Alexander Stubb: 90 years - A Good Beginning!

On May 30th 2009 we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Finland and the United States. Looking back, we see the history of our relations based on shared values and traditions. We see a history of two great countries and also a history of people with courageous minds and strong perseverance.

The first Finns arrived in America as early as 1637.  During the next centuries hundreds of thousands more followed.  Settling into the Northern states and earning their living in mining and logging, the Finns soon gained a reputation as a strong and solid work force with fearless minds.

Today, we see a great amount of goods, people and ideas moving high-speed across the Atlantic. The connections between our countries are manifold and spread to all sectors of society. The United States and Finland are both known as countries with excellent knowledge in high technology.  Also, the cooperation and transfer of ideas in this field has been of great importance for both countries.

Over the years, thousands of Finnish students and scholars have studied in the American universities. They have expanded their knowledge in various sciences but also in cross-cultural understanding, which in my view is at least equally important.  Starting from personal contacts and building into networks, the gains of these exchanges are countless. There is also a broader picture in this: the knowledge of individual people becomes a larger capital. This increases greater understanding of each other, both here in Finland and also in the United States, and at the same time about the global challenges we both are encountering.  

The student and research exchanges can also be examined as part of a larger economic picture. In a recent study of ETLA, the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, commissioned by the Foreign Ministry, it was noted that only 7 percent of Finnish students who were registered abroad studied in American universities, as compared to Sweden with 24 percent and to the OECD countries in general with 30 percent.

The result is quite surprising, since the United States is known to have the best universities in the world (13 out of 20 of the world's most prominent universities are in the U.S.). It is also a country which invests more money on research and development than any other country in the world. Therefore, in Finland we have an important task in our hands. We need to encourage our young people to reach out and take advantage of the brilliant possibilities that the American universities offer.  In this the Fulbright program offers great opportunities.

This year we have a lot to celebrate. In addition to the 90th birthday of our diplomatic relations, the ASLA-Fulbright program turns 60. Congratulations on that! We have a great year ahead of us, since there also is a new administration in the United States, which  offers us a fresh start and new possibilities to enhance transatlantic partnership both bilaterally and through the EU.  Let me say, the air is full of excitement and good expectations for the future.

Let's all celebrate!

Alexander Stubb
Minister for Foreign Affairs

Photo: Pekka Mustonen/www.alexstubb.com

Published in the Fulbright Center News 1/2009