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President Sauli Niinistö. Archive picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

President Sauli Niinistö addressed the parliament at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Finland’s constitutional democracy on Tuesday.

Here are the highlights of his speech.

President Niinistö began by quoting the first Finnish president and the author of the Constitution, K.J. Ståhlberg. “First and foremost, the parliament is called upon to enter into records the new Constitution Act, which lays down the foundation for the political life of a free, independent Finland.” Ståhlberg was speaking upon the closure of the 1919 parliamentary session.

Mr. Niinistö said that in 100 years, the Constitution Act has become a foundation that has sustained society. “Untypically, it has remained, in its broad outlines, unchanged throughout the decades.”

Today, according to the president, the foundation holds up. “Finland is one of the world’s most stable countries and ranks high among rule of law states. A country known as a clear-headed and reliable actor.”

Mr. Niinistö reminded the listeners that the constitution may sound alien in everyday speech, yet it has a profound impact on our daily lives.

“Often, the thinking stops at the notion that fundamental rights are something that society must guarantee and the citizens enjoy. However, citizens too are duty-bound to respect the fundamental rights of others.”

Briefly, the president said that “all social life is based on trust.” The assumption is that everyone acts in a manner that may be reasonably expected. “The fundamental rights recorded in the Finnish Constitution created a sound basis for assessing such ‘reasonable expectation.’” “Often, the thinking stops at the notion that fundamental rights are something that society must guarantee and the citizens enjoy. However, citizens too are duty-bound to respect the fundamental rights of others. If the rights of the fellow-man are not upheld, very little is left of one’s own rights.”

The president went on by saying, “The Constitution expressly states that nature and its biodiversity, the environment and the national heritage are the responsibility of everyone. It means all of us.”

Mr. Niinistö continued:

“Individuals are also called upon to assume responsibility for their own security. The Constitution includes a provision on the right to social security stipulating that “those who cannot obtain the means necessary for a life of dignity have the right to receive indispensable subsistence and care.” The Constitution goes on to say, quite rightly, that specific laws are to be enacted to provide support in special situations and guarantee adequate social and health services for all. But as I see it, it also presupposes that every individual makes a genuine effort using his or her best endeavors, each according to his or her ability and capacity.”

Mr. Niinistö stressed that, nevertheless, “the highest expectations are pinned on those who exercise public powers.”

The second theme in Mr. Niinistö’s speech was social inclusion: the sense that one belongs and can have a say.

Briefly: “In my view, the Constitution becomes less of a framework and more of a tangible reality closer to daily life in guaranteeing a range of educational, linguistic and cultural rights. When educational opportunities are abundant and diversity is accepted, a large number of people are able to be included for this reason alone,” the president said.

Mr. Niinistö spoke about his great worry: the social exclusion of young people.

“Each and everyone of us can support a young person to become integrated into everyday life. Personally, I would probably not be where I am today if I had not come across understanding adults in my youth. And they were numerous. I assume that many of you share this sentiment,” the president said.