President: Don’t scoff at European defence cooperation

The Ukrainian-Russian situation and maintaining societal unity are among the greatest challenges of our time, says Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. He was speaking at a press conference on Sunday, held during a security-policy meeting at the presidential summer residence, Kultaranta.

Niinistö met the press in summery Naantali on Sunday afternoon. Image: Tatu Lertola / Lehtikuva

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö says he is bothered by the Finnish public’s scepticism that European defence cooperation could be successful.

The president said that there is plenty of reason to hold a Kultaranta foreign and security policy discussion event this year, primarily because of the Ukraine crisis and secondly because of Finland’s economic difficulties and the need to maintain social unity.

“As I see it, societal integrity and moving ahead together were always our greatest strength after the wars. Preserving them is a serious challenge in this day and age,” Niinistö told reporters on Sunday afternoon in Naantali, near Turku.

NATO ties clearer next autumn

When asked about relations with NATO, Niinistö noted that Finland and Sweden have made a joint proposal on NATO partnership, which the alliance is certainly studying. Both traditionally non-aligned EU states are members of NATO’s affiliate programme known as the Partnership for Peace.

“When the NATO partners meet next autumn, the content of how partnership could be extended will probably become clear,” Niinistö suggested.

According to the Finnish head of state, all European countries are now considering how to proceed.

“The spirit of the Cold War was such that quite many European countries scaled back their defences. Now Poland will increase its spending, while Germany has had a critical debate about how its defence has been forgotten. Ukraine and the spirit of our time are certainly arousing this kind of discussion in just about every country. The zeitgeist has changed since a  year ago,” he added.

‘Who’s Who’ guestlist

In Niinistö’s view, the best approach would be to consider together how to move forward within the EU framework rather than one country at a time. He expressed frustration that Finns’ often initially respond that European defence cooperation will not amount to anything.

“At least, we should not be the first to reject it,” Niinistö said.

An array of leading Finns have been invited to the two-day meeting, including a number of government ministers, MPs, MEPs, senior civil servants, ambassadors, military officers as well as heads of corporations, unions, NGOs and think-tanks, academics and journalists, including three from Yle. Others range from novelist Sofi Oksanen, who has written extensively about the Baltics, to long-time diplomat Pertti Torstila, who was named on Sunday as the new head of the Finnish Red Cross.