Speech by Secretary of State Torstila in FinnFest USA 

Speech by Secretary of State Pertti Torstila in FinnFest USA, an annual festival to celebrate Finland, Finnish America and Finnish culture, in Hancock, 21 June 2013.

Finland’s Role in the World Today

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends of Finland,

It is really special for me to be here in Hancock and to talk about Finland’s role in today’s world. This is the time of year when Finns enjoy going to the nature, celebrating the white nights of Midsummer, “Juhannus”, as we call it. Here, in the beautiful Hancock setting, surrounded by people who hold Finland and Finnish-American ties close to their hearts, I truly feel being in the family.

 I would like to begin by quoting from Proclamation 5704, signed by President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress in September 1987, recalling the deep historic roots of friendship between the United States and Finland: "Finnish settlers first arrived in this country in 1638, when Nordics, many of them natives of Finland or Swedes who spoke Finnish, established the colony of New Sweden in present-day Delaware. They introduced European civilization to the River Valley and began the transformation of a vast wilderness. Theirs were the pioneer spirit and virtues that are the foundation of our national character".

Your ancestors - 350 000 Finnish immigrants - who came to this country before the Finnish independence, were people carrying along few material possessions but great hopes for a better future. It was not easy to leave everything behind and jump into the unknown. These people were people of great courage, who believed in their own abilities to build a better life in a new country. They also shared a common desire to take part in building a grand new nation.

Today, the bond between Finland and the United States is strong, politically, economically and in people-to-people contacts. We are close and valued partners to each other in all areas, including trade, technology and investment. The United States is the most popular destination for Finnish exchange students, and there are more and more American high school students who want to spend their year abroad in Finland. Last year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Fulbright Agreement, a highly esteemed program which has made so many Americans aware of Finland and created lifelong friendships.

At a recent Nordic gathering, Vice-President Joe Biden spoke eloquently about the special relationship between our countries. Finns and Americans have always shared the firm belief in the blessings of hard work. We share common values and ideals. We both have had a fair share of difficult times, but we were never defeated. When you ask a Finn to explain his country he will most likely begin by reminding you that Finland is a small nation. Sometimes this is said with pride: look how much we have achieved although we are small. Or it can be said defensively: you should not expect too much from us, we are only a small nation. But we know that smallness often creates opportunities to be quick and agile, and agility can be a source of strength.

The II World War years belong to a distant past. One cannot, however understand the Finnish story and Finland’s foreign policy, without knowing the history of Finland’s wars in 1939-1945. Nothing has shaped the Finnish identity more than the fact that we survived. The war welded together the Finnish nation which the Civil War had divided. Our defence held and we stopped the Red Army twice, in 1939 and 1944. Finland emerged from the war a crippled nation, exhausted and having suffered serious losses. Hundred thousand dead, another hundred thousand disabled, 12% of the territory lost and rest of the country bombarded and damaged. More than one tenth of the population, over 400 000 Finns were evacuated from the lost areas and relocated inside Finland. Heavy post-war reparation deliveries to the Soviet Union had to be paid and we did not receive the Marshall Aid.

But the war had not been fought in vain. Thanks to the resistance we avoided the fate of our Baltic neighbours. We were free. The country was not occupied and we could start building the war-torn land as a sovereign, free nation. These experiences strengthened the Finnish sense of independence and the tradition of relying on one's own capabilities.

During the Cold War Finland’s international position was closely linked to the East-West division. In that context Finland’s neutrality served us and others well. Our economy grew and we integrated steadily into the Western markets, OECD, EFTA, and finally the European Union. Finland’s growth was based on the forest industry but began to diversify and branch out to innovations in high-tech, electronics and information technology. In 50 years from the ashes of the WW2 Finland evolved into the Nokia Land.

Bridge-building became the hallmark of the Finnish foreign policy. Regardless of a stormy history we managed to develop active and well working relations with the Soviet Union and today’s Russia. Our over 800 miles long border facing Russia belongs to the most stable of all Russia’s borders. A central pillar in the Cold War Euro-Atlantic cooperation was the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the CSCE in the 1970’s. We Finns felt strongly as policymakers in the historical Helsinki Process. The original Soviet plan destined to cement the post-war borders of Europe and the gains of Stalin were modified in the CSCE. Finland was among the countries who insisted that the Conference should not be confined to borders only but should also open the avenues of cooperation, including in the area of human rights. "Security is not achieved through erecting fences but by opening gates", President Kekkonen declared in the Finlandia Hall in 1975.

