President Sauli Niinistö emphasised four central themes in his traditional New Year's address: Covid, security policy, climate change and youth wellbeing. Throughout his remarks, Niinistö underscored the importance of diverse opinions in a democracy, but warned of the dangers of "deep discord."
"In the spring of 2020, the virus appeared as a common enemy that we are all fighting against together…now the feel is different," he said of pandemic fatigue and clashes regarding masks, restrictions and vaccinations.
Niinistö acknowledged the general atmosphere of frustration regarding continuous Covid setbacks, but noted that "the virus, however, does not care about our weariness or our feelings. Now we are asked to be resilient over and over again."
No more spheres of influence
The Finnish president also reflected on the crisis in Ukraine and current global tensions, saying the post-Cold War era was over and that great power politics were in a state of flux.
"But every time the shape of geopolitics changes, the impacts are also felt by countries smaller than the great powers. Sometimes particularly by them."
Notions of spheres of interest are outdated, according to Niinistö, who said Russia's recent ultimatums to the US and NATO about the alliance's further expansion also concern Europe.
That said, Niinistö called on the EU to take a more active role, saying Europe should do more than "listen in."
"The sovereignty of several member states, also Sweden and Finland, has been challenged from outside the union. This makes the EU an involved party. The EU must not settle merely with the role of a technical coordinator of sanctions."
Niinistö reiterated Finland's possibility to apply for NATO membership.
"Finland's room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice also include the possibility of military alignment and applying for NATO membership, should we ourselves so decide."
Young people need adults
Niinistö's New Year's addresses have repeatedly homed in on young people and climate change. This year was no exception.
The president said his generation grew up during a time when things were progressively improving. Things are different now, according to the president.
"Young people today are being tested. The pandemic has robbed them of a disproportionate part of their life," he said. "Understanding and support shown by an adult is a great gift to a young person."