I would like to express my pleasure and satisfaction that this visit is now taking place. You, Mr President, and your delegation are warmly welcome to Finland. My predecessor President Ahtisaari made an official visit to Turkey in 1999. In summer 2004, I myself had an opportunity to visit Istanbul when I participated in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Summit.
Bilateral relations between Turkey and Finland are excellent. Mutual interest in each other’s country has long traditions – even our languages are said to be distantly related. This is year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Finnish author Mika Waltari. Istanbul was one of Waltari’s favourite cities and he travelled there on a number of occasions. The events of many of his historical novels – such as Mikael Hakim, the Wanderer in English, and Johannes Angelos, the Dark Angel in English – take place on the Bosphorus. These novels have also been translated into Turkish.
Expertise and social responsibility have an important role in Finnish thinking. Strong sense of moral and social responsibility led to the idea of a welfare state and its implementation at the national level here in the North. Finland has no major natural resources, and thus human resources are our most valuable asset. Therefore, we want to invest in education, training and lifelong learning and safeguard social justice in our country. These are key factors in terms of Finland’s international competitiveness, too.
Trade between our two countries has grown strongly in recent years, and in two past years the volume of trade has exceeded one billion euros. An increasing number of Finnish companies are interested in Turkey and some two hundred of them are already represented in your country. There is also a great potential for developing our trade further. This became evident also at the Turkish-Finnish Business Forum which was held today.
During the past few years, there has been a clear increase of interest on investments in Turkey. Between our two countries, negotiations have already begun on renewing the investment protection agreement. I hope, of course, that Turkish companies will be interested in investment opportunities in Finland.
Today, Turkey is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Finnish people. Almost one hundred thousand Finns spend their vacations in your country each year and numerous Finns have acquired holiday homes in Turkey.
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Turkey was granted the EU candidate country status during Finland’s first EU Presidency in autumn 1999. Our country has clearly supported Turkey’s aspirations to become a full member of the Union. Our policy continues to be the same.
The road to EU membership is long and requires a lot of work. It is a process that extends over electoral terms and in which strengthening of democracy and human rights hold a key position. This is true also for developing the rule of law and good governance. And furthermore, the full membership itself is a constant development process in which new, commonly agreed commitments are implemented.
We hope that you will continue your determined efforts to carry out reforms and amend your legislation to meet EU requirements in order to achieve your goal of a stable and prosperous country. From our own experience, we can say that it is important to keep the citizens of the country informed of the membership process. Finland built a special nationwide EU information network through which citizens could receive answers to their questions.
Turkey is an active and important regional actor. Turkey’s strategic position and role are essential, for example, in the West Balkans, in the Caucasus, in the Middle East peace process, or in the Middle East situation more broadly.
We consider most welcome the initiative that you, President Gül, took together with your Armenian colleague President Sarkissian for developing relations between the two countries. We wish both parties success and patience in this highly sensitive process, and hope that your initiative will also enhance a solution for the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh. As the holder of the OSCE Chairmanship, Finland gives her full support to Armenia and Azerbaidjan in reaching a lasting solution.
As a Black Sea country, you have followed closely the conflict in Georgia. The solution must come from the parties, but the support of the international community is also necessary. Once more, the importance of close cooperation between the European Union, the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe to guarantee regional stability has to be underlined.
In crisis management, the European Union and NATO should carry out seamless cooperation. Also, the political dialogue between the two organisations must be enhanced.
In the middle of upheavals in everyday world politics, we must carry out long-term work to deepen the dialogue between cultures and religions. Cooperation will help us promote tolerance and mutual understanding. Turkey has a key role in the work of the Alliance of Civilizations. The first meeting of the Alliance was organised in Madrid this January. We Finns do appreciate highly your active role in this work.
I have known you personally for many years. We have both represented our respective countries in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Mr President, I would like propose a toast to You and your wife, to the happiness and welfare of the Turkish nation and to friendship and cooperation between our two countries.