Eero Heinäluoma: Milestone in Finnish-American Cooperation

This sixty-year anniversary of the signing of the Fulbright Agreement between Finland and the United States marks an important milestone in Finnish-American cooperation.

The Fulbright program started in 1946 after the U.S. Congress passed the law on selling surplus U.S. government war property to fund international exchange between the U.S. and other countries. When Finland joined the program in 1952, it was still a rural society with a fairly limited amount of international exchange, but the war years were over and Finland was gradually returning to the international scene. Understandably there were some limitations to our foreign policy options and this made it all the more important to utilize other, softer foreign policy instruments.

Since its birth, the ASLA-Fulbright Program has brought more than 3500 Finnish students and researchers to the United States – quite a respectable number for a small country. More than 1500 American students, scholars and professionals have had the opportunity to study in Finland and take home experiences that we hope are both academically useful and memorable.

Science and education have been international in nature well before the age of globalization, and exchange in these fields offers people the unique opportunity to experience the culture and society of another country while belonging to an international community of researchers, students or teachers. It is safe to say that in addition to all its academic merits, the Fulbright program has also had an important role in strengthening ties between Finland and the USA, and in creating lasting networks in so many important fields, from the academic world to culture, trade and politics.

On a general level, it is of utmost importance for us that Finland remains an interesting partner for the USA. We need to ensure that the quality of our education remains high on all levels. We also need to continue to invest in research and development to ensure that we can produce results and innovations that contribute to a general spirit of cooperation.

I would, for example, like to see much more direct interaction between Members of Congress and Members of Parliament in Finland and other Scandinavian and European countries. This is an area where there is still room for new networks, perhaps especially among the younger generation of political leaders. Joint meetings and seminars on central topics could contribute to a deeper understanding between our continents, and also help us maintain a political environment in which our common democratic ideas and values remain closely connected. I would like to see Finland in the forefront of strengthening the transatlantic relation.

In Finland, as in the U.S., we highly value mutual trust and cooperation. As a Finn, and a former Finance Minister, it is still heart-warming to hear how some Americans remember Finland as the only European country to pay back the loan it received from the United States after the First World War. The payments were made even during the difficult war years. Indeed, when the U.S. Congress decided to channel the repayments it received on its loan into scholarships for Finnish students, it was a substantial tribute to Finland as a trustworthy partner.

Eero Heinäluoma
Speaker of the Parliament of Finland

Published in the Fulbright Center News 2/2012