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

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

The past year has left us to deal with three major issues: security, economy and the environment.

The issues were highlighted by President Sauli Niinistö in his traditional New Year’s Speech on Wednesday January 1 2015.

According to Niinistö during the year past, the world has discovered that Europe is not the haven of peace that we imagined it to be.

“The Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s actions in it proved otherwise. The Ukrainian catastrophe, which has claimed thousands of lives to date, has taken us back in time – to the questions of war and peace.”

Niinistö noted that Finland is one of the few countries in Europe, which have continued to consider military conflict a potential threat and to have maintained an appropriate defence capacity.

Niinistö explained that Finland pursues an active policy of stability intended to ensure stability in northern Europe and contribute to decreasing broader confrontation.

According to Niinistö, Finland has followed a consistent policy regarding events in the Ukraine from the very first.

Finland condemns any illegal occupations, illegal use of force or attempts to limit the sovereignty of independent nations:

“We condemned Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea as soon as it happened and then condemned Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine. We have done this in the EU context but have also made this clear in our direct contacts with Russia.”

President Niinistö added that Russia is well aware that Finland is and will remain part of the West.

EU membership secures Finland

President Niinistö described the pillars of Finland’s national security: our Western partnership, evolving bilateral defence cooperation with Sweden, and NATO partnership taken to a new level.

Niinistö said that membership of the EU is an important security solution for Finland, even if it is not a defence solution.

Peace, according to Niinistö, is the fundamental value of the EU.

“It is inconceivable that the EU would simply look on if the territorial integrity of one of its member states were violated. If that were to happen, the Union built on values of peace and liberty would be standing on feet of clay.”

Concerning potential future NATO membership, Niinistö said that it goes without saying that we can always apply for membership, if we wish to do so.

The common good

When addressing the Finnish economy, Niinistö stressed the importance of the common good as our most important natural resource.

Even today, with the foundation of our economy eroding, we must safeguard the integrity of Finnish society and leave no one behind.

For decision-makers, the President’s message was that the time for action is now.

He said he believed that the people will reward the decision-makers who undertake the reforms we so badly need. He also expressed a desire for making a virtue out of necessity:

“We are very concerned about our price competitiveness and the state of central government finances. Many people are firmly of the opinion that someone must give up something – preferably someone else than the speakers themselves. To make a real difference, someone would have to say: we are prepared to give up this important benefit – what benefit will you give up?”

The President encouraged decision-makers to be courageous even when speaking to their supporters.

 Climate change

President Niinistö singled out climate change among the challenges facing us in 2015.

According to Niinistö, the forthcoming climate conference in Paris will be a tough challenge for the international community and that it is not certain whether a common solution can be found to a problem that affects each and every one of us.

Niinistö noted that efforts to combat climate change weaken if there’s an economic downturn:

“Our national debts and our common carbon debt are put in the balance, even though both debts eat away at our future.”

However, the President also noted that Finland has recognised opportunities in climate change for business development.

A force to be reckoned with

Concluding his speech, Niinistö referred to the strength and stability of Finnish society.

He pointed to Hannes Hynönen, the centenarian war veteran who became a national celebrity on Independence Day this year, describing him as an expert on life.

“My understanding of what he had to say is that to achieve a good life you must know yourself. You must measure your expectations of other people against what you do yourself. You must remember the good but be aware of the bad. And you must see that none of us is that much more special than the other but that together we are a force to be reckoned with.”

President Niinistö ended his speech with the customary wishes for a Happy New Year and a blessing.