Esteemed Representatives of the Estonian people,
It is a great pleasure for me to visit our neighbouring country Estonia again. Yesterday I talked with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip about the uniquely close relationship between Finland and Estonia and ways to deepen it further. We also discussed cooperation among the Baltic Sea countries and the development of the European Union.
I value highly the invitation extended to me by the Riigikogu to speak at this session. Interparliamentary connections have played a key role in developing relations between our two neighbouring countries and kindred nations. Our Parliaments began cooperation even before Estonia’s independence was restored. The Finnish Parliament’s friendship group with Estonia was established in April 1990. I myself visited the Estonian Parliament for the first time as an MP in September 1991.
Finnish and Estonian Members of Parliament have from the start found one another easily and worked together also in international connections, such as within the framework of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. I know this from my own experience.
The political relations between Finland and Estonia are excellent. Their basis is extremely lively interaction between our civil societies. The Gulf of Finland is crossed six million times a year for travel, work, family ties or hobbies. Thanks to cooperation between our universities and other educational institutions, the exchange of students is brisk. Freedom of movement has revived our traditional relations. Our countries’ membership of the European Union has further strengthened the affinity between our nations.
EU membership has also strengthened our countries’ economic integration. Southern Finland and northern Estonia already form a fairly tight economic area. Companies in neighbouring countries are often competitors on export markets, but in the case of Estonia and Finland they are more like cooperation partners. Around 3,000 Finnish firms operate in Estonia. This economic “bridge to Finland” has endured well also in difficult times.
Labour moves freely between our countries, and with economic integration we can expect that the number of people working in the other neighbouring country will rather increase. It is important also in the future to play by labour market rules and respect workers’ rights.
Madam Speaker, esteemed Members of Parliament,
I once had the pleasure to warmly welcome Estonia to the European Union. I hope that Finland can welcome Estonia also to the euro zone at the beginning of next year. Estonia will become our first neighbouring country which uses the euro as her currency. Estonia’s success and economic stability are important for us, and I believe that having a common currency will further increase our opportunities for cooperation.
Our countries’ integration is also proceeding in the field of energy supply. The power grids of Estonia and Finland have already been linked with a submarine cable. The opening of the Estonian electricity market is moving ahead and the EU is planning to provide significant financial support for the Estlink 2 project. In a few years a new cable between Finland and Estonia will connect the Baltic and Nordic electricity markets even more efficiently.
Increasing information and communications technology and the mobility of information are important cooperation areas in which Finland and Estonia are in the vanguard of international development. Several joint projects involving information and communications technology are under way in fields such as electronic identification, education and health care. In developing the information society we have a good opportunity to learn from each other’s experience.
Cultural ties have given interaction between Finland and Estonia unique content since the national awakening. After a long interval, cultural cooperation has rapidly flourished in recent years. Joint film and art projects also reach a broader audience than before.
The cultural agreement between Finland and Estonia will reach its 75th anniversary in two years. In this connection the material preconditions for cooperation should also be examined. A report prepared by a working group that was appointed by the Prime Ministers of Finland and Estonia proposes a joint cultural fund. It would be good to study how the financial basis of cultural cooperation could best be strengthened.
Finns’ and Estonians’ interest in one another seems to have further increased. This is clearly visible in historical research. Writers and film-makers have above all drawn inspiration from recent history. It is good to form a picture that is as truthful and complete as possible also of themes that were long kept silent.
Next year Tallinn and Turku will be the European Capitals of Culture. All over Europe eyes will turn to these cities’ fascinating history and rich cultural offerings of the present day. I wish Turku and Tallinn all the best in their Capital of Culture projects, which they are preparing in close cooperation.
Estonians and Finns often communicate with each other in English. Fortunately there are also those who want to experience the joys and surprises of learning a closely related language. We who belong to small language groups should support one another.
In Finland we have noted with pleasure that, according to the new syllabus, pupils in Estonia can now study Finnish as a second foreign language beginning in the sixth grade. In Finland we have not got this far. The University of Tartu is also filling a professorship in Finno-Ugric languages, which is important for both countries. The Finnish Institute in Estonia, which will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary, has placed special emphasis on providing further training for teachers of Finnish.
