Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the opening of Parliament on 13 April 2023
Free for publication on 13 April 2023 at 14 hrs 15 Finnish time
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Mr Speaker, honoured representatives of the Finnish nation,
Opening of Parliament is a festive occasion every year. However, every four years, with the new Parliament starting in office, this moment is of particular importance. For both first-term MPs and veterans, it is natural to stop and savour the moment. The moment when festivities and everyday life of democracy meet. The campaigning is over, and the work as an MP is about to start.
I extend my warm congratulations to all of you for having been elected. There is demanding work and a lot of responsibility in store for you. An individual representative may be expected to be accountable particularly to their own voters or specifically to their own party. But you are not representing yourselves as individuals, you are representing the Finnish people. This is not a solo event. Together you are accountable to the whole nation.
It requires a lot from you: Capability to co-operate with others – the will and skills to find the common interest. Preparedness and ability to react to sudden changes – particularly in this day and age. Persistent work – the readiness and will to see beyond passing trends.
For me, in my own task, it has been obvious that I need to seek as close collaboration between Parliament and the President of the Republic as possible. Frequent meetings with the various parliamentary committees have become a custom I’m very willing to continue. I have personally held them in high esteem. I believe that, established across electoral periods, this custom will have lasting value also for the relationship between these institutions.
* * *
As I anticipated in my speech at the closing of the electoral period two weeks ago, the new Parliament is starting its work in a NATO member state. Between that day and today, the era of Finland's military non-alignment came to an end. A new era began. That moment in Brussels on Tuesday last week had its own, very special meaning. But even in this matter, we have already moved on from festivities to everyday life.
NATO membership requires new kind of thinking, even new modes of operation, from all of us. We must learn to understand our allies and the concept of alliance. Over the past few weeks, the notion of us not being alone anymore has been repeated on several occasions. Being together brings us security. It also brings us responsibility and obligations.
Being an ally requires new legislation and commitment to NATO's key principles from us. The Parliament will quite soon be faced with the practical impacts of membership. In addition, this coincides with the ongoing negotiations on the bilateral defence co-operation agreement with the United States.
I consider it very important that the committees concerned keep seamlessly up to date on these issues. Political consensus was our great strength during the membership process. It would be advisable to exercise similar mutual understanding in the future as well.
To me, NATO primarily appears as the guarantor of the territorial integrity of its member states. As the unwavering creator of preventive deterrence. Determined to defend any of its members, if necessary. Without aggravating or provoking the situation of its own accord. This also seems to have worked. Peace has been prevailing in the area belonging to the alliance throughout its existence.
The issue of the status of the Åland Islands has given rise to some domestic debate. I would like to point out that, today, that status is perhaps more stable than it has ever been: any hostile action against Åland would be a declaration of war against NATO. It goes without saying that in NATO's joint defence planning the situation of the region is an object of special attention.
We have always considered the binding nature of multilateral international agreements the lifeline of a small country. That is a thought we should hold on to. However, the changed conditions and the rapidly developing military technology may affect the current application of the existing agreements.
* * *
As significant as NATO membership is, it does not solve every problem. We still bear the main responsibility for our own security. Wherever we detect any gaps or vulnerabilities, they must be fixed.
Now that we have focused our attention on Russia's war of aggression and NATO membership, what have we missed? I hope that the ongoing work on reforming the Emergency Powers Act will advance rapidly during this electoral period. But is our preparedness for terrorism and other extremist movements of sufficiently high quality? And are we capable of detecting and preventing increasingly advanced cyberattacks and other threats enabled by new technologies?
Different security threats must be countered using different means in varying combinations. We need national legislation but we also need international regulation and co-operation. We need the European Union, other established institutions, but also different new coalitions, emerging within different fields. I would also like to remind you of the great importance of the connection between the Nordic Countries in this context as well.
* * *
Over the past year, our gaze has understandably been fixed on matters near us. On the war of aggression waged by Russia. On unwavering support to Ukraine. On guaranteeing the security of the North, the Baltic Sea region and Finland. On military capabilities, defence industry and security of supply.
We must not let this level of alertness drop in the future, either. But at the same time, we must also be able to look further away. We should better understand how organically the dangers and tensions we are witnessing here are linked with the increasing geopolitical pressures. A power struggle that affects us both directly and indirectly is currently going on on all continents.
It is not in Finland's best interest to aggravate that power struggle or to deepen the division into blocs with its own actions. However, we cannot close our eyes to reality. Our own diplomacy is needed not only in Europe but also in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We must also talk with those – and perhaps in particular with those – who see the world differently from us.
Finland has a credible story to tell. It may not be enough to turn the heads of those bigger than us, but it is worth listening to.
* * *
You are accountable not only to those who voted for you, but also to those who could not vote yet. The young people of today and the future generations.
Much too often we hear people referring to “future governments” or “until the end of this decade”. The responsibility, however, is held by no one else but the decision-makers in office here and now.
The same principle equally applies to climate change, biodiversity loss and the economy. We are accumulating an unreasonable debt to pass on to our descendants. Achieving long-term impacts is not a matter of years to come. We must get to work right now to guide us away from unsustainable paths.
* * *
Finally, please let me give you a humble piece of advice. In the coming years, you will go through hard times in your work. I encourage you to take care of yourselves, of both your mental and physical coping. You could, for example, follow the old Finnish saying “ylös, ulos ja lenkille”, basically meaning “time to get up, head outdoors and exercise!” And it would not probably hurt anyone to spread the word, of how important physical exercise is, in your own constituencies as well.
* * *
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 2023 Parliament open.
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