Speech by the President of the Republic of Finland



Equality matters a lot to the Finns. A good example of this is found in Väinö Linna’s novel "Here Beneath the North Star" when Akseli Koskela says that he looks at everyone he meets from the level of his own eyes "no matter what a big shot he is". That is something that every Finn can say. It is also the initial premise in our new Constitution.

I have been pleased to see an extensive revision of trial procedures completed during my term of office. That has required much effort on the part of both law drafters and Parliament. Our experience to date of the effectiveness of the new procedures is mainly positive. However, I wish to draw attention to one aspect.

The prerequisites for solutions to juridical problems, i.e. judgements, being socially acceptable include not only clear arguments in support of those solutions, but also general respect for the way in which the law is administered. It must be possible to see every judgement as a carefully-considered stance taken by an independent court and intended to be final. It is not good for the credibility of judgements if too many trials are perceived by people as an event that is performed from beginning to end more than once in the same way.

An absolutely unrestricted right to appeal against a judgement of a lower court has been considered important in Finland. If, however, appeals become the rule rather than the exception, distrust of rulings by lower courts will naturally increase. Parliament itself has set the goal of transferring the emphasis in trial-related matters to the lower courts. Thus we have every reason to examine the effects of our restructuring of the appellate courts system and our experience of operating it from a longer-term perspective and, if it appears necessary to do so, draft amendments to the law.

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Ensuring a secure life is nowadays seen as a more important task for the public authorities than it was in the past. However, increasing control or making penalties tougher are not adequate means of creating security in everyday life, because they treat symptoms rather than tackling causes.

The most sustainable way of ensuring people’s safety is to guarantee that the foundation of our society remains sound. We need a sense of shared responsibility for those who have been marginalised or are in danger of being excluded from society. We need social policy and effective safety nets.

That signs of marginalisation and growing inequality between people are appearing just when the economy is on an upswing is all the more worrying. If inequality continues to increase, it may provide a growth substrate for many kinds of social problems, including crime.

The way the drug problem is being dealt with and treatment services for substance abusers provide a topical example. Crimes and recidivism are often associated with substance abuse. Many crimes of violence are committed in a state of intoxication, whilst crimes of larceny are often a means of obtaining money for drugs. More and more often, drugs are affecting the lives of young people. A growing proportion of the prison population is likewise suffering from substance dependence that requires treatment.

We need to ask whether these people are receiving the help and treatment they need or if the problems are being neglected because society can not agree on who will pay the bill. However, tackling the drug problem would be an effective means of getting young people to abandon a career of crime in its very early stage. It would also often be the fastest way of reducing the number of repeat offenders - not to speak of the other savings that could be achieved through treatment and rehabilitation.

The same applies to mental health care services. The economies now being striven for in them could prove very short-lived. Left without treatment, a child’s or young adult’s psychiatric problems could later turn out very expensive for all concerned.


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Cross-border threats to security are nowadays no longer entirely military. New issues like those of international crime, environmental problems and nuclear safety have become more serious from the perspective of people’s everyday lives. The work done during the Finnish Presidency and its culmination in the extraordinary summit in Tampere show that the European Union is for us an increasingly important means of combatting these threats.

Although our perception of security is nowadays a broad one, the threat of military conflicts has not vanished from the scene, either. It is true that the threat of a global conflict declined substantially when the Cold War ended, but armed internecine conflicts and also regional ones seem to have increased rather than becoming fewer.

The civilian population suffers intolerably in situations where states are either unwilling or unable to protect their own citizens. The international community can not stand idly by and watch situations like that, as the UN Secretary-General told the General Assembly last autumn. The development of international humanitarian law and of media technology has made violations of human rights something that concerns us all. That the international community today does not have nearly enough of the institutional and material resources that would be needed to deal effectively with all violations is no excuse for us to evade our responsibility.

In the days of the Cold War we became accustomed to thinking that a conventional, limited war was no longer possible in Europe. However, the events of the past decade, above all in the Balkans and Caucasia, have opened our eyes to the bleak reality. The work of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and of the Council of Europe must be made more effective; the European Union must be enlarged. Only prosperity and justice as well as genuine respect for human rights and peaceful coexistence between different majorities and minorities can eliminate armed conflicts from our continent.

Even then, we can not isolate ourselves from problems and their consequences elsewhere in the world. The United Nations and its associated international organisations will continue to be our most important instrument as we strive to enhance the security of humankind. On the other hand, these organisations evolved in the world of the Cold War, a world that has undergone a profound transformation in the meantime. If we are to be able to guarantee coming generations of humankind a secure future, we must be able to reform the institutions of the international community.

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Even when dealing with the issues of day-to-day politics, decision makers must also be mindful of the long-term ramifications of their decisions. At the same time they must be able to anticipate the issues that will be of growing importance. Predicting the effects of decisions and more generally making provision for the challenges of the future feature prominently in the work of the Finnish Parliament. In this respect its various preparatory bodies, such as the Committee for the Future, have done valuable work that has deservedly been acclaimed abroad.

A discourse on social policy and research in relation to it are especially important to us, because our country is in the throes of rapid change. Finland’s reputation and economic success are nowadays based largely on a high level of technical knowledge and rapid implementation of new technology. We have been doing well in this stage of the knowledge society’s development.

Now we shall have to take the next steps towards a stage in which people and their needs will play a central role alongside technology. We must not build a society in which only some people are able to function as fully-fledged members. We must ensure that all of our country’s inhabitants, irrespective of age, domicile and social background, have the wherewithal to cope, succeed and manage their own lives. A development like this will not take place automatically; it will require conscious decisions.

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Powerful changes in the economy have occupied our attention in recent years. We have spoken of capital flows, indebtedness, prosperity and economic inequality. The might of the market is great, but we must not allow it to obscure our concept of humanity. Culture and education will remain our most important resources. Let us hope that in the new millennium Finnish society will channel its energy more into promoting intellectual growth and struggling against poverty of spirit.

I hereby declare the 2000 Annual Session of Parliament open and wish you success in your work.