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Speech by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo at the Helsinki Security Forum 2023

Government Communications Department
Publication date 29.9.2023 16.03
A photo of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo

Speech by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo at the Helsinki Security Forum on Friday 29 September 2023. Speech to be checked against delivery.

Predicting the future is impossible. However, when we understand the changes taking place, when we know exactly what we want, and when we have the courage to do the right thing at the right time, we can have a great impact on our fate.

On 24 February 2022 we woke up to a new reality. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine shocked the whole world. It was also the reason Finland decided to apply for NATO membership. Today – less than two years later – we are full member of the Alliance.

Our membership will strengthen security and stability not only for Finland, but also for Northern Europe as a whole. As nation and as an Ally we are currently defining how our membership in NATO will look like. The Government will outline the result of this work in two key documents: the Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy and the Government Defence Report.

This work has only started. However, some facts are known to us. We are a Nordic country. We are an Arctic country. We are one of the nine countries by the Baltic Sea. We are a country with thirteen hundred kilometres of common border with the Russian Federation. We see ourselves shouldering a significant share of the responsibility for the entire Alliance’s security.

When we look at our membership, it will be crucial to ensure that the Alliance’s capabilities, which now include Finland’s capabilities, are strong enough to deter any threats – and strong enough to defend us in any possible scenario.

I would like to stress that we are determined to be a reliable partner to other NATO countries, to the whole Alliance. Finland will fully participate in the planning of NATO’s collective deterrence and defence. We are ready to give help to our Allies and to receive it. During the first months of our membership, we have been on a steep learning curve to find out what those commitments mean. To be a part of the Alliance is about how we can benefit the entire Alliance. So, a key priority for Finland is to have our neighbour Sweden around the same table as a full member of NATO as soon as possible. Because without Sweden, our membership is not complete. You have heard the Finnish political leadership say this before, but I want to stress that it is not just words. I have a clear message for you: it is with Sweden as an Ally that also we, Finland, can become an even better Ally in NATO.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has taught us some valuable lessons. First lesson is that when we are united, we are stronger.

When Finland decided to seek membership in NATO, we were united, and I am proud of it. It was the Finnish people who showed decision-makers the way to NATO. 

When Finland decided to give strong support to Ukraine, we were united. Now, more than 18 months after the start of the war, nearly 90 per cent of Finns continue to support Finland’s response to Russia’s invasion. This is the highest number in Europe and it strongly reflects the principled position of the Finnish people. And that is something I was proud to tell President Zelenskyi when I visited Kyiv a month ago.

In the European Union, when we have made decisions on both strongly condemning Russia’s illegal aggression and on our unwavering support to Ukraine, we have also found ourselves united. It is important to send a strong signal that we will continue to support Ukraine and its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity over the long term. 

The second lesson is that we have to keep developing our international defence cooperation. The United States is one of Finland's most important allies. Our goal is now to conclude the ongoing negotiations on the Defence Cooperation Agreement with the United States. The Agreement will provide an up-to-date framework for our cooperation. It will reinforce Finland's security and promote the fulfilment of our NATO membership obligations. Of the Nordic and Baltic countries, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania already have an agreement in place, and Sweden and Denmark are in the process of negotiating theirs.

The European Union is Finland’s most important political and economic frame of reference and community of values. Europe is now at a crossroads. We are entering a new phase, with an aggressive Russia trying to form new alliances, a rising China and a multipolar world. Even more than before, a strong, well-functioning and united Union will be vital for Finland.

My Government will be actively involved in building a stronger Union. This is my personal priority. Because the third lesson we have learned is that we will need more EU, but more EU that focuses on the basics. Again, our unity is our strength. We saw this during the pandemic. And we see it now, during Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine. However, we must not forget that Russia had started challenging the European security architecture already before 24 February 2022. For that reason, I am convinced that Russia will keep on challenging our security on a longer term. And to counter this, we will need a strong Europe, with a strong response. This is something I will discuss with president Macron when we meet next week.

We cannot build our security on the capabilities of our US allies only. Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security. We – the European countries – must reinforce our own capabilities. And the European Union must strengthen its resilience and its position as a geopolitical actor. Fortunately, we are now moving in this direction. This is important not only for the EU but also for our partners because a strong and well-functioning EU will also benefit them. And a stronger Europe also means a stronger NATO.

We must now take steps to reinforce the European defence industry. To do that, we must think how the innovations made in other sectors of the economy could support the defence industries. We need to improve our security of supply. We need to ramp up our production capabilities. And we need a sustained strategy which will enable the defence industry to plan for a longer term. In short: we need to take the European defence industry to the next level. 

Traditionally, the Finnish society has enjoyed a high level of safety and security. Our comprehensive security model is internationally unique and respected. But the world today is unpredictable and complex. This also means that we must become even better. 
We must make sure that the level of our preparedness and the resilience of our society will help us respond to new threats. To achieve this, my Government will carry out a review of how we currently manage our national security. And, if necessary, we will make changes to structures, administration and the forms of political guidance.

The Government will ensure that public authorities have sufficient powers and resources to counter threats that are identified in the national risk assessment, and to manage crises. I was the Minister of the Interior in 2016, when we suddenly saw a growing number of migrants entering the European Union from Russia. This was a good lesson: if we identify areas where our society is vulnerable to wide-ranging influencing activities by foreign states, those shortcomings can be fixed. In short: my Government will do nationally what is needed to respond to the demands of this new security environment.

I would like to underline that sustainability of public finances is also security. Finland can only take care of its commitments, including security and defence, and improve its capabilities if it is economically stable. This is why anyone concerned about our defence should also be concerned about public finances. 

I have said before that the strength of a small nation often lies in its agility – in Finland’s case, the ability to make our own choices quickly, even in difficult situations. But the strength of a small nation also lies in its ability to be united when needed.

Our society is based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our society is built on trust. This has been a crucial part of our resilience. The changing world and the new challenges facing us will highlight the importance of resilience even more.

In an open and democratic society like Finland’s, we must be able to engage in discussion – even critical discussion – on all topics. However, in these times the public discourse in our societies has become more and more polarised. We should remember that freedoms go hand in hand with responsibilities. And we should remember the value of listening to others’ opinions. Because if polarisation leads to us not having trust in society, we will lose a critical element of our strength. Because at the end, in addition to deterrence and defence, there is also a third D that is key to our security: democracy.