President Niinistö: Russia and US could sideline EU

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has cautioned "a weakened and fragmented" EU against being sidelined in global politics. During his annual New Year’s Day address, Niinistö raised concerns that Presidents Putin and Trump could begin discussing Europe without its input.

Presidentti Sauli Niinistö
President Sauli Niinistö addressed the nation on 1 January 2017. Image: Yle

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö adopted a sombre tone as he addressed the country during his traditional New Year's Day speech on Sunday.

The President's speech touched on themes both domestic and foreign, and as the prime mover of Finnish foreign policy, he dwelt on geopolitical matters near and far.

EU more important now than ever

Niinistö said the onus now lies with Europe to defend traditional values within its borders. He says the European Union is more important now than it has been in decades, just at the moment when it is at its weakest and most divided. 

"The EU has lost its footing in international politics. There has been speculation that Presidents Trump and Putin will negotiate about Europe without Europe’s input. The EU cannot be absent from the table when decisions about the future are being made," he said.

He said Europe has to return its focus to what is most important: ensuring that its residents can live a life of peace and security.

Defence cooperation step in the right direction

Niinistö raised the subject of migration in Europe, arguing that the separate stand-alone solutions eventually turned countries against each other. "The EU is only as strong as its weakest link," he said.

The President also offered his support for efforts to kickstart EU defence cooperation.

"You can’t start the discussion by first defining what things the cooperation doesn’t include. It is best to proceed step by step, without deviation, and see where the journey takes us."

Niinistö urged Finns to see themselves as part of several extended communities.

"If we show understanding and are active members of the nation, the human race and all creation, the shadows will withdraw," he said.

Though I walk through the valley

The President's address also touched on the ongoing civil conflict in Syria and terrorism in Europe.

"We are now traversing a world of shadows, in today’s world. Every day brings news of cruelty and death, sometimes from Aleppo, sometimes from Berlin. Where next?”

The speech was recorded before President Niinistö received word of yesterday's nightclub attack in Istanbul.

He speculated on the potential conflict caused by the tension between collective security concerns and individual rights.

"Many times, after the fact, the question of why we didn’t do more to stop the terrorists is raised. The bad answer is that there wasn’t sufficient power to enact preventive measures. A response like this conveys a sense of powerlessness."

Advice to nation: "Do what you can to help"

Niinistö acknowledged the significance of 2017 for Finland, as the country celebrates 100 years of independence. He said the events that are scheduled throughout the coming year are sure to spark something in everyone.

"Many young people will also become aware that, yes, this is quite important. High five to Finland!" the President said.

But in the spirit of the “Together” theme of the centennial year’s celebrations, Niinistö also urged Finns to remember those who may find it hard to celebrate because of their difficult life situation.

"On the occasion of our centenary, one of Finland’s most important messages could be: 'Things are good for everyone when things aren’t bad for anyone. In other words, do what you can to help. Feel a sense of responsibility – for yourself at least – but within limits. Act within your capacities," said the President.

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