The CSCE Helsinki Accords played an important role in the evolution of relations across the Iron Curtain and contributed greatly to its demise. In 1989 the curtain fell, the Soviet Union disintegrated and communism vanished. The Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended. The enlargements of both the EU and NATO served the twin goal of stability and prosperity in Europe. Finland was actively supporting the process to rebuild the continent, "Europe whole and free".

International peacekeeping, crisis management and mediation have been key components of the Finnish foreign policy. Over 50 000 Finnish men and women have served in the peacekeeping operations all over the world. President Martti Ahtisaari’s long standing efforts in peace mediation and conflict resolution were granted the highest possible recognition in 2008, the Nobel Peace Prize. The United Nations is the key instrument of multilateral cooperation for Finland and our contribution to the UN peacekeeping increased again as we returned to the UNIFIL operation in the explosive Middle East. Finland is an advanced partner in NATO led operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan and we are prepared to contribute to the follow-on mission in Afghanistan also after 2014.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The European Union is arguably the most successful peace project in world history. It defines itself in terms of values and upholds and promotes these values in its relations to the wider world. The Union has united a continent torn down by disastrous wars, to build over adversities and divisions and to create a common future based on shared sovereignty and common institutions. For all this the Nobel Peace Prize was accorded to the European Union, and I think rightly so.

The economic crisis has dominated the overall picture in the European Union and the euro zone for the last four years. It was caused by too much public debt and a banking crisis in member states. The difficulties are not yet over, the situation in many countries is still vulnerable, but since the beginning of this year financial markets in the euro area have shown improvement and the outlook for the euro is stable. We are working hard to keep this course. We have agreed on temporary and permanent European financing mechanisms to help vulnerable member countries and are making progress on creating a robust European banking supervision so that similar situations can be avoided in the future.

Financial crises do not go away without political and social aftereffects. Youth unemployment in many parts of Europe is a major cause for concern. Europe needs stronger economic growth. Europe needs to exploit its key advantages, namely a big internal market – the EU is the world’s biggest economy – and knowledge. Europe’s future lies with its well educated people.

The debt crisis exposed major differences between the economic performance of EU member states. Too little attention was given to competitiveness and keeping public deficits in check. A painful correction is taking place and the most vulnerable member states have had to make harsh adjustments. However, we are starting to see some green shoots in Ireland, Portugal and other countries. Recovery is on its way.

Finland has gained greatly from being part of the European single currency and we are deeply committed to the European integration and the euro. Our stake in the euro is both economic and political. At the moment much attention is given to handling the economic problems but the EU is much more. During the past 60 years European integration has created unprecedented peace and stability in our continent. It would be wrong to reduce the European unification to economics alone. Huge benefits stretch across national frontiers. Europeans can live, work, travel and study freely across the continent.

Enlargement of the union has consolidated democracy and created a zone of peace and prosperity for nations which still a few years ago were in difficulties. That new countries aspire to join the EU and the euro, shows that current challenges can and will be overcome.

We must get Europe back to the path of economic growth but we have to do more. We have to get Europe on the move again. We have to convince the Europeans and the young people in particular about the importance of our historic peace project, and the unique achievements of the European integration. Financial austerity may give an impetus for intensified cooperation, deepening integration and better pooling and sharing of resources.

Finland’s own economy has varied between growth and contraction ever since the crisis began. We encounter similar problems to other European economies: ageing population, sluggish growth, persistent unemployment, an underdeveloped services sector and companies seeking a competitive edge. Economy has been hurt in Europe where austerity has weakened the demand for our exports. Exports account for about a third of our output and we are a staunch supporter of free trade. The multilateral trade negotiations are moving slowly and therefore the EU must build strong free trade relationships with our important partners. A free trade agreement with the United States would strengthen the most important economic link in the world.

