Economic and Financial Committee (ECF) dinner
Helsinki, 10 June 2016
As we all know, 9th of May in 1950 Robert Schuman made his great proposal, drafted by Jean Monnet, to create a coal and steel community. A year later six founding members signed the Treaty of Paris, which founded the basis for the new union. Many of those countries are here today.
Finland was far away, in a divided Europe. When did we have the first contact with this process? It was by chance in the spring of 1953. Robert Schuman had left the French Government earlier in the same year due to a political crisis.
At the same time the Foreign Trade Association in Finland wanted to have a famous guest speaker. An active press counsellor of the Finnish embassy in Paris met by chance former minister in a social occasion and passed him the invitation. There is no one who has an emptier calendar than a fresh former minister. So Schuman accepted the invitation right away.
When the Foreign ministry in Helsinki heard about this, they wanted to cancel the invitation, but it was too late. When the visit finally took place, the Government decided not to devote any official attention to Robert Schuman.
As expected, the visit created a strong negative reaction from the Soviet Union. A week later, Pravda wrote that the visit was undeniably connected with discussions against stepping up trade between Finland and the Soviet Union.
President of the Republic, Juho Kusti Paasikivi, however, received Schuman and wrote in his memoirs: "I explained my own view and the position of Finland. He understood it well. Schuman is indeed an intelligent and charming man."
This was 53 years ago. Europe was deeply divided into two hostile blocks.
Finland followed European construction from a distance, if at all. The destiny of this country has always been linked to the relations between great powers.
We have been "a land in between".
Culturally, Finland shows many influences. We have got much through Stockholm, and from famous German university towns. Architecturally, the neo-classic centre of Helsinki resembles St. Petersburg.
As a political entity, Finland had emerged as a result of the Peace Treaty of Tilsit, in 1807, negotiated by Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I (en francais). Napoleon encouraged the Russian emperor to conquer Finland from Sweden. Alexander I succeeded and established the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, where he ruled as constitutional monarch – although he remained an autocrat in Russia.
Important institutions of this country were developed during the autonomy, long before independence.
Among them, the Bank of Finland was established in 1811. It is the fourth oldest central bank. Finland obtained its own monetary system in 1860. It was seen as a means of integrating the country's monetary system with the European monies. The currency, markka, was defined as being equal to the French franc in metallic content.
In 1906, 110 years ago, Finland became the first country in Europe to grant universal suffrage to all women, still being a part of Russian empire.
Finland became independent in 1917. Independence was followed by three months of tragic civil war. However, the democratic institutions survived and did not cease to function, even during the Second World War.
Jean Monnet never came to Finland. But we had something in common with him: He was a cross country-skier as all the Finns are. He developed his great idea about Coal and Steel Union during a two-week cross-country randonné on the Alps. When he skied the whole day, it cleared his mind and in the evening he put the ideas on paper. In two weeks the project was ready and he passed it to Robert Schuman.
During the war, Jean Monnet often repeated that there could be no peace in Europe, if the nation states continued to be structured around the sort of sovereignty that leads to politics of national privilege and economic protectionism.
Coincidentally, the same J.K. Paasikivi also wrote during the war that the limitation of raison d’état is the question upon which hinges the future of not only small states, but also the large states, and humanity as a whole.
Ultimately, Monnet and Paasikivi were talking about the same thing.
Finland joined the International Monetary Fund early. But the tensions between super powers went fast high and our margin of manoeuvre all but disappeared.
In 1960 UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal created EFTA. Finland was able to join a year later, with a special association agreement.
But in 1973 the UK moved on to the EEC, Denmark followed. Finland had to find an arrangement with the EEC. This led to a free-trade agreement with the EEC.
In the end of the cold war the window to relations to the West opened and Finland used it early 1992. The president of the republic Mauno Koivisto said in his famous speech that we want a seat around the table where the decisions are taken. Finland wanted to become a full member of the European Union.
What is most essential in the EU? It is that the guiding principle is law, not force. Legitimacy and the rule of law govern relations between member states.
The task of the European institutions is to monitor legality and compliance of all activities with the EU treaties.
Finally, taking into account the history of Finland, a small country, so often shaken by the storms of our continent, it is no surprise that Finnish European policies - from the very first day - have been community-oriented and supporting strong common institutions. We have all had our internal challenges later, but I still believe that this is the majority opinion.
Two years ago President Mauno Koivisto, who had opened out path to the EU, had his 90th birthday. President Koivisto said on his birthday that he belonged to the generation who had to fight for independence during the war. Later his generation worked for European Integration. They were ready to pool the sovereignty with others, to have more influence. And he continued: “This happened. The pessimists were wrong.”
Another great Finn from the same generation, Max Jakobson, has more than anyone else explained the history of Finland to the international readers. The most famous of his books is called “The diplomacy in the winter war”. His daughter told in the funeral of her father about their joint walk in 1997, when Finland had been a member of the EU for two years. “Listen, just during recent times I have understood, that for the first time in her history Finland is genuinely independent,” Max Jakobson had said.
Being a member of the European Union has given us a say in many areas. We are more than ever before in our history there where the decisions are taken.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear friends,
We are having this dinner in the house of the National Opera. Music, from classical to metal rock is a corner stone of our cultural life. But you will not hear rock today.
Instead you will hear later tonight one of the famous songs of Jean Sibelius, A Dream of the Night. The singer is a great soprano Mari Palo. But she will start with a jewel among opera arias, a Song to the Moon in Rusalka, by a Check composer Antonin Dvorak.
And she will finish with a well-known peace from My Fair Lady. The musical was composed by Frederic Löewe, who was born in Berlin from Austrian parents. He moved to the US in his early 20’ies.
I want to wish you warmly welcome to dinner!