President of Finland

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 24 January 1996

Madam President, distinguished members of parliament, I thank you and your predecessors for your invitation to come here to the parliament of the Council of Europe. I consider it a great honour to be able to appear before this body, the first Parliamentary Assembly in the process of European integration.

The charter accords the Parliamentary Assembly an advisory role only. Yet I have noticed that, with the ability characteristic of parliamentarians, you have assumed a considerably more important role, which has manifested itself above all in the skill with which you have piloted the Council towards true pan-Europeanism.

More than fifty years ago, with the second world war still in progress, Winston Churchill spoke of a council that should be created once the war had ended and which, as he put it, “must eventually embrace the whole of Europe, and all the main branches of the European family must some day be partners in it.” Today, we are already close to that goal.

When Finland joined the Council of Europe just over six years ago, after nearly three decades of close co-operation with it, we became its twenty-third member country. Today the membership is already thirty-eight, and by the time this session ends I hope that it will de facto be up to thirty-nine.

That enormous change in the membership has naturally meant new challenges for the Council. It has stretched resources to the limit, but it has also given the Council the opportunity to perform its original task – that of spreading the European values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights to every part of our continent.

Tomorrow, when the Council deals with Russia’s application for membership, I am certain that it will be conscious of the historic significance of the decision. We have all followed with dismay the drama in Pervomayskaya and the resulting tragic loss of lives. There is no justification for hostage-taking and terrorism. But innocent civilians must be protected in all circumstances, and excessive force must be avoided. The crisis in Chechnya can be resolved only through peaceful means. It needs a political solution, not a military one.

We know that Russia’s civic societies were to a large extent destroyed during the communist era. It is evident that the democratic process needs time to take root. Russia is undergoing a wrenching change. The recent elections attracted a fair participation and reinforced the democratic process.

In its post-cold war form the Council of Europe has become an important part of the European security structure. Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe will advance democracy in Russia and stability in Europe. Exclusion of Russia will not advance those aims.

I welcome the interest that the United States has shown towards the Council of Europe. It is important that it has become an observer here, and we expect a lot of that arrangement.

Europe has changed, and change continues. The traditional perception of security emphasised military factors. Today we should consider security in broad terms, including democratic aspects and the dimension of individual rights. First, security should be based on co-operation not on confrontation.

The revolutionary political development in Europe has opened a new channel for preventive action. No longer must we necessarily be confined to solving crises after they have erupted; instead, we can consciously try to prevent them from happening.

The concept of democratic security, adopted at the Vienna Summit as the Council’s guiding principle, is not an empty phrase but a reality that should be given more content. The Council’s programmes, by means of which democracy, the principle of the rule of law and the implementation of human rights are supported in member countries are the best possible form of preventive diplomacy. By creating an area where the values represented by the Council prevail, we shall build a stable and predictable Europe.

In this building work, the so-called Halonen Order, developed within the framework of the Parliamentary Assembly, has its own central function. When I commend you for your initiative, I recognise that this activity has been a central inspiration to the Committee of Ministers to create its own monitoring system. The monitoring systems created under the auspices of the Council are internationally unique. They provide an opportunity for the development of a real dialogue with member countries, a dialogue through which development can be influenced and real changes accomplished.

Rather than shying away from this opportunity to develop monitoring systems into genuine instruments of change, we should grasp it. We now have a unique opportunity to build a European area of common values and we may not be offered that opportunity a second time. By that, I do not mean that we should create a single common culture, but that we should create an area where democracy and human rights prevail, and where we respect difference and understand each other – an area that all people, both minorities and majorities, find a good place to live in.

In the work of the Council, the Human Rights Commission and the Court of Human Rights are of central importance by virtue of their defence and promotion of citizens’ rights. However, enlargement of the membership is posing completely new challenges for the Council. The development of the system – that is, merging the Commission and the Court to create a new court – will indisputably add to the efficiency of the system. Nevertheless, one can ask whether this will be sufficient in the face of the new challenges.

Just over five years ago, as we were entering a new decade, the combined population of the member countries of the Council of Europe was just over 400 million. With Russia’s accession, the total will reach almost double that figure – more than 750 million. I find it quite understandable that there is concern in the Commission and in the Court. Can one really assume that the system will cope with such a large expansion without special measures? Should, after all, new means and alternatives be given fresh consideration? Might it be time to revive the question of a Council ombudsman, an ombudsman who would work in close cooperation, especially with the ombudsmen in the new member countries? I know that this matter has been discussed by the Parliamentary Assembly on several earlier occasions.

