Joining Nato was ‘final step’ into Western community, new Finnish president says

1 March 2024, 18:44

Finland President Inauguration
Finland President Inauguration. Picture: PA

Alexander Stubb has been sworn as Finland’s new president.

Alexander Stubb has been sworn as Finland’s new president and said that the Nordic country “is facing a new era” after becoming a Nato member — something he will demonstrate by making his first foreign trip to inspect the military alliance’s drill in neighbouring Norway’s Arctic region.

The 12-day Nato exercise is called Nordic Response and begins on Sunday. Mr Stubb has said that he will go for one day, on March 7.

Finland President Inauguration
The new President of the Republic of Finland Alexander Stubb attends his first press conference at the Presidential Palace (Emmi Korhonen/Lehtikuva via AP)

“If someone had told me two years ago that the president of Finland would make his first working visit to Nato exercises a week after his inauguration, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Mr Stubb told reporters.

The former prime minister, 55, replaced president Sauli Niinisto, who held the job for two six-year terms.

Mr Stubb, a conservative, was elected head of state in a narrow February 11 runoff victory against independent candidate and former foreign minister Pekka Haavisto.

Mr Stubb has held several government posts, including foreign minister, and led the Finnish government in 2014-2015.

He and Mr Niinisto arrived together to the 200-seat Eduskunta legislature. Mr Stubb took his oath in Finnish and Swedish, Finland’s two official languages, becoming the country’s 13th president since it gained its independence from the Russian empire in 1917.

Finland joined Nato in April following Russia’s 2022 attack on Ukraine. It has the military alliance’s longest land border with Russia — 1,340 kilometres (830 miles) — and is one of the most active European providers of military and civilian aid to Ukraine.

Mr Stubb said in a speech that “as a result of allying ourselves militarily and joining Nato we have taken the final step into the Western community of values” to which Finland has belonged “in spirit throughout its independence”.

Finland President Inauguration
The new president of Finland Alexander Stubb greets the public from the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Helsinki (Emmi Korhonen/Lehtikuva via AP)

The president of Finland, a nation of 5.6 million people, holds executive power in formulating foreign and security policy together with the government. The president also commands the military.

In remarks at the Presidential Palace to the diplomatic corps, Mr Stubb noted that “we live in an era of unrest and disorder”.

“The things that were supposed to bring us together — interdependence, trade, technology, energy, information, and currency — are now too often tearing us apart,” Mr Stubb noted.

“As a result, in my mind, we are now looking at a landscape which is shaped by pretty much three dynamics, which are co-operation, competition and conflicts.”

Mr Stubb said that as Finland’s new head of state, “I will do my best to make sure that conflicts are translated into competition, and that this competition provides genuine opportunities for co-operation.”

Mr Stubb is expected to remain above the fray of day-to-day politics and stay out of domestic political disputes while acting as a moral leader of the nation. The president appoints the prime minister and Cabinet members.

Finland President Inauguration
New president Alexander Stubb with former president Sauli Niinisto (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

Mr Niinisto said in a speech that “there is concern about the future of Nato,” and referred to a comment by former US president Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination this year, that he once warned a Nato ally that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries in the alliance that don’t spend enough on defence.

“The comment ‘they must pay their bills’ was probably drafted for domestic use,” Mr Niinisto said. “It is high time to awaken to securing the state of peace, in other words, to strengthen ourselves.”

Speaking to Mr Stubb, Mr Niinisto said: “I wish you strength and wisdom in these unpredictable times.”

Until recently a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, Mr Stubb holds a doctorate in international relations from the London School of Economics.

“Even though the world seems to be in chaos right now, we should not despair,” Mr Stubb said. “Fear is the worst possible guiding principle in foreign policy.”

Working together globally is necessary, otherwise “we cannot mitigate climate change, solve conflicts, boost the economy, enhance wellbeing or manage immigration,” Mr Stubb said.

By Press Association

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