughout the tumultuous 20th century is also rare by international terms. Nevertheless, we should not take democracy granted in the 21st century, either.
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Equality, working together, concord and democracy - safeguarding these principles is hard work at the best of times. And the current times are not of the best kind. We live in an uncertain and unpredictable environment.
The beautiful post-Cold War world, in which we would all have liked to believe, has quickly taken on darker tones. Peace, democracy and human rights did not continue their steady march to victory, after all. The belief in rules, agreements and international organisations is increasingly being put to the test.
Power politics of states has returned, if it ever really went away. And states are not by far the only ones using power. Malicious networks and individuals have new kinds of capabilities and means for harming others.
In this kind of a world, the good must be steadfast. All over Europe, this reality is now beginning to be understood. Compared to many other European countries, we have at no stage let down our own defence, and this has been our strength. But also our own system has had a whole range of legislative gaps that have left us vulnerable.
Far too little attention has been given to this Parliament's consistent work aiming to fill these gaps. The list of legislative achievements from this electoral period to strengthen our security is a long one.
Changes to the Military Service Act have made it easier to raise the level of our defensive preparedness. The act on providing and receiving international assistance has strengthened our decision-making ability on security cooperation. Our capacities for preventing money-laundering and funding of terrorism have improved. National security is now a more important consideration in matters of dual citizenship, land use and property ownership. The acts on civil and military intelligence, which are waiting for final confirmation, will give the authorities significantly better capacities to carry out preventative measures.
I would like to extend my warmest thanks to you all for this work. I also wish to remind you that we have not yet reached the end of the road. In the coming electoral period, we must continue the work to pass legislation responding to the realities of the world around us.
Realities are precisely what we are dealing with. It would be much more pleasant to simply be able to trust that nothing is threatening us. But all the good which our society represents needs decisive defending. In this, Parliament has a highly important role.
* * *
Last autumn, at the opening ceremony of the national defence course, I asserted that defending our planet is also national defence. Climate change and its impact on our living conditions are not simply a news item from the last four years. Climate science has been informing us of these realities for much longer – to those who have been listening. Acting on them has taken a long time. At the same time, the task has become more difficult.
The start of the electoral period coincided with the Paris Climate Agreement, and the end of the period saw the publication of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which received much attention. We have enough information. We now know what we need to do to meet the 1.5 degree target. We also have a clearer understanding of how dramatic the difference is between a temperature rise of 1.5 and 2 degrees.
Young people, at least, have understood the urgency of this matter. And this is good. Young people are demanding a new kind of decisiveness from today’s decision-makers. Their voices must be heard, because they are the true stakeholders in this matter. It is first and foremost their future and the future of the generations to come that is at stake.
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To conclude, I will return to the core of our democracy, the Constitution. Especially in recent months, the discussions on interpreting the constitution and constitutionality of legislation have been heated. Although the consequences of this have been complex for many projects and reforms, the attention paid to the Constitution have been valuable for our democracy. Our nation is built on the strong foundation of the Constitution.
The Constitution also lives in time. Many seem to have missed one of its most recent amendments, which relates to the Constitution’s foreign and security policy dimension. It is well known that foreign policy is led by the President of the Republic in cooperation with the Government. But the constitutional amendment that came into force in 2012 gives Parliament itself a decisive role, should the President and the Government come into conflict on significant matters relating to foreign and security policy.
Such a conflict will of course be avoided by all means. However, this constitutional amendment gives Parliament an even greater responsibility in foreign and security policy than before. The parliamentary contribution is also strongly visible in processing the Government’s policy reports.
The need for debate on foreign policy is, in other words, not limited to the run-up to elections. There is also a need for it after and between elections. For my own part, I have engaged in such discussions with parliamentary committees and party leaders throughout this past electoral period. I intend to continue doing so with the incoming Parliament as well.
* * *
Madam Speaker, Members of Parliament,
I would like to extend my thanks to Parliament for the valuable work you have done for our nation, and I hereby declare Parliament closed for the present electoral period.
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