President Speaks

New Year's Speech by President of the Republic of Finland Tarja Halonen on 1 January 2007

Fellow citizens, The year now beginning marks the 90th anniversary of Finland’s independence. We became a sovereign nation at a time of great social upheaval in Europe, and the early years of our independence were turbulent, hard and fraught with peril.

But today we may be proud that over the decades our northern and impoverished nation has worked hard to develop into a Nordic welfare society that succeeds also in tough international competition. Finns today owe a great deal to the veterans of our wars, the generation that defended our independence and rebuilt our country.

It is my view that both our aptitude for overcoming adversity and our success are products of our democratic system. We were fortunate that Finland was able to avoid the authoritarian regimes and dictatorships that gained a foothold in several European countries. Democracy and the rule of law have reigned in Finland throughout our independence. We must continue to stand up for these values and discourage the rise of extremist movements.

Finland is a small nation and can only compete with quality. This calls for expertise and creativity. People of all ages, whatever their regional and social origins, must have equal access to education and training. It is important to give young people — girls and boys alike — a good educational foundation before they enter working life. But this alone is not enough: the rapidly changing world requires lifelong learning. Therefore we must also ensure that people who are already working have the opportunity to improve their professional skills and knowledge. Attitudes are also important in helping people cope. We can all play a part in making everyone feel that they are valued and meaningful members of their workplace community.

Mutual respect is very important in all our lives. The elderly are naturally important to their nearest and dearest, but society at large should also respect the legacy, which the life experience and accumulated knowledge of the elderly represent. Moreover, this respect should be manifested in practical action.

Ensuring the smooth running of all services is a great challenge in a situation where the structure of the population is changing. Local authorities, NGOs and citizens working together can provide us with opportunities to improve the quality of life not just of our elderly citizens but also of any of our fellow citizens in need of help. To succeed in this task, we must see this as a shared challenge.

Fellow citizens, The world is not a fair and just place naturally. It is up to us, the people in it, to make it so. Our efforts are needed both at home and abroad. In today’s world, peace, security and welfare of people are indivisible.

Everyday, the human rights of millions of people are violated all around the world through gender discrimination, ethnic discrimination or religious discrimination. Famine, extreme poverty, exploitation, armed conflicts and terrorism are a fact of life in today’s world. In many countries, the building of a dignified and sustainable development simply starts by combating hunger and contagious diseases and by providing education. The help of the more affluent countries and peoples is needed to realize these efforts.

Migration has rapidly become an important topic in public debate in Europe and in the world in general. Migration is always about people, and migrants should never be seen merely as a labour supply. Migration is a difficult and challenging thing for the migrants themselves and their families, as well as for the country of origin and the country of destination. Finland must reconsider its immigration policy, but more and better international cooperation is also needed. The work begun by the EU and the UN must be continued vigorously. People must be allowed free movement, but migration must be turned into a positive matter for all parties concerned.

I believe that everyone today is following with greater interest and seriousness what is happening in the natural environment. Climate change and its impacts affect all countries and all people on the planet. Experts predict that the consequences will be the most severe in the most impoverished countries, whose citizens are facing grave difficulties even in present circumstances. Climate change is linked to energy production and consumption. It will take worldwide action to combat the adverse effects of climate change, but personal choices can also make a difference. In environmental matters, we here in Finland and our neighbours have a special concern and responsibility for the state of the Baltic Sea. Cooperation in this area is off to a good start, and I myself will do my best to promote it.

Finland continues to enjoy rapid and robust economic growth. Productivity is up, unemployment is gradually decreasing, and the Government’s objective regarding the creation of new jobs is looking attainable. According to the World Bank, economic growth in the developing countries is also picking up, and globalization may well contribute to a reduction in poverty. Despite these positive messages, we are well aware that the benefits of globalization are still very unequally distributed, both between and within countries.

I have noted with pleasure that the Finnish debate on globalization strategy is continuing. We should not shun discussion, debate or even argument, as long as we keep our sights on our common interests and are able to shape our policies accordingly. Finland must be able to stand tall in international competition, and we must keep Finnish society fair and equitable.

Finland cannot observe world events from the sidelines. Achieving a fair global economy requires shared values and global ethics. Finland is, and should be, involved in building a more just world. This is morally appropriate and also in our own interests.

Finland has excellent relations with the Nordic countries and with our immediate neighbours Estonia and Russia. I consider it important to continue improving neighbourhood cooperation. Renewing the Northern Dimension partnership is a welcome development. With Finland’s membership in the EU, the whole of the EU has become our neighbourhood, and its Member States are not regarded as foreign countries in a traditional sense any more. EU matters have become part of our everyday lives, and people can move about freely within the EU. This will be made even easier when the Schengen zone is extended to the new Member States.

Yesterday marked the conclusion of Finland’s six-month Presidency of the European Union. We did a fine job. During Finland’s Presidency, the EU presented a more unified front than before in external affairs. We also helped attain many decisions that will have a favourable impact on the everyday lives of Europeans. I feel that Finland has every reason to be satisfied with our EU Presidency, and I would personally like to extend my thanks to the Government and to everyone who contributed to the success of the Presidency.

Our responsibilities in Europe and in the world have not gone away, however. As of today, Finland together with Germany and the Netherlands is in one of the two Battlegroups on standby as the EU rapid reaction crisis management force. The other Battlegroup now on standby is manned by France, Belgium and Luxemburg. Finnish soldiers have prepared carefully for this task. I am confident that they will perform any tasks assigned to them extraordinarily well, as indeed Finnish peacekeepers have been doing for the past 50 years in different parts of the world.

Fellow citizens, Finland is celebrating the centenary of universal suffrage. One hundred years ago, our nation became a pioneer in the cause of democracy and of equality between men and women. Even today, Finland remains at the cutting edge in many issues. Nevertheless, there is still much scope for improvement in gender equality, in working life and elsewhere in our society. We cannot afford to become complacent; we still have a lot of work to do to make our society fairer and more equitable.

Elections are an important component in a democracy. One year ago today, we were in the midst of a presidential election campaign, which brought up a number of important social issues and challenges. The essential message from you — my fellow citizens — was that the President must take an active role in the debate on matters in Finnish society. I have taken this to heart and have endeavoured to put it into practice.

I would like to thank you for the confidence you placed in me in the election and for the support you have given me in the past year. I would like to thank all the other candidates and their supporters too. The high level of activity during the elections gave it great social significance.

Now we are facing a choice again. A parliamentary election will be held in March, which is very soon. This election commemorates the 100th anniversary both of universal suffrage and of Finland’s Parliament. I strongly urge all Finnish citizens to take an active role. By asking the candidates about things that concern you, you make important issues out of them and you get to know the candidates in the process. Every vote counts. Make use of your right to vote.

I would like to wish you all a happy anniversary year of Finland’s independence 2007!



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