St. Petersburg Legal Forum
Remarks by President Tarja Halonen
Round Table Discussion, 18.5.2016
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opening words. It is a great pleasure to be in St. Petersburg again. I thank the organizers of this Round Table Discussion and the Legal Forum very much for the invitation. I was not able to participate in this Forum last year as I had to be at the graduation ceremonies in Harvard University where I had been a visiting fellow during the spring 2015.
My last visit to St. Petersburg was one and a half years ago. That visit focused much on the environmental side of Finland’s and Russia’s cooperation. We share the Baltic Sea, we are both Arctic countries and we have a long common land border, so there are many issues especially concerning the environment where we need to work together.
I will briefly speak about the past, present and future. But, let me start by the future.
We now have a new framework – The Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 – within which we can work both bilaterally and multilaterally on environmental issues, but also on many other pressing challenges that our societies face. As well known, the globe is round and individual countries alone cannot tackle all the problems that cross borders and affect nations far apart. That is why the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreements are so important.
The SDGs provide an integrated whole. I call it the modern trinity: economic growth is welcome and even needed, but it has to be growth with substance that provides decent jobs and creates wealth that is distributed in a more just way. Economic growth also has to respect planetary boundaries and the health of our environment.
The SDGs concern all countries and their successful implementation requires the involvement of the civil society and the private sector in addition to governments and international organizations. One new key aspect of the SDGs – compared to the Millennium Development Goals – is also how they will be monitored and measured with indicators. I strongly believe that through the understanding we have of development today and the tools and resources we have available, we will be able to reach a more sustainable, prosperous and just future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wanted to start by mentioning the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement because I consider them to be very relevant also in the light of today’s discussion. The theme of this panel “The heritage of Speransky: actual questions of lawmaking and codification” is very relevant to us not only when we discuss national contexts, but also when we look at how the world on a global scale is trying to tackle pressing issues by coming together to agree on – and in a way codify – better practices, norms and laws to enable the development of more sustainable societies.
Count Mihail Speransky was a statesman who among many accomplishments codified Russian law and developed Russian governance structures. He understood that relying only on good will of the elites or those implementing a complex unorganized legal code was not enough to ensure good governance and the rule of law. The specific questions he faced where of course different from today, but the principles in which he believed in have mostly stood time.
I have been asked many times to describe the state of our world in one word. I would say that we live in times of uncertainty. This feeling of uncertainty comes up in discussion everywhere with people of different origins. Globally or locally felt uncertainty is a product of lack of trust and of poor governance and lawlessness among other challenges that we face. I have been involved in the Advisory board of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2017, which is titled Governance and the Law, which deals precisely with this question. Congratulations for having chosen a theme which is so very relevant all over the world.
The SDG also set governance and the rule of law as priorities when we try to build more equitable, just and prosperous societies. The legacy of Speransky can be looked upon with admiration. However, as he was – precisely – a son of his times and even though he admired the French discussions, he did not consider the role of representative institutions and governments to be of the same importance and statute as we do today.
Anyhow, he was a progressive reformer of his time in matters of law and governance. Today we need global rules for financial transactions as well as carbon emissions as much as we need for example anticorruption and environmental laws on a national scale – these are in everyone’s interest. A modern society is healthier and more prosperous when legal systems are clear and laws codified and implemented.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now a few words about the past. Mihail Speransky is also a key figure in the 19th century history of Finland. Speransky rose from humble origins to become the closest adviser of Alexander I.. He was the first Secretary of State for the Grand Duchy of Finland and the Chancellor of the Imperial Alexander University in Turku from 1809 to 1812. He was the person through whom all matters concerning Finland where presented to the Tsar and he was very much involved in the drafting of the rules for what later became the Imperial Finnish Senate.
Speransky fell out of the Tsar’s favor in 1812 and was deported to Siberia, but came later back to important state positions during Nikolai I. During the latter part of his career his major accomplishment was the codification of Russian law.
One could say that he had a strong influence on the positive sentiment that surrounded the decisions of Alexander the 1st when Finland became a Grand Duchy of Russia. An interesting detail is that Speransky had a street named after him in Eira, Helsinki up until 1928. 70 years later in 1998 it was reinstated.
The time of autonomy gave Finland time to build its own administration and governance. It was not always under easy circumstances. However, some of the deep scars were not a result of the period of autonomy, but rather the wars of the 20th century. Wars have happened and we need to overcome the divisions. Wars do not bring peace. In today’s world it is of outmost importance that law and international law is respected. If and when transition of land from the control of one entity to another happens, law has to be respected.
Freedom of expression is yet another global challenge. And it is a topical issue in the north as well as in Finland and Sweden this year is dedicated to the 250th Anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Act, which was published in 1766, and its promoter Anders Chydenius. This was a big step for freedom of expression.
To briefly return to this day, UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day was celebrated in Helsinki just two weeks ago. Finland was ranked for the seventh year as number one country in the world for freedom of the press. It is not a coincidence that Chydenius was from Finland.
Well, an interesting turn of events between Finland, Sweden and Russia took place when the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act were weakened by the King Gustav III and his successor before Sweden lost the war against Russia in 1809 and Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy. The weakened Act remained law in Finland also under Russian rule. After the lost war, many progressive reforms were made in Sweden, but that did not touch Finland anymore. However, the Finns enjoyed more freedoms that what Russians did.
The last years of the 19th century were restless in Russia and the efforts of Nikolai II became too late. Then the half a century as a communist state brought different ideas to Russia than what developed in Finland and more generally in the west.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There are shorter and longer cycles in the economy, but also in politics and the development of societies. Good governance, democracy and law are part of a longer cycle more generally, and that is why Speransky is relevant.
I will stop here. I am very interested to hear what the other speakers have to say about the legacy of Speransky and I look forward to continuing the discussion.