President Sauli Niinistö opened the last parliamentary session of the electoral term in the Parliament House in Helsinki on Wednesday, 2 February 2022. (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)

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PRESIDENT Sauli Niinistö on Wednesday opened the last parliamentary session of the electoral term by drawing attention to serious challenges clouding both the domestic and international situation.

“The coronavirus continues to test us. The threat of war is growing at the borders of Ukraine, and Russia is challenging the foundations of European security,” he stated in the Parliament House. “The geopolitical situation has changed rapidly. The list of demands presented by Russia in December aims at a fundamental change in the structures of European security.”

Niinistö viewed that Finland is not under a direct military threat, but the country is hardly unaffected by the situation because mounting tensions at the border of Ukraine are reflected across Europe.

No one, he underlined, can turn a blind eye to the situation.

He called attention to the importance of internal trust within the Finnish society. “Finland’s first and foremost line of defence is found within the national borders – and between the ears of the people living here. We must be able trust one another, to trust each of us to do our share, according to our abilities and capacities.”

The president welcomed the launch of parliamentary co-operation on reforming the emergency powers act as a “necessary initiative in this time and age”.

“However, the outside world and its events will not necessarily wait until we have taken the time to put our preparedness and laws into order. It is not wise to make haste slowly in all matters,” he emphasised.

Niinistö also called on lawmakers to make sure the newly established well-being services counties live up to their lofty name despite early challenges – namely, the low voter turnout in the first-ever county elections.

“The circumstances were far from easy for both the candidates and the voters,” he acknowledged. “The newly elected members of county councils will start their work for building the well-being services counties. If, and hopefully when, they succeed in their work, our well-being will improve. And where well-being improves, citizens will also have more trust and interest in common issues.”

The Parliament is ultimately responsible for this, too, as the counties are reliant on funding disbursed at the discretion of national lawmakers.

“Pressing a button in this hall doesn’t bring money or wealth.  Finland needs both economic growth and balancing of public finances. One of the promises of the health and social services reform [which established the counties] was that it will help in reaching the latter goal. We also have the right to expect it to deliver on that promise.”

Matti Pesu, a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute for Foreign Affairs, told Helsingin Sanomat that the president continued his tradition of verbalising international policy to Finns.

“It has been his role to verbalise international policy to Finns, even though we also have a minister for foreign affairs, minister of defence and prime minister,” he said. “If we think about the message to lawmakers, given that the remarks were made at the opening of the parliamentary session, the president stated that the situation also concerns Finland and that no one can close their eyes to the situation. This emphasis can be regarded as significant.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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