The events in Bosnia have certainly not left any of us indifferent. Ethnic cleansing and mass murders should not belong in the Europe of today.

The Council of Europe has striven to solve problems by developing legal instruments for managing them. The Organisation’s achievements are considerable. There is, nevertheless, the minority question, an area in which the results achieved to date are not adequate.

Europe has always been a place where different cultures and peoples meet, a home of creative minds and open debate. The diversity and multiplicity of expression that we encounter in Europe has always been a cause for pride. The same multiplicity of expression can be seen in all the Council’s member countries. There is not a single country in Europe whose culture is not the product of different and colliding influences and one could hardly find a country that does not have some minority or other.

For that reason, I am convinced that we all share the concern that the importance of resolving minority questions be recognised. I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to say that the future of Europe depends on how we are able to solve this problem. We must be able to show that citizens speaking different languages or belonging to different ethnic groups are capable of living together within the same state.

The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, both drafted by the Council, and the principles set forth in relation to minorities by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe are important steps in the creation of a Europe that is secure for all, but they are not enough. They simply do not define with the requisite clarity and in sufficient detail minority rights and how those rights should be protected. We should strive to discharge the task that the heads of state gave the Council in Vienna in 1993 – the task of drafting a separate protocol on the cultural rights of minorities.

I have taken the liberty of speaking about the minority question at some length because I believe that we know something about the matter in Finland. There have been problems in our country too, but we have been able to solve them. Our country is bilingual. We consider it self-evident that the Swedish speaking part of the population has the same rights as the Finnish-speaking part, and we are convinced that this is a wealth for us. We have solved the Aland islands question by guaranteeing the islands an advanced degree of autonomy, which has demonstrated its vitality over the past seventy-five years. We have guaranteed the Sami population in Lapland the right to use their own language in education and in their dealings with the authorities. The Romanies and their culture are constitutionally protected. All those solutions speak for themselves and indicate that it is possible to solve questions relating to minorities and that solving them lies in states’ own interests. Only a minority that feels secure and believes it is accepted as part of a nation can participate wholeheartedly in the work of nation-building.

I know that the Parliamentary Assembly – all of you – have been concerned about how the Council of Europe will be able to cope with the challenges facing it. The tasks with which the Council must deal are enormous, but the resources available for that work are, it must be admitted, modest. I share your concern. Building a new, secure Europe will require resources. I hope that we shall be able to find them in order to implement the mandate approved in Vienna.

Finland has been a member of the European Union since the beginning of last year. The decision to join was preceded in my country by an extensive debate. It cannot be argued that the outcome was a foregone conclusion, even though I was among those who argued for a positive decision. One thing that was never questioned in the course of the debate was our commitment to building a unified Europe.

The Council has the same goal. We should together strive to build a Europe that is undivided, safe and open, which respects citizens and their rights and which shoulders responsibility for our common future.


Thank you very much, Mr Ahtisaari, for your most interesting statement. Members of the Assembly have expressed their wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. Colleagues showed good sense in that respect yesterday. Colleagues should ask questions, not make speeches. To ensure that we can have a really good discussion, I propose to allow supplementary questions.

The first question is by Mr Solonari.

Mr SOLONARI (Moldova)

The leaders of Finland are known for their unanimous attitude towards the countries of the former Soviet Union and for their favourable attitude towards European integration extending eastward to include the countries of the former Soviet Union. Do you think that the present- day generation in those countries envisage that some day they will become full citizens of Europe? Do you think that the old dream of Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals will be realised?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

Do you, Madam President, want me to observe the thirty-second rule?


No, but many of my colleagues will be able to ask questions if you do so. It is understandable to want sharp, precise answers.

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

I know from my experience of the United Nations that it is contradictory to ask someone to be brief after they have had years of experience of speaking at some length. Seriously though, when Finland decided to join the European Union, we did not think that we would be the last ones to be admitted. We feel very strongly that if we want to advance security in Europe, we have to get economic and social development going. In that sense, logic demands that countries want to join.

You mentioned countries that have not even applied for membership of that particular organisation. My personal experience is such that I believe very firmly

and would even if I were the president of a country that did not have a border with Russia – that if we want to influence development, we must include people in debates. The only way in which change occurs is when words become accepted principles. In Finland – you have heard what I have had to say concerning membership of the Council of Europe – we apply that same principle and try to advance it in all the organisations with which we are involved.


