Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö at the Opening of Parliament on 6 February 2018
Free for publication on 6 February 2018 at 14 hrs 15
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Madam Speaker, Members of Parliament,
You are now embarking on the last parliamentary session of your electoral term. The concept of “parliamentary session” has always fascinated me; it is very traditional and ceremonious but, at the same time, somehow full of anticipation and obligation.
The electoral term may be ending, but you have endless things left to do. Since the world does not revolve around electoral terms, no parliament will ever have a shortage of things to do. And this is why we are here.
Parliament will now consider matters that have triggered lots of debate. Social welfare and health care reform, intelligence law – these are not simple to resolve. I hope that whatever each person’s stand is, no one would claim to have the absolute truth. In democracy, common sense usually prevails in the end, because people prefer arguments to agitation. The voice of reason instead of provocation.
All my experience of working with Parliament has been positive. The constitutional amendment approved in 2011 was significant: Any dispute between the President and the Government shall be resolved by Parliament. I was the Speaker back then and considered it a good idea.
And now as President, I still do. This amendment created a kind of connection between the President and his or her parliamentary responsibility. In other words, the President must understand exactly what is going on in the country, what the people are thinking. I hear this from you and I’m all ears.
An approach that I would like to develop further is interaction with the parliamentary group chairpersons. So far, we have usually discussed matters concerning security since their impact spans several electoral terms. But there are other matters of long-term impact, such as climate change, continuous changes in social structures or the EU’s political agenda. These should also be discussed outside day-to-day politics. I will be happy to provide a forum for such discussions. And if a topic is not considered to fall within the scope of the President’s role, I can still provide the setting but remain silent myself.
Such discussions would help us find a common theme that would not be disrupted by change of the government.
* * *
It’s getting lighter by the day now. The economy is improving and unemployment is falling. This has long been needed. And now we need to protect this growth and safeguard its continuation.
It is understandable that after years of austerity and cuts, there is pressure for public expenditure and unmet needs. And these should be assessed. But I must remind you of what was said during the economic revival about growth dealing with debt in due course. If we soon start saying that now we can afford an increase in expenditure, the debt will not be dealt with. And we are approaching the day when increased interest rates will make us feel the real burden of the debt.
An economic upturn can easily make us consider it the new normal, take it for granted and live overly well. We cannot afford such an illusion, however, as we will shortly be facing the hardest pressure caused by changes in the age structure – and we are already in debt. Of course it is easy to say that patience is a virtue, but as decision-makers we should always remember that we should set a good example.
* * *
The European Union has also returned to the growth track, and the improving economy is creating a positive atmosphere in and around the Union.
This good news raises hopes for the internal strengthening of the EU and putting European thinking back on the map. This year will no doubt be decisive pointing towards the EU’s future direction.
The EU has sometimes been described as a house with the roof and walls in place, but nothing inside. Now is the time to explain how the Union is enhancing the living conditions of its citizens. There will be many views, as President Macron has called for a round of democratic conventions.
The first steps towards a security community have been taken. Finland has been in the vanguard of this development. Terrorism has intensified official collaboration and structured cooperation has been launched in the field of defence.
Europe will also face pressure caused by future migration, probably to a growing extent and particularly from Africa. The best way to alleviate this pressure is to improve living conditions in the countries of origin. The EU Member States and the Union itself have their respective development cooperation programmes, which need to be better coordinated.
The EU should also establish common practices for border control, the processing of asylum applications and the returns of immigrants. The content and interpretation of both the Schengen Agreement and the Dublin Regulation should be clarified.
The EU will not become a federation, but the stealthy integration in places may also create dilemmas for Finland. These can be caused by the development plans of our common currency and any suggestions about increasing joint responsibility.
It is clear that there are problems with the euro. But it is also clear that changing the foundation for a single currency will require consensus. Finland should adopt an active role in this process as well. Discussion on the principles is needed.
* * *
In a recent value research, security was considered the most important value by the Finnish respondents. The world has become more troubled and this instability also reflects on us.
What is security? Security is trust in people, the community and social structures. Public trust in the decision-makers and authorities to treat us properly and being able to respond to global changes. Public trust in the professional competence of a police officer, fire fighter or nurse. Furthermore, security means the maintenance of national defence and security of supply.
Finland is now more prepared to react to the increasingly complex security environment. Many legislative projects have moved forward and improved our preparedness. The Government and Parliament have been alert, which as such is a security factor.
Trust and the sense of security arising from it is something that we all have to vigilantly cherish. Love for one’s neighbour, caring and equality – we can all contribute. Trust is created when we respect and look out for each other. It will require money, authorities, services and facilities, but above all it will require us all to maintain integrity.
* * *
The Parliament is the highest authority in our country. Its respect is based on your work – your respect for each other and the work you do together.
It is your demanding task to understand global change. To understand the fact that we cannot stop that change, and to understand how to best keep this country and its people up with the change. There is much talk about the breakup of the coherent culture. But we are still one people, one nation and therefore a community with our common interest to defend.
How to respond to the changes in working life or climate change, and how to respond to the ageing of our population, increasing immigration or the depopulation of remote areas? And how to respond to the feelings of insecurity, even fear and resistance, triggered by these changes? A sense of security takes a long time to grow, but can be shattered in a split second.
It is our job to anticipate people’s emotions and to take them seriously. It took decades to gain full trust in democracy in independent Finland. We have to earn that trust every day. And to earn it, we must find and share what unites us, not what divides us.
We are a small, integrated and secure country. We have an equal, educated and resilient people. This is why we can face change – tenacious, agile and strong. We hold the key to continuous success. Let us use it to open doors.
Madame Speaker, I wish the Speakers the best of luck in your important task. I hereby declare the 2018 session of Parliament opened.
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