During the past year, I have met state leaders around the world and you Finns in different parts of our country. Every meeting and discussion has brought me new insight on Finland’s place in the world – and, in particular, where Finland is heading.
The world is changing and these changes challenge us all the time, sometimes quite fiercely. That is why we must constantly ask ourselves new questions, and question established theses. What will the redistribution of power lead to? Who will have enough food and water? Where will we find raw materials in the future? How can we alleviate human suffering and resolve conflicts? The tragedy in Syria continues and there is distress in Central Africa, yet we must not let ourselves become numb and merely observe the fact.
Last summer at Kultaranta, we weighed up our foreign policy in a new way. It was an invigorating debate, yet the most rewarding aspect was finding the patience to hear – and actually listen – to what others had to say. And I’m looking forward to more of this in the future, as the most difficult question remains unanswered: how can the world – and Finland – act in a sustainable manner with regard to the environment, society and the economy?
This summer will mark a hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War. This conflict, which raged through Europe for four years, claimed millions of lives and redrew our continent’s borders. An independent Finland also rose out of this turmoil. Amid general upheaval, we had the strength to achieve freedom. We have good reason to remember our history. Finland’s place has always been as a part of Europe. Our fate cannot be separated from Europe’s fate.
This year, the future will once again be forged in Europe. The European parliamentary elections will be held in the spring.
The words of a highly experienced European statesman have been echoing in my head: “The Union should be honest, simply honest.”
We must be honest about why the EU exists. We must remember that peace, democracy and wellbeing – in a nutshell, the freedom and stability of a person’s life lie at the very core of the Union. This core must be treasured. It cannot be left in the shadow of big bureaucracy or the special interests of an individual member state.
When it comes to the Euro, we have heard many times how the worst is over, only for the worst to return. But we have also heard how everything is lost, even though liabilities have not fallen due. Victory is not yet ours, but neither is defeat.
To resolve this situation, some have proposed greater cooperation on shared economic policies, while others have suggested increased mutual responsibility. Both are major issues. A structure based on complete joint liability is an extreme form of federalism – and that must be clearly stated, too.
Like me, many have wondered how much trouble could have been avoided if the original stability and growth pact had been adhered to. That leads us to a third major issue. How to ensure that governments and their successors adhere to what has now been agreed on and what will be agreed on. Finland has highlighted our own approach to managing our economy and it should continue to do so. To its credit, Finland has also highlighted creditors’ responsibilities. Market forces must also bear responsibility, by doing so they will also become guarantors to the implementation of agreements.
We Finns must also be honest. I am; the European road is our road. It is Finland’s road. But we must know precisely – and also influence – where that road is taking us.
The EU elections this spring are by no means just European politics – they will forge Finland’s future. Which is why I encourage an honest debate.
Discussion is also a guarantee of democracy. At the opening of last spring’s parliamentary session, I said that if any individual in a democracy pursues his cause thru violence – in word or deed - it is violence against all. I stand by that statement, and I now want to reinforce it. Democracy is not furthered by wearing a mask. Democracy has channels for being heard – channels that are listened to.
Around us we see a world in which wealth is being distributed and concentrated in a new way. This means that while many are no longer starving, the opulence of the few has reached new proportions. A new middle class has emerged in many places where there has previously been none. This trend has accelerated growth and has stabilised many societies.
We have believed that striving for new wellbeing will not detract from our existing wellbeing. However, change has by no means stopped here – which is, for us, at quite a good level. Things continue to change. And no one can give us any assurances that we will retain even our customary wellbeing. The old middle classes have encountered a new competitor. All Western countries, including Finland, will have to respond to this pressure.
We are at the same time witnessing a technological revolution. Many traditional tasks and professions are disappearing. In Finland, this has lead to an upheaval in industry – as employee cooperation negotiations, as layoffs. Yet we must note that completely new professions and new opportunities are also being born. We can grab these opportunities too!
A light breeze will not bend us and a strong wind will not break us. Also in this changing world, Finland possesses clear strengths. We have a stable foundation – a highly educated population that has trust in democracy, the rule of law and equality. Our society is not flawless, but it is still strong.
The time to awake is at hand. We must look bravely forward. We must make decisions. In order to create something new we must partly demolish the old, even some things we thought were permanent. We must also trust each other and ourselves. In this spirit of trust, we can aspire something new.
Finland has always performed well under pressure. Forces have been gathered and directed toward the future. Finland needs everyone – those who were born here and those who have moved here. Everyone has something to give.
A few days ago, I was watching a program about Helsinki Mission on television. One remark above all stayed with me: yes, we all have a moment – as a neighbour, an acquaintance or otherwise – to ask ‘How are you? Can I help you in any way?’
Kindness, compassion and friendship – let’s be even braver with these! Together, we form a new direction: the direction in which Finland is heading.
I wish you all a good start to the New Year and may God bless you.