Sauli Niinistö

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Sauli Niinistö
Niinistö in 2022
President of Finland
Assumed office
1 March 2012
Prime MinisterJyrki Katainen
Alexander Stubb
Juha Sipilä
Antti Rinne
Sanna Marin
Petteri Orpo
Preceded byTarja Halonen
Speaker of the Parliament of Finland
In office
24 April 2007 – 27 April 2011
Preceded byTimo Kalli
Succeeded byBen Zyskowicz
Minister of Finance
In office
2 February 1996 – 17 April 2003
Prime MinisterPaavo Lipponen
Preceded byIiro Viinanen
Succeeded byAntti Kalliomäki
Deputy Prime Minister of Finland
In office
13 April 1995 – 30 August 2001
Prime MinisterPaavo Lipponen
Preceded byPertti Salolainen
Succeeded byVille Itälä
Minister of Justice[1]
In office
13 April 1995 – 2 February 1996
Prime MinisterPaavo Lipponen
Preceded byAnneli Jäätteenmäki
Succeeded byKari Häkämies
Leader of the National Coalition Party
In office
Preceded byPertti Salolainen
Succeeded byVille Itälä
Member of the Finnish Parliament
In office
21 March 2007 – 19 April 2011
In office
21 March 1987 – 18 March 2003
ConstituencyHelsinki (1999–2003)
Southwest Finland (1987–1999)
Personal details
Sauli Väinämö Niinistö

(1948-08-24) 24 August 1948 (age 75)
Salo, Finland
Political party
Marja-Leena Alanko
(m. 1974; died 1995)
(m. 2009)
RelativesVille Niinistö (nephew)
Alma materUniversity of Turku
WebsiteOfficial website
Military service
Allegiance Finland
Branch/service Finnish Army[2]
Rank Captain

Sauli Väinämö Niinistö (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈsɑu̯li ˈʋæi̯næmø ˈniːnistø]; born 24 August 1948) is a Finnish politician who has served as the 12th president of Finland since March 2012.

A lawyer by education, Niinistö was Chairman of the National Coalition Party (NCP) from 1994 to 2001, Minister of Justice from 1995 to 1996, Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2003, Deputy Prime Minister from 1995 to 2001 and the NCP candidate in the 2006 presidential election. He served as the Speaker of the Parliament of Finland from