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Puhe Kööpenhaminan konferenssissa 8.12.2021

Presidentti Halonen piti 8.12.2021 puheen Kööpenhaminan konferenssissa liittyen Pohjoismaiden ja Färsaarten sekä Grönlannin ja Ahvenanmaan väliseen yhteistyöhön kestävän demokratian esimerkkinä.

Thank you for inviting me here today

From the outside, our five Nordic countries look very similar – we are like sisters, part of the same family. Of course, we ourselves see differences within the family.

We don’t have the same approach or same relations to NATO or the European Union, for example. But, the broad similarities that we share have made close cooperation possible. Nordic cooperation has been seen as quite a well-functioning example of international cooperation and it has unquestionably created stability and predictability in the region.

The autonomous (or self-governing) regions in the Nordic are not necessarily close geographically: the Faroe Islands and Greenland are actually quite far from Copenhagen. Åland, on the other hand, is located on the border of two neighboring countries. Close “family connections” in the Nordic region have however brought us close and facilitated the progress and development of Åland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, even if they are not geographically linked.

Finland has actually had her own experiences of being an autonomous region and same type of experiences are shared by our Nordic sisters Iceland and Norway.

I will first say a few thoughts about Åland. As you all know, Åland dispute between Finland and Sweden was originally solved by the League of Nations. Border disputes in general are not uncommon in this world. But, the way the border dispute was resolved in the question of Åland is actually quite exceptional. And frankly, it’s really rare that the solution, which was initially quite unpopular among the people in Åland, now enjoys almost undivided support.

This is not to say that there haven’t been any challenges. There has been issues on the way and will be in the future. In my opinion, this is natural. Autonomy is a living and ever changing relationship, like democracy in general. It tends to change and develop over time. If it does not change, there is a risk of the system freezing, even paralyzing.

People’s demands for democracy are changing. Similarly, international systems are changing too and different systems exist in parallel. The “Åland Islands Solution” is now 100 years old. But for example, European Union is much younger. These kind of complex and multi-layered systems create challenges for relations between the state and the autonomous regions.

Another interesting point is the fragmentation of democratic decision-making. For example the question, which decision-making powers belong to the state and what are delegated to the local level. Or, what decision-making authority is transferred completely to autonomous region without the emergence of an independent state.

Autonomy is based on cultural identity, and this has been the case in Åland as well. The obligation to guarantee Swedish language as the official language and the protection of land ownership are both specifically mentioned in the original decision.

I myself have been involved in shaping the position of Åland in two different decades. Discussions have never been simple or straightforward. I do not know the Faroe Islands or Greenland in the same way but concerning Finland and Åland, I dare to encourage (you / riket) to give more opportunities for different experiments. They could be useful for the development of the whole nation (Kingdom).

The “Åland solution” has been offered internationally as and example and use. There has been a lot of interest, but closer examination often reveals that the neighborhood relations of those states are not confidential or close enough to move forward towards similar solution. Keeping this in mind, we can once again be grateful for the good Nordic co-operation and the security and stability it has created.

Few words about sustainable development and tackling climate change, both issues close to my heart. Nordic countries continue to top the Sustainable Development ranking lists but there is still a lot of work to do. We have particular challenges in climate change action, over-consumption and the state of biodiversity.

Many of the Nordic autonomous regions are environmentally sensitive and the effects of climate change are particularly visible and serious there. As we know, the Arctic is warming the three times as fast as the Global average. Sea level rise, melting of the northern sea passages, biodiversity loss and marine ecosystems are areas of serious concern. At the same time, the know-how and active participation in these issues by the regions is strong. Åland, for example, has been very active in Baltic Sea questions.

This has also its political side. The intensification of political pressure in the Baltic Sea is also directly affecting Åland. Climate change has direct implications for geopolitics; the melting of the northern sea routes (Northeast Passage) are relevant and may have different consequences to the Nordic region as a whole.

Before closing, I want to note that I read with great interest the draft of the research piece from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (by Katja Creutz & Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark) and will listen with great interest the next remarks as well as the experiences of other Nordic people in the autonomous regions.

Thank you!