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President emphasises western outlook in New Year speech

President Sauli Niinistö has used his New Year speech to re-state Finland’s western orientation as the Ukraine crisis grinds on, and to urge politicians to take more responsibility in advocating for structural reform.

Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö uudenvuodenpuheen nauhoituksessa presidentinlinnassa Helsingissä 30. joulukuuta 2014. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Finland is part of the Western family of nations, according to President Sauli Niinistö, who said in his New Year speech that this has been evident in the country’s response to the Ukraine crisis. He said the situation in Ukraine dispelled any illusions that Europe was a peaceful oasis.

“The Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s actions in it proved otherwise,” Niinistö was quoted as saying on his official website. “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 emphasised that even though Finland has close ties with Russia and maintains regular contact, those links have been used to rebuke the Russian government when necessary, and to ensure that, as Niinistö says, “Russia knows full well that Finland is and will remain part of the West.”

Finland had condemned Russian actions in Ukraine, and Niinistö said that Russia’s behaviour was especially dangerous for international security.

“If power is enforced by the barrel of a gun, then only chaos will result from that,” said Niinistö.

"Active Stability"

In security and defence policy, Niinistö said that Finland’s policy is one of ‘active stability’. That means a policy aimed at ensuring stability in northern Europe and contributing to attempts to break the cycle of confrontational communications.

He also urged greater defence spending in an effort to maintain a credible military deterrent, while lauding the EU as a vital plank of Finland’s security.

“EU membership is an important security policy for Finland, even though it is not a defence union,” said Niinistö. “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.” 

He reiterated Finland’s line that advanced co-operation with Nato has improved Finnish security, and said that Finland can always apply to join the alliance in the future.

Reform sacrifices needed

He also urged Finland’s politicians to take a lead in managing structural reforms. Too many leaders are not prepared to outline what they are prepared to give up—something that Niinistö says could help break a kind of deadlock over the issue.

“Many people are firmly of the opinion that someone must give up something—preferably someone other than the speakers themselves,” said Niinistö. “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?”

Niinistö remembered the so-called ‘Liisa’s list’ of 1995, in which SDP MP Liisa Jaakonsaari spelled out what she would be prepared to cut ahead of elections her party was expected to win. The list had the effect of preparing SDP supporters for the changes, and made Niinistö’s job—as Finance Minister in the Paavo Lipponen government formed after the elections—a little easier.

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