The Baltic Sea binds together Finns, Estonians and all the people in the Baltic Sea region. Concern for the condition of the Baltic Sea environment is also shared by all of us.
Protecting the Baltic Sea requires cooperation among states, public entities, businesses and NGOs. In February Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and I, together with the Baltic Sea Action Group, convened the Baltic Sea Action Summit in Helsinki, where all the Baltic Sea countries were represented. The implementation of more than 140 commitments began in Helsinki. This was an even better result that we had dared to hope for. In this connection I would like to thank the Estonian Government for a commitment to draft a comprehensive Maritime Environment Protection Act. I propose that in future we above all encourage young people to join in work to save the Baltic Sea.
The significance of the Baltic Sea as a route for energy transport has grown. The laying of an underwater pipeline that will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany and on to other European countries is starting. It is important that this project was discussed and its environmental impacts were investigated thoroughly before decisions concerning permits were made.
Investments in environmental safety must also be made in surface transport. All the Baltic Sea countries must maintain adequate capacity to respond to oil spills, and we must also be prepared to respond to accidents together. The treatment of wastewater in St. Petersburg is proceeding well. At the Helsinki summit it was confirmed that a wastewater treatment project in Kaliningrad is also getting under way on the basis of international cooperation.
As a result of enlargement the Baltic Sea has also become more important for the European Union. The development of the Northern Dimension and the implementation of the EU’s new Baltic Sea strategy are tools that the EU should use effectively in cooperation with non-members.
Cooperation among the five Nordic countries has great significance for Finland. It is important that Estonia as well as Latvia and Lithuania have developed good relations with their Nordic neighbours at both the parliamentary and governmental levels.
Cooperation has also been developed among all the Nordic and Baltic countries. The Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers hold regular consultations. The Baltic countries joined the Nordic Investment Bank in 2005. The bank has provided loans for important projects in the public sector. The opening of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ mobility programmes to students in the Baltic countries has also worked well.
It is important to continue the expansion of Nordic-Baltic cooperation. Cooperation should also be intensified in the field of foreign and security policy and in promoting other common interests in the European Union.
Estonia’s and Finland’s foreign and security policy cooperation also works well between our Parliaments. The Foreign Affairs Committees and Defence Committees meet regularly. Training cooperation between our Defence Forces, which began in the 1990s, has been useful. Finland and Estonia belong to a battlegroup that includes Sweden, Norway and Ireland. This battlegroup will be on standby next time during the first half of next year.
Finland and Estonia are both working to bring stability to Afghanistan in very challenging conditions. The meeting of NATO foreign ministers that took place in Tallinn two weeks ago discussed the transfer of responsibility for security from the countries participating in the ISAF crisis management operation to the Government of Afghanistan. At the same time, a political solution and progress in the reconciliation process should be promoted. It is also necessary to ensure the human rights of women and girls. Rebuilding Afghan society must proceed on the basis of gender equality. In Afghanistan as well as other crisis areas, comprehensive support is needed through the means of development cooperation, humanitarian aid and civilian and military crisis management.
Madam Speaker, esteemed Members of Parliament,
The nature of cooperation between Finland and Estonia changed decisively when Estonia joined the European Union six years ago. Within the EU cooperation most often takes place around issues. Finland and Estonia have often promoted the same causes. Both have emphasized the significance of an efficient internal market. Estonia and Finland also have similar views on how to ensure small countries’ representation in the European External Action Service, which is being organized.
In a changing world Finland and Estonia face regional and global challenges to which we are seeking answers bilaterally, within the framework of Baltic Sea cooperation, as EU partners and as members of the UN. Finland and Estonia have steadfastly developed their cooperation in all forums. I wish to thank the Riigikogu and all of you, esteemed Estonian Members of Parliament, for your crucially important work to develop relations between our two countries.
The Riigikogu Press Service
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