Do you wish to ask a supplementary question Mr Solonari?

Mr SOLONARI (Moldova)

No. I thank you, Mr President, for a brilliant presentation and a very interesting answer.

Mr CHYZH (Ukraine) (interpretation)

asked what the prospects were for the development of the relationship between Finland and Ukraine.

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

Thank you for the question. Not so long ago, President Kuchma was due to visit Finland, but we decided to postpone his visit until 9 February because we both wanted to attend the memorial service in honour of President Mitterrand in Paris. I did, however, have an opportunity to discuss matters with President Kuchma and I am very much looking forward to exchanging views with him when he visits Finland. I see many possibilities. We have only just started the process of cooperation, as the president agreed when we met in Paris. The role of Ukraine is extremely important in the overall context of Europe.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, you are aware of the border disputes in the former Soviet Union – in the Baltic states, Moldova, the Caucasus and central Asia.

Do you think that the Council of Europe can do anything to help defuse or even resolve them?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

May I say, first, how nice it is see you again. I remember warmly our meeting in your country.

It is important that you also consider the possibility of assisting these two countries in solving the border issues. My government and the border guard system of Finland have for some time been co-operating with both the Russian and Estonian border guard systems. We organised meetings in Finland with the professionals on a number of occasions. Subsequently they met without our presence, which was very much welcomed by my colleague President Meri and others. Having been involved with trying to solve other problems in other parts of the world, I know that it is extremely useful to get the professionals together. They realise that they have to control the borders, even if politicians have not yet agreed where those borders should be. What I have heard from all parties and what I have experienced myself has been positive. If the Council of Europe could be of any assistance in that process – I have heard that there is interest in doing so – I would warmly welcome it.

Mr GJELLEROD (Denmark)

Coming from a Nordic country, I know the importance of cooperation in the Baltic region. What is your view on reinforcing Baltic co-operation? Do you think that the Council of Europe could contribute?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

Last week I went on a state visit to Lithuania. I have now visited all the Baltic states. All Nordic countries closely co-operate with all the Baltic states. I hope that in due course co-operation in the Baltic sea area will receive the same support and arouse the same interest in the European Union as programmes relating to the Mediterranean region. I do not think that the Nordic countries alone should be left to advance that process. I am sure that other countries are also anxious to join the effort. I see only a positive role for the Council of Europe in the advancement of cooperation. On subjects such as the environment, for instance, an enormous workload lies ahead. That is now recognised by everyone, so there should be greater involvement.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

Frankly speaking, Mr Gjellerod’s question included a significant part of what I was going to ask, so I shall switch to another issue. By and large, Finland has played a very active role for years in foreign affairs policy. How would you depict your experience of your first year’s membership of the European Union? We Poles, as well as those in some other countries who have a special application status, are very interested in your experience.

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

We have made no secret of the fact that we regard our experience during the first year as positive. When I was interviewed by The European the other day, I was branded as a Euro-enthusiast. I do not object to that. We had good negotiations and we are prepared to share our experience with the new applicant countries. Indeed, we have said that. That might be useful because our experience is so fresh.

We have become convinced as a small nation that not everything depends on size and the number of votes. Ideas are more important. We are aggressively advancing both our interests and pan-European interests in that context.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

What is the Finnish approach to the enlargement of Nato?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

That is a matter for the distinguished members of Nato. Finland is not, of course, a member of Nato. Nevertheless, we have observer status in the North Atlantic Conference on Security in Europe. We have signed the Partnership for Peace agreement. In other words, we have a collaborative arrangement and relationship with Nato.

It is for the member states of Nato to reach decisions on new applicants. Whenever enlargement is considered those involved should always ask themselves whether the process will enhance the security of Europe. We have emphasised that every country that wants to join should be considered. There should be a right to apply for membership.

Finland is not seeking membership of Nato. We have relied on our independent defence. We have said that we shall combine that independence with active participation in peacekeeping and crisis management exercises. We have decided to participate in the operation in the former Yugoslavia.

