President Sauli Niinistö was surrounded by members of the media after the opening ceremony of the new parliamentary session on Wednesday, 3 February.Anyone who knows how to pronounce the word ‘asylum’ is allowed into Europe and Finland, President Sauli Niinistö stated in his address at the opening ceremony of the new parliamentary session on Wednesday.

“At some point, someone has to recognise that, here and now, we cannot fulfil all of our obligations under international agreements,” he said.

“International rules were drawn up and their interpretation [has] evolved under quite different circumstances. I am sure that if these international regulations, and the national regulations based on them, were drawn up now, their content would be fundamentally more stringent, while still taking account of human rights and helping those in need.”

“Europe cannot withstand uncontrolled migration for much longer. Our values will give way if our capacity to cope is exceeded. It so happens that good intentions are creating a bad situation for everyone,” he argued.

Policy-makers, in particular, have expressed their exasperation with remarks such as these in the aftermath of the opening ceremony, although Niinistö rushed to clarify that he is not urging Finland to breach international agreements. He emphasised according to Verkkouutiset that he sought mainly to call attention to how difficult adherence to international rules has become for member states of the European Union.

A number of policy-makers took to social media to comment on the remarks of Niinistö – some voicing their support, others their disapproval.

“I was astonished listening to the address of the President. The President attacked on international human rights and proposed that we no longer abide by our obligations to [promote and protect] human rights,” Emma Kari (Greens) wrote on Facebook.

“The President also indicated that human rights treaties are outdated and would not be adopted today. Well, the human rights treaties of the UN were drawn up in the midst of the latest similar humanitarian crisis. The difference was that the ones in need of help were Europeans. The ones fleeing were white Christians,” she continued.

Jouni Hemberg, the executive director at Finn Church Aid, told Helsingin Sanomat that he was terrified by some parts of the address.

Erkki Tuomioja (SDP), an ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs, was more understanding of Niinistö and estimated that it was not his intention to suggest Finland ignore human rights treaties. He also acknowledged that the address left many mystified.

“We are rightfully and understandably frustrated with the fact that some, if not the majority, of refugees are migrating for reasons other than the need for protection defined in international treaties. The attempts to curb this influx cannot be based on denying human rights or approving, even indirectly, any kind of hate speech or violence. They also cannot threaten the safety of even a single refugee in need of protection,” Tuomioja wrote on Facebook.

He added that it should naturally be possible to revisit, develop and amend international agreements.

“The Refugee Convention should not be amended, but it is necessary to oblige the European Union to process asylum seekers more efficiently and rationally and shoulder the burden together instead of violating the treaties already in place by moving the problem from one border to another,” he explained.

Niinistö similarly called attention to the importance of finding a joint solution to the problem.

“It has also been suggested that the International Convention on Refugees should be amended. This would be a slow process [that is] unlikely to solve what is an acute problem,” he estimated in his address.

“Europe is still seeking a balanced solution to the problem. Many governments are acting unilaterally, pursuing their own narrow interests or engaging in a display of defiance while issuing threats. At some point, someone has to recognise that, here and now, we cannot fulfil all of our obligations under international agreements. Most of the national proposals put forward are based on this realisation,” he said.

Niinistö urged the EU to face the facts and introduce a joint system to control its external borders and accelerate deportations to curb the flow of migrants – “thereby creating a safe space for those in the worst distress”.

The EU, he suggested, must nonetheless choose whether to protect its values and the people who are truly in danger or to inflexibly adhere to the letter of international obligations with no regard for the consequences.

An English translation of the address is available on the official webpage of the President.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi