Speech by the President of the Republic of Finland





The atmosphere in which the new millennium begins is auspicious from Finland’s point of view. Economic development is brisk and the general mood in society is one of confidence in the future.

The past year strengthened Finland’s active international role. The success of our term in the Presidency of the European Union will be reflected in our future status. We shall continue to have the ear and trust of the international community.

The strong development of Finnish society can be seen also in international comparisons. Our country has been recognised as innovative and competitive. People elsewhere in the world are increasingly interested in how we manage our affairs.

Economic success is reflecting itself in the lives of growing numbers of citizens. The goals with respect to reducing unemployment that we set just over five years ago have been met fairly well. A lot remains to be done to overcome joblessness, but the past few years have shown that changes can be achieved through consistent and resolute cooperation.

Talented, well-educated people and competitive companies have been necessary for the success of our economy. However, individual performances do not on their own explain the leap forward that in the space of a single century has transformed Finland from a poor and remote country into one of the world’s most advanced and affluent societies.

One of the cornerstones of success is the concept of equality and sense of common responsibility that prevail in Finland. Everyone has the opportunity to obtain an education, irrespective of their parents’ income or where they live. Both outstanding individuals and a solid know-how base are our trump cards.

Comprehensive social security and health care have brought security into people’s lives. That has provided them with a good foundation on which to develop their own skills and abilities. Trust in the strength of common responsibility has helped our nation to get through times of crisis.

From time to time we hear expressions of opinions to the effect that a sense of common responsibility is merely a burden that hampers the success of talented individuals and thereby adversely affects the development of society. Thinking like that amounts to building on a foundation of sand.

A society is not just the sum of the individuals that comprise it; its strength and development depend also on the social capital that consists of people’s mutual trust and their ability to cooperate.

Political decision-makers easily tend to examine only averages and macro-figures. When they are contacted by citizens, however, they find it easier to understand the everyday life of individual people and are reminded that not all boats have been lifted by the rising tide. Speaking on my own behalf and for my wife, I wish to thank you for the messages that we have received over the years. We must remember the necessity of looking after those of our citizens who have not been able to share in the growth of prosperity in Finland.

A task like that is not at all easy. It requires every member of society to have a strong sense of shared responsibility and a willingness to distribute the results of economic activity in a way that helps the more disadvantaged. Selfish individualism can prove dangerous also for the implementation of equality. We must beware of this, because only in a society based on equality can the life of each and every one of its members rest on an assured and stable foundation.

On 17.7.1995 I confirmed an amendment to our Constitution bringing a comprehensive revision of the basic rights provisions into force. The provisions now correspond in practice to the commitments that Finland has made under international human rights conventions. The revised basic rights provisions were also incorporated as such into our new Constitution.

It is stipulated in the Constitution that the public authorities must ensure the implementation of basic rights and human rights. Now an active obligation to develop has been imposed on the State and local authorities as well as on other bodies in the public sector. Thus, invoking basic rights, authorities can be required to implement measures to guarantee people’s security and freedom of movement. The basic rights provisions must guide political decision making as well.



The principle of common responsibility is not confined to our own country alone; it needs to be observed also between nations. There is a particularly great need for it when, for one reason or another, a state ceases to look after its citizens’ fundamental rights and begins restricting and violating them.

A question that we had to ponder on many occasions during the past year had to do with just when the international community is forced to intervene when individual states cross a certain line in the way they treat their own citizens. Where events in Kosovo were concerned, that line was crossed. Making refugees of over a million people and driving them from their homes led to international use of force.

In Kosovo and nearly the whole of the Balkans it has now been possible to begin the work of building a post-conflict society. It is an undertaking that will demand a commitment at least a generation long on the part of also countries outside the region.

Likewise in our neighbouring country Russia there has been a need to give serious thought to where the commitment and reforming spirit required to build a healthy society can be found. In the final analysis, these must be found in the Russians themselves; the outside world can only be a support. At the same time, however, Russia must avoid being isolated from international cooperation and the norms of the international community.

Ten years ago, when the Cold War system was being dismantled, I was among those who believed that it would be possible to divert funds from armament to developing the poorest countries and helping the worst-off people.

In this hope we have had to suffer disappointment. Managing a variety of crises has tied up resources, and often short-sighted selfishness is no unknown phenomenon on the international scene, either. Also our participation is needed in managing crises. However, something that is at least equally important is to try to prevent crises by supporting sustainable development in poor countries.

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Assuming responsibility for our neighbours, equality and justice are things that can be realised only in a tolerant society. Acceptance of and respect for diversity are among the prerequisites for our collective success in the new millennium. Nevertheless tolerance does not mean accepting all deeds.

At the same time as we recognise how diverse people are, we must also see the ethical factors that we share. We must emphasise the values that unite humankind in its common struggle to eliminate inequality, hunger and want.

Sustainable development will not be brought about merely by redressing the shortcomings that economic globalisation has created. It will also require the positive, constructive contributions of cultures and religions. In the new millennium development will have to be sustainable also in the cultural sense.

I have often stressed the importance of change. Adhering to permanent basic values is a prerequisite for being able to adapt to change. We must respect each other and look after each other.

I wish all citizens a happy New Year and the blessing of God.