Mr KORAHAIS (Greece)

It is well known that multilateral co-operation in Scandinavia has been developed within the framework of the Nordic Council and the Council of Baltic States. How does your country, Mr Ahtisaari, think that the regional co-operation to which I have referred could contribute to the accomplishment of the European Council’s objectives?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

My basic approach is that the more co-operation that we can develop, the better. I cannot say anything more about co-operation between the Nordic countries and the Baltic states. If we have that combined approach of broader participation in the Baltic sea area, we shall be supporting the efforts of the Council of Europe. I see the Council as a positive addition in trying to solve problems in the area.

Mr SCHLOTEN (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, Finland joined the European Union a year ago, but it is not a member of the Western European Union or – as you yourself said – Nato. What role will Finland play in Europe’s future security structure, especially when Maastricht II is being negotiated, and closer co-operation on a common foreign and security policy for the European Union is being discussed?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

We wanted immediately to have observer status at WEU so that we might participate in debates. I hope that our observers will be allowed actively to contribute to debates in future. We know that the matter is being discussed.

We are not opposing membership of either Nato or WEU. We wish further to develop ideas. We want to participate in discussions at WEU. We feel that our participation in Partnership for Peace is a good thing. By bringing former adversaries together and ensuring that they work together, we shall deal with crises far more effectively than in the past. We should fully utilise the possibilities that stem from participation.

We are following debates and discussions between governments and between political parties. We also have regard to work produced by research institutes. I read many research papers on the topics that have been raised by the question.

We feel rather comfortable with the arrangements that we have decided to follow. As I have said, we are relying on independent defence, combined with active participation in crisis management and peacekeeping. We have enacted a new law – there were only a few dissenting voices – that will enable us in future to participate in Unprofor-type operations, as under the United Nations in former Yugoslavia. More than 30 000 Finns have served in peacekeeping activities. We have opted for independent credible defence. Perhaps our historical experience has influenced us somewhat. Any military man or civilian who knows about defence matters will be convinced, I am sure, on visiting my country, that we are capable of handling our defence. We did not bring any defence problems to the European Union. As I have said, we shall maintain our active participation in other areas.

How will the relevant organisations develop in the next five years? That depends on the present membership and pan-European security developments. Obviously we must consider developments in that light. Our policy is as I have stated.

Mr HEGYI (Hungary)

As you know, Finnish- Hungarian cultural co-operation and friendship have a long tradition and worked well even during the cold war. However, now that Finland has joined the European Union and Hungary has changed to a market economy, we speak less about the cultural ties between the two countries and their people. Mr President, how do you see the future of Finnish-Hungarian cultural, scientific and linguistic co-operation?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

I can assure you that you will find in me warm support for all types of co-operation between Finland and Hungary. I am even more convinced about that since my state visit to your country last year. I do not think that the changes that have taken place will in any way affect our bilateral relationship, which is based on historical contacts that are deep-rooted in both societies. We have enormous knowledge of each other. Indeed, I wish that every other member state represented here had such knowledge of my country, and vice versa. I see possibilities, and I think that very interesting ideas are being developed at the moment.

Mr KORAKAS (Greece) (translation)

Allow me to say once again, Mr President, how happy we are to welcome you here. We greatly appreciate the role which you and your country are playing in normalising international relations and helping to secure a durable peace.

One of the questions discussed in the report, “In a changing world”, which was submitted to the Finnish Parliament last year, was the connection between stability and human rights.

In your opinion, Mr President, what policy should the Council of Europe adopt in this field to ensure that human rights are protected in one of our member countries, Turkey, which has attracted some strong criticism in this area?

Mr Ahtisaari, President of Finland

It is extremely important that human rights are discussed, whether by old or new member states. It is also important that when we discuss monitoring arrangements here, we do so in such a way that it contributes to the advancement of democracy and human rights in all countries, whether they are new or old member states. It would be useful if such monitoring covered all member states. Personally, I do not believe that we can achieve any useful results if we demand that only new member states are scrutinised and that dialogue should be carried out only with them. However, I would emphasise the importance of dialogue.

You referred to my previous work within the United Nations. My experience is that we wasted an enormous number of years not daring to enter into dialogue in, for example, southern Africa. I think that we could have solved the problems sooner, but somehow we decided that it was better to be principled than to enter into more demanding dialogue. I think that it is important that I outline my experience in these matters as it has clearly influenced my thinking.


If anyone else wishes to ask a question, a few minutes remain. Everyone has been very brief; would anyone like to ask a spontaneous question? That is not the case.

That brings us to the end of questions to Mr Ahtisaari. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his statement and for what he said in answer to questions.