Speech by the President of the Republic of Finland


My six-year term as President is drawing to a close. Especially in recent times I have noticed that in those years Finland has changed probably even more than I originally expected to happen. Internationalisation has been one of the strongest forces driving this change, not only in the economy, but also in the whole of society as well as in our attitudes. No longer do we look upon ourselves as a small remote country in the way we used to; instead, we see ourselves as an active participant in interaction between peoples and part of a pattern of interdependence.

Internationalisation has likewise left a very strong imprint on Finland’s official foreign policy. Membership of the European Union and the single currency the euro are among the most visible milestones in this process. Finland is an increasingly integral part of the European economic region and at the same time part of the global economy.

However, internationalisation is both a very complex matter and a difficult one. It has many faces. To business executives, for example, it can mean new and interesting opportunities, but seen from the perspective of ordinary people it can be surrounded by a lot of uncertainty about the future and bring a great deal of worry about their jobs and livelihoods. If internationalisation appears to be a threat, this naturally prompts rejection; people feel they have to defend themselves against it, halt its onward march. We have seen examples of this kind hinking in recent times.

At the same time as these views can be considered understandable, we ought to ask whether rejection and self-imposed isolation are the right answer to the development-related ailments afflicting today’s world of information technology and an open economy. One way to examine the question is in the light of Finland’s experience. The economic history of this country since the second world war can be described as a policy of opening up. As a small economy that originally depended on raw materials Finland has had to change over to basing her success on the highest-possible level of free exchange. The first step was to promote free trade, after which we proceeded towards deeper economic integration on the regional, European and global levels.

To a small, remote economy like Finland, an open trade system offering an even playing field for competition represents an advantage and an opportunity. A prerequisite for our being able to gain from this is, however, that we master two things: on the one hand we must understand and be able to manage the dangers of negative development that globalisation brings in its train, and on the other we must be able to avail ourselves of the opportunities it offers.

I believe we have every prospect of coping with the challenge of globalisation and emerging as victors. That is because one of the main trends that it incorporates is the growing importance of ability and knowledge as central success factors in society and enterprise. This fact puts the keys to success in the hand of a well-educated and capable people like us Finns: the only question is whether we are able to open the right locks with those keys.

I was mulling thoughts like this over in my mind a year ago when I opened a discourse as to whether the more than three-decades-old name of the President’s Export Awards and the grounds on which their recipients are chosen should be changed. I felt they should more accurately reflect the challenges of an altered operating environment and the prerequisites that must be satisfied if success is to be ours. When I look at today’s winners and the merits on which they are receiving their respective awards, it is obvious that the goals the revised selection criteria were intended to achieve have been admirably fulfilled.

The first President’s Internationalisation Awards go today to companies and bodies which, through their own active efforts, have made an exemplary contribution to developing a modern and international Finland, a place that we find a good place to live. The winners are more than just exporters; each has its own distinctive way of working internationally. Yet all of them have deep roots in Finnish ability and society.

I wish all of the award-winners continuing good fortune and success.