For us budgetary discipline has been and is key to strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union. To ensure that all member states abide by the rules is essential. We also believe that every country is responsible for its own economy. We must strike a balance between solidarity and responsibility. Solidarity cannot mean handing over responsibility to someone else. Or that the EU should become a project of joint liability in larger scope. Only national governments and parliaments can cut deficits.

The credit rating agency Moody’s has stated that Finland’s AAA credit rating – the highest available - is stable and this outlook reflects a track record of government achievements in fiscal reform. Finland is the only country in the European Union that has never breached any of the Maastricht fiscal criteria – a 60% ceiling for public debt in terms of GDP and a 3% limit on yearly public deficits. It is also the only AAA-rated euro area country with a stable rating outlook.

Dear friends,

The Northern European countries; Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, share strong communality based on same values, history, culture and geography. For centuries these countries have been interlinked in peace and war. There is a strong popular support in enhancing the cooperation in all areas of human activity. In hockey and football we support our national teams but when our team is out, your Nordic neighbor becomes the next to support. And through Nordic jokes we keep up our understanding of where our strengths and weaknesses are. We also share a common feeling of solidarity – a need to help each other when necessary. This was witnessed in Iceland’s economic problems when the other Nordic states agreed to loan nearly two billion euros to help Iceland’s struggling economy. People not only trust each other, they also hold their national institutions, the police, the legal system and the state in high esteem.

To the outside world the Nordics are known as a block brand, thus making us stronger and more visible than we would be as single, individual states. Significance of the High North and the Arctic regions is growing. Together we want to raise our profile as experts in Arctic issues.

Our societies belong to the most prosperous countries with healthy and long-living populations. The Nordic countries occupy top positions in various country rankings from economic performance to welfare and happiness. The economic performance has been much stronger than the OECD average. The total nominal gross domestic product of the Nordic five is larger than India’s, while our population is 48 times smaller.

There are many compelling reasons for paying attention to the Nordic countries. Finland, for instance has the best education system in the world. Finnish schools and teachers have received so much international attention that we have a constant flow of international delegations visiting Finland eager to learn how we do it. Our education system is free and guarantees equal opportunities for all children in basic education, irrespective of their social and ethnic background and gender. Our teachers are trained, valued, respected and motivated. Another success factor besides education is gender equality. No society can thrive without the full participation of both men and women. Finland was the first country in the world to allow women the right to vote and to stand for elections, and I’m proud to tell you that we have a government with a female majority.

In the course of this speech I have made an effort to paint a picture of Finland as reflected in the mirror of today’s world. Madeleine Albright once described the Cold War image of world politics as a chess game between two players, one board, clear rules and decisive checkmates. This is history now. Today’s international politics is multidimensional and without clear sides, fully agreed rules, unambiguous victories or any defined end point. The players shift as do relationships among them. The present financial crisis is a stark reminder of how politics and economics are intertwined in the world today. This world is more secure than before in the sense that there is no risk of a major confrontation between major powers. Today however we all are more interdependent of each other and the political environment is not risk-free. In this complicated world true friends like the Finns and the Americans have found perfect ways to work together. The Finnish-US bilateral relations are great. Our goal is joint prosperity and we want to get on the game and innovate in every aspect.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude with words of thanks to the organizers of this event, the FinnFest Board, the City, the Finlandia University and people of Hancock and this region. In my speech I have drawn your attention to the achievements of the small countries on the edge of Europe. I did this with pride and I want you to share this feeling with me. I have also spoken about the difficulties and looming risks because together we can overcome them. Ever since the first Finnish settlers came to these shiny shores of the Great Lakes, America has beckoned Finns as a land of opportunity and innovation. The pioneer spirit and the Finnish "sisu", tenacity, which I so strongly sense present here today are a wonderful combination. In the midst of the present economic crisis, these same virtues of entrepreneurship, creativity and spirit of renewal, are very much in demand.

I want to say a special thank you to the people who have so wonderfully helped us to keep up-to-date on the FinnFest: our Honorary Consuls Jim Kurtti and Marianne Wargelin, as well as the always helpful Andrea Hautala McAleenan. It’s a huge effort, and I know you have been working tirelessly to make this event the joyous occasion that it is. It has been just great for me and my wife to come to celebrate Midsummer with you. 

Thank you for your attention. Hyvää juhannusta! Happy Midsummer!