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New Year Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on 1 January 2016 - The President of the Republic of Finland

The President of the Republic of Finland
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Speeches, 1/1/2016

New Year Speech by President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö on 1 January 2016

My fellow citizens,

I want to begin with good news, because such news is often less prominent.  Two images, in particular, remain with me from last year. One is of the satisfying conclusion to the Paris Convention on Climate Change and the second is of Presidents Obama and Putin sitting at the same table to discuss a solution to the Syrian crisis.

Although these images will not serve to defeat our common enemies, solve climate change or vanquish terrorism, they are better outcomes than expected.

Many probably feel otherwise; that 2015 brought only a sea of troubles. Problems have certainly emerged, but is it not the case that the source of these evils and misfortunes lies further back in the past and the dam is now breaking under its pressure? What was once hidden or unseen is now, inevitably, revealing itself.

In this vein, I will talk to you today about immigration, security and the economy.

My fellow citizens,

The refugee crisis took Europe by surprise, despite the fact that we had been witnessing huge numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean for years. The nature of asylum seeking has changed: those making their way to Europe include people who are not fleeing acute distress. Asylum-seeking and migration are now moving hand-in-hand towards Europe.

We, in Finland, face an unprecedented situation. In just half a year, we have received more than 30,000 refugees, and more are arriving. While some are fleeing danger, others are seeking a better life – both of these are natural, human motives. Exploitation, sometimes even as a means of exercising power politics, can also lie behind this displacement of people.

The world contains untold numbers of people who would come here, but there are limits to our capacity to take care of them. I think that Prime Minister Löfven of Sweden went to the heart of the matter when he said that "we have been naive."  Like many other countries, Sweden has tightened up its immigration policy. I view the solutions enacted by the Finnish Government as an attempt to secure resources in order to help those most in need. This means that we can only help those who have come here fleeing persecution.

Problems have also arisen in our own midst.

For me, a lawyer of the old school, the fire-bombing of a building that could contain people should be characterised as arson, and my views on the matter have not changed.  Arson is a serious offence. So too is the persecution of refugees, or inciting hatred against them. Too many such incidents have occurred.

Not all those who have come here have good intentions.  Some have a terrorist background, and some do evil of other kinds. The backgrounds and actions of a few are creating undue suspicion towards all immigrants.

The authorities must communicate openly on such deeds and their consequences, regardless of whether the perpetrators are native Finns or immigrants. This will help to calm rising emotions and nip rumours in the bud.

We have been made anxious by extreme events. However, I firmly believe that Finns are not, on the whole, attracted by extreme ideas.  Ulrich Lilie – President of the German church organisation Diakonie – has characterised his country's general attitude towards immigration as follows: "a balance between scepticism and self-confidence." I think that this is also the case in Finland; there are those who doubt and those who trust that we will cope.

To paraphrase the old maxim which remains relevant today – when in Finland do as the Finns do. Immigration can never mean that our core values – democracy, equality and human rights – are questioned.

My fellow citizens,

Our understanding of security has changed. We only woke up to war when it was upon us in Europe, where Russia's reprehensible actions in Crimea and Ukraine disrupted our oasis of peace.

There has never been such an oasis in the Middle East and North Africa, where war has been waged on a scale many times greater than in Ukraine. This is displacing people and reinforcing terrorism.

Resolving the Syrian crisis is a key issue. The United States and Russia are involved, engaging in combat on the same front, but with somewhat different ideas of who the enemy is. While such a situation is a source of danger, it is also compelling them to seek common solutions. If such solutions can be found in Syria, this will hopefully enable the relaxation of tensions elsewhere.

Rising international tensions have also been reflected in Finland's neighbourhood. Both Russia and NATO have increased their military presences in the Baltic Sea Region.

In last year's speech, I said that Finland would pursue an active policy of promoting stability. In terms of our foreign policy, our relationships with Sweden and Russia, the Nordic framework and cooperation within the EU and with NATO countries are in a key position.

A policy promoting stability has good prospects of succeeding in the Baltic Region. The various states have no territorial claims on each other and their internal political situations are stable. Despite the fact that tensions from further afield are having an impact, no spontaneous crises are threatening to break out in the region.

Sweden and Finland are special partners of NATO. Our intensifying military cooperation is going well and is highly valued in both countries. However, we can do more.

Neither of our countries is in a military alliance. Together, we have strong links with both west and east, which gives both countries a special status. This also creates opportunities for engaging in important work to promote the security and stability of Northern Europe.

It would therefore be logical to continue extending our cooperation on foreign and security policy. It is in the interests of both countries to promote our security on a cooperative basis, with a view to developing confidence-building measures.

Dear viewers,

International tensions, the displacement of people and terrorism are undermining our ability to anticipate the future. Even the likely short-term consequences of these factors, which are beyond our control, are difficult to predict.

I believe that there is no need for Finland to enter the spring in a spirit of mutual recrimination and dissension. I would like to reiterate the point that our greatest strength lies in our unity as a society.

We have seen lean years in economic terms, with no great improvement yet in sight. We will continue to live on borrowed money for some time, even though we have already taken action to correct this situation. Such times also test our sense of justice; that each of us should do his or her share in line with our capabilities, while laying the basis for the future rather than grabbing whatever we can.

I would highlight two aspects of the recent economic debate. One concerns achieved gains and the other price competitiveness.

Achieved gains are an important issue – many people base their current and future wellbeing on them. Gains can be considered achieved once earned and distributed.

Many will be reminded of the discussion in 2007 of our "headroom" for distributing billions of euro. This was a reference to the gains expected in the years ahead. And so these future gains were distributed, but never actually appeared. They were gains that were never earned or achieved.

The key question is therefore: can achieved gains be based on earnings that were never actually made?

It has been suggested that these "unachieved gains" account for several percentage points in relation to the scale of our current problems, in terms of both the public economy deficit and lack of price competitiveness in the private sector. We should also remember that those who benefited most were those who already enjoyed the greatest share of the gains.

The problem of price competitiveness has been recognised by all sides, even if agreement has yet to be reached on how to solve the issue. Deciding on who will give up some gains is never easy, and many suspect that others will reap the benefits. Improvements in price competitiveness cannot be all about easier division of the winnings. We need to enter into sufficiently general or even company-specific commitments to using the gains as discussed, in order to safeguard jobs.

It is good that negotiating channels are once again open on the labour markets. I urge all of you to reach an agreement. We must not enter the spring at odds with one another.

My fellow citizens,

During the late summer and autumn, I followed the big story of young Oscar Taipale about tiny berries. Oscar made good earnings from picking hundreds of litres of forest berries. I too was delighted by the idea of a boy picking berries from bushes and inspiring his friends and many others to do the same.

Although we have many problems, there is also much to be glad about: for example, the fact that the desire to help has increased. Volunteering to help refugees, or to assist friends and relatives in getting through the everyday challenges of life, are sources of joy for those who give and receive help, while benefiting all of us!

I wish you all a Happy New Year and God bless you!

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Updated 1/4/2016

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