2015 AS Plenary Sauli Niinisto Finnish PresMinister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Timo Soini addresses the opening plenary of the OSCE PA Annual Session, 6 July 2015. (courtesy of Hanne Salonen/Parliament of Finland)HELSINKI, 6 July 2015 – Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Ilkka Kanerva (MP, Finland) recalled the OSCE’s past, assessed the OSCE’s present, and looked to the OSCE’s future in keynote addresses at the opening plenary of the OSCE PA’s 2015 Annual Session in Helsinki today.

VIDEO is available here.

In Finlandia Hall, the site of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act forty years ago, President Niinisto addressed nearly 300 parliamentarians from more than 50 countries in attendance.

“The most urgent task is to end violence in Ukraine. As postulated in the Helsinki Accords, both Moscow and the capitals in the West agreed to refrain from the use of force and respect the sovereignty of countries and inviolability of borders. These points are as valid today as they were 40 years ago. Or they are even more valid now, when these principles have been violated. They must be the basis for our actions today and tomorrow,” he said.

“We need Russia to carry out its responsibility to secure peace and honor those decisions made here, in this very house, in 1975. If we do not act again to build mutual understanding, if we fail to learn from our mistakes, and if we fail to construct that bridge again, we might see more anniversaries of mistrust than I care to predict,” President Niinisto continued.

The President also underscored that maintaining the strength and unity of the OSCE will prove crucial in helping to address common security challenges such as instability in the Middle East and North Africa and climate change.

In wide-ranging remarks, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini offered comments on the decision by the government to enforce European Union visa bans against several Members of the Russian Delegation to the OSCE PA who had registered to attend the Annual Session.

“It is clear that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is affected by the current situation. I wish to stress that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly plays a crucial role in seeking solutions to the current crisis… It is unfortunate that not all Delegations are here today. As there are EU sanctions in place, we have followed the rules we have agreed to… Let me tell you, if you are frustrated, so am I,” Minister Soini said.

The Foreign Minister emphasized the importance of fostering the political will needed to fully implement the Minsk Agreements aimed at a resolution to the conflict in and around Ukraine.

He also emphasized arms control, the implementation of human dimension commitments, co-operation on environmental issues, mediation capacity and gender equality as areas that he the OSCE must prioritize to realize its full potential.

“Finally, the OSCE must continue incorporating the civil society in to its work – also in other areas than the human dimension. History teaches us a lesson. Would the follow-up to the Helsinki Conference of 1975 have been left only to the governments, the Berlin Wall might still be up and standing. Big changes and a big push came from the grass-roots. It grew from civil society,” Minister Soini added.

OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva, a former OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and the longest serving parliamentarian in the history of Finland, welcomed parliamentarians to the second OSCE PA Annual Session that his country has hosted.

Kanerva recalled the “hard negotiations, hard concessions, and more than a little bravery” that culminated in the signing of the Helsinki Final Act four decades ago, but expressed concern about recent developments.

“I am afraid that recently in the OSCE area, far too many fundamental promises have been broken. The crisis in and around Ukraine has shocked us all,” President Kanerva said.

“As parliamentarians, we all believe in constructive dialogue and the co-operation and initiatives that result from it. That dialogue does include Russia, just as it includes all of our other participating States. But at the same time we cannot close our eyes. We have to see at the moment just how far events in and around Ukraine have taken us from the ‘spirit of Helsinki,’” President Kanerva continued.

“Recalling the spirit of Helsinki” is the theme for this year’s Annual Session.

President Kanerva noted his intention to approach the European Union to discuss how the sanctions regime can affect the work of the OSCE PA and other assemblies.

Later on 6 July, the OSCE PA President, Secretary General Spencer Oliver and several experts will present the Final Report of the PA’s Helsinki +40 Project. The Report contains wide-ranging ideas for reforming the OSCE on the occasion of the Helsinki Final Act anniversary.

President Kanerva described the Assembly’s initiatives to improve the effectiveness of the Organization as “a good start towards a new generation for the OSCE – the OSCE 2.0.”

Secretary General Oliver also addressed the Assembly, recalling his more than 40 years of involvement in the Helsinki Process, including in the preparations for negotiating the Helsinki Final Act as early as 1972.

For full speeches, photos, documents and information about the 2015 Annual Session, visit: http://www.oscepa.org/meetings/annual-sessions/2015-helsinki-annual-session.

LIVE STREAMING of the Session continues on www.oscepa.org.

Follow news from the Session using the Twitter hashtag #PAHelsinki15.