The Spirit of Sälen: Sauli Niinistö’s views

Sauli Niinistö, the President of the Republic, opened the annual session of the Finnish parliament this week. His opening speech is available in full length here: swe / fin.

Finnish domestic politics is quite turbulent at the moment, with e.g. a large-scale, structural reform on municipalities. However Niinistö begins, not in Finland, but with “The Arab spring, Syria, and now Ukraine”. In all countries, a seemingly strong regime has been confronted by the opposition. In a fast changing world, what seemed unthinkable a week ago, or even yesterday, is suddenly a reality. What lasting effects these uprisings will have is still open, but unfortunately one of the common factors in all cases so far have been that extremist movements are trying to use the situation for their own purposes.

The president also points out that another common fact in all countries is that there is no “Enlightened despotism”, sooner or later, people have had enough of living under oppressive rulers.

On the underlying causes, the president notes that we, in Europe as well as elsewhere, have the large differences between the ‘have’ and ‘have nots’. He also warned against excess borrowing, and the damaging effect on public morale and social stability even minor sins can have if it is felt that the leaders of the society doesn’t care to follow the same rules as the common people.

Towards the end it gets really interesting. Niinistö spoke about what he calls the “Spirit of Sälen”. This, he explains, is the recognition by politicians and officers in both Finland and Sweden that as countries, we have common interests in the fields of national security and defence-related questions, and that we want to meet these together. New areas for co-operation are charted out by the defence ministers of both countries, and our aim is to handle these questions through the EU in coordination with each other. Also, the evolution of our respective partnerships with NATO is largely coordinated, and we strive for a common pace in this field as well.

“No cooperation can take the place of a nation’s own defence forces, and neither is that the purpose. However, through cooperation a nation’s defence is strengthened.”

The president also noted the need to meet the growing cyber-threat, and that updated legislation is needed. On the discussion on what level of funding is needed in order to maintain a credible defence, Niinistö stated that it is important that the discussion continues up until the coming parliamentary elections (April 2015), so that a solid base of information then is available for the new cabinet.

Interesting to note is also the continued emphasize on defence cooperation with Sweden, and the echoing of General Puheloinen’s views that NATO-membership would not make further cuts in the Finnish defence forces possible. Finally, the president used rather strong language with regards to Ukarine, by calling it an uprising and mentioning it together with countries such as Libya, Egypt and Syria. The intended audience was probably the Finnish parliament, in an effort to try to urge Finnish politicians (and in the long run the EU) to take a firmer stance on the issue.

To wrap it up, I think it is safe to say that the renaissance of the national security debate Sweden has seen in the last year is starting to ‘leak over’ into Finnish politics. Perhaps 2014 will be the year the Finnish defence discussion will reach a new level, and not just be the questions of Yes or No to NATO and general conscription. Although far from certain, re-adjusting the defence spending after 2015 back to level needed seems politically possible.