New Year’s Speech by President of the Republic of Finland on 1 January 2012
The beginning of a new year should give us hope for a better tomorrow. But last year’s economic developments in Europe cast a long shadow that we here in Finland must also take into account in making plans for the future.
Joining the European Union has linked us to the building of a common everyday security. We have long enjoyed the benefits of EU membership: increased export opportunities and job growth, and more studying opportunities for young people. The interest rates on housing loans have been at historically low levels for a long time.
We are aware that these increased opportunities have their downside, the problems that we have been and will continue to be obliged to tackle both jointly and severally. Globalisation has made nations increasingly dependent on one another. There is not a single country in Europe large enough to cope with the economy on its own in the long run, never mind environmental matters or security or other large issues. There is no returning to the past; the best way forward is to continue to try to solve the current issues in European co-operation.
* * *
Over the past twelve years, I have repeatedly expressed my concern at the eroding of traditional solidarity in today’s society. This manifests itself in the everyday lives of many individuals but also in an ongoing shift in the very structures of society.
By building a Nordic welfare society we are laying a strong foundation for the potential of every individual to take care of himself or herself and their families. At the same time, we are making space for art and science, for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Human responsibility and neighbourly charity must manifest itself in our personal behaviour and in how we build our society.
Equality and solidarity are key values in our society. Abiding by them is what makes us a nation. Economic inequality is gradually insinuating itself into all walks of life. As income differentials have grown in Finland, so have differences in health. Differences between the life expectancies in various income brackets have grown rapidly; the difference in life expectancy between the highest and lowest income brackets is almost 13 years for men and seven years for women. Poverty among children has increased at an alarming rate. The social exclusion of young people is not something that we want to see in our society.
The growth of inequality is not a force of nature. It can be fought back. With our welfare society we can ensure that people are treated equally and can also remain competitive globally. It is all about political will and skill of execution.
Making dreams come true, whether individual or collective, requires a lot of work and may take a long time. Violence is not the answer to life’s challenges – not in the life of an individual, and not for society at large. Democracy is the guarantee of human sustainable development, and defending democracy is one of the great challenges of our time.
* * *
Grand ambitions cannot be achieved by force or by executive fiat. They require genuine co-operation and shared responsibility both nationally and internationally. Finland has traditionally played a responsible role in the international community, a role which we are well advised to keep to.
In this millennium, globalisation has grown ever more intense, and our mutual dependencies have become more complex and important. It is now estimated that more than 60 per cent of world trade is internal trade within multinational corporations. Market forces require political control.
Globalisation should be fairer. Its benefits and disadvantages should be distributed more equally both within and between countries. People increasingly want to decide how to run their own lives, and people need work.
The member states of the UN unanimously adopted the Millennium Goals in order to promote social justice. The eradication of extreme poverty and other Millennium Goals are also prerequisites for sustainable development. They cannot be attained without democratic, strong and effective countries whose governments treat their citizens equally. Such countries can control economic trends, provide their citizens with a social safety net and give space for a vibrant and diverse civil society. This, I am sure, is also how we would like to see our own country.
Finland has much to gain. We are a small country dependent on exports. We have a lot of promising creative expertise in areas such as clean technology and the green economy. Our society is based on the principles of democracy and equality. Our government is efficient and honest by international standards.
These are strengths that help us establish partnerships, for which the demand will continue to increase as the international community embarks more determinedly on the road to sustainable development.
People continue to hope for a better tomorrow, and underlying this is a powerful belief in the importance of economic growth, even though we have found time and time again that growth in itself does not increase wellbeing. We need a ‘new trinity’: economic growth which is distributed according to social justice and which the environment can withstand.
I myself am doing everything in my power to ensure that the UN Millennium Goals will be followed by the adoption of shared ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ from 2015 to safeguard the wellbeing of both human beings and the environment.
As I speak, thousands of Finns are still recovering from our latest great winter storm. Unusual seasonal changes, exceptional storms and other natural phenomena are a cause for concern for us all, and with good reason. Swift action and co-operation are needed to improve our everyday safety.
But some positive things have happened too. Waterway protection has improved, and the number of nature reserves has grown. I could find many other examples of how sustainable development has become a part of our everyday lives. Assuming responsibility in this way is an excellent thing.
What makes Finland’s international operations credible is that we follow the exact same principles in our own country and its neighbouring areas. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks publicly to the countless people who have been active in a variety of communities in putting the principles of sustainable development into practice. We Finns like to encourage our neighbours to participate in these efforts too. I believe that thanks to this co-operation we will one day have a cleaner Baltic Sea.
* * *
Finland has good relations with all her neighbours. The Nordic countries have a long history of co-operation. The greatest changes that have taken place since 2000 have occurred to the south of us. Estonia joining the European Union and subsequently the eurozone have brought Finland and Estonia closer together.
Our relationship with Russia is now more diverse and deeper than before. Here, too the EU has had an effect. Interaction between businesses and citizens across the border has increased substantially.
For my own part, I have sought to establish a sound political foundation for relations with all our neighbours, and I trust that my successor will be able to build on this.
The purpose of Finland’s foreign and security policy is to improve Finland’s security. The best way to do this is of course to engage in the prevention of potential political, military and other threats and risks.
In this era of globalisation, even distant crises and conflicts have ripple effects that extend to Finland. These crises often stem from poverty, inequality and infringements of human rights. In order to safeguard the security of Finns, we need a broad-based concept of security alongside our traditional defence system.
We must stand up for human rights and democracy. This will also improve security, both at home and abroad. Such efforts require a long-term approach: while toppling a dictator may be the work of a moment, building a new and democratic society takes a long time.
Peacekeeping, civilian crisis management and peace mediation are good ways of influencing the security of Finland and of the world. Finland has a long history of participating in UN peacekeeping missions. UN-led peacekeeping must be increased. The decision to send Finnish peacekeepers to Lebanon again is a step in the right direction.
Finland’s candidacy for rotating membership of the UN Security Council is a logical consequence of Finland wishing to be a doer rather than an observer.
My fellow Finns,
This is the last time that I will have the opportunity to greet you as the President of the Republic at New Year. In this capacity, I have sought to fulfil my oath of office in upholding the law and acting in the best interests of the Finnish people.
Defending Finland and the common interests of the Finnish people needs each and every one of us. We need tolerance to understand each other and co-operation to overcome the problems we face. A lot of good things have already happened, for instance as regards gender equality and the rights of minorities.
I hope that the forthcoming presidential election and in the local elections in the autumn will inspire citizens to participate and vote.
On behalf of myself and my spouse, I would like to thank you all for your cordial support and your many communications over the past 12 years. Your interest in promoting our common affairs has been important.
I wish you all a Happy New Year 2012.