Finland – 100 years of independence

Katajanokka, on the last day of the year 2017

This year Finland has celebrated the 100th anniversary of its independence. Particularly good at these celebrations for us Finns has been the increased awareness of our own history which has grown through the numerous seminars, writings and evaluations of the “Story of Finland” and its key characters during past 100 years.

Finland became an independent republic in the aftermath of the First World War and maintained its democracy in difficult circumstances both during the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War period as a neighbor of the ”great and mighty” Soviet Union. The key factor underpinning this road stems from our being part of West – first 700 years as Swedes of the eastern part of the Swedish Empire, and when this part as a result of the loss of Sweden to Russia at war, became the Autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia for 1809-1917, Finland could keep its own laws from the Swedish time and also develop all its own central government institutions (incl. own money) even before the declaration of independence on the 6th of December 1917.

When we joined the European Union in 1995 and then adopted among the first members the euro, we can say that we are firmly established where we belong. We are members of all Western democratic communities – with the exception of the membership in the NATO.

In the light of history, Finland can be called a success story: Over a hundred years Finland has been evolving from a poor agrarian society on the edge of Europe to be one of the world’s most prosperous nations and democracies, as confirmed by all key indicators. This is due to hard work and investing in education and innovation – all resources have been utilized to achieve for all citizens a high standard of living..

How about now. Like other Europeans and world citizens, Finns are worried about globalization, digitalization, consequences of artificial intelligence, global warming, migration waves and increasing threats to security.

How do we respond to these many challenges? Our success has been based on ability to renew and flexibility. This is our strategy also for future. We must continue to take care of maintaining our high expertise, we much study and work hard. As a small open economy, we have always understood the importance of free international trade. The EU and the internal market are naturally important to us for trade policy and economic reasons, but today’s environment it is also the EU’s values that need more attention and defense: the rule of law and democracy. Their importance become clear at the latest when going beyond our borders to the East: there these values are no longer self-evident. Autocratic developments in Russia worry.

In Finland we understand that we as a small country of only 5.5 mill. inhabitants cannot alone meet the many challenges ahead – and in the globalizing world this is the case even for bigger countries. Many challenges do not respect borders of nation states. Global problems require more global contracts, global rules – and as a consequence less national sovereignty. We need to make more cooperation and integrate in the EU. In spite of populist and nationalist tendencies taking place during the past ten years I believe that the European movement will strengthen when we only get rid of apathy. For this, the EU needs courageous and passionate advocates and actors who are determined to seek and spell-out the well-argued roadmap for secure life: economic infrastructure and solutions to ensure the well-being of citizens; to implement the climate agreement, to step in the roots of security issues, and immigration, etc. Taking into account the development prospects on other continents, the EU must also take a clearer role and responsibility globally. The EU members need to get rid of short-termism and picking of raisins, and seek for common solutions. The European project has no choice but to go ahead. Those who are doubtful should look at the birth history of the EU. In the ruins of Europe, there were decisive individuals who started the process of integration, which has resulted in Europe of peace, prosperity and stability already for 70 years. It is our duty to act so that this way of living is also possible for our children and grandchildren.

We have presidential election in Finland in the coming weeks. The Finnish President leads the foreign policy together with the Government. It is delighting that, in my view, the debate is more open than in previous times about the Russian situation and also the NATO -membership question. Although the EU issues are not really part of the mandate of the President (but of the Government / Prime Minister), the important role of the EU is also well recognized in the debates by major candidates.