Former US president Barack Obama made a brief visit to Finland on Thursday. He was the keynote speaker at the Nordic Business Forum, held at the Helsinki Fair Centre. Some 7,500 people from 40 countries were in attendance.
Obama arrived in a private airplane after speaking the previous day in Oslo, Norway.
After a brief 15-minute drive from Helsinki Airport, the former head of state arrived at the venue in Pasila around 4pm amid high security.
He first met briefly and posed for pictures with 73 attendees who had paid for the highest-price tickets, sold at 3,700 euros each. The VIP tickets sold out before the name of the keynote speaker was announced.
Forum CEO Aslak De Silva says that bringing Obama to Finland was the result of a long process of negotiation. Organisers have not revealed how much Obama was paid for the appearance.
Obama was hosted onstage by Skype founder Niklas Zennström.
Finland "the world’s happiest country"
The ex-president took the stage around 4.30pm, leading off by saying that "Finland is the world’s happiest country" adding that there is much to be learned from this country. He later joked that everyone in Finland knows each other from sitting in saunas.
The hour-long address covered such topics ranging from technology, social media, artificial intelligence to the state of democracy in Poland, and even basketball and praise for his wife Michelle Obama.
“Global problems call for global solutions,” said Obama, citing climate change and the state of the world’s oceans as examples. Therefore mechanisms such as the UN’s Paris Agreement on Climate Change are essential, he said.
Obama ended his speech around 5.30pm with a quote from John F. Kennedy: “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.” He then headed straight back to the airport.
The last time that a former US president visited Finland was in May 2006, when Bill Clinton spoke at a business seminar in Tampere. Clinton had previously Helsinki visited as president in 1997 – the last visit by a sitting US president until Donald Trump arrived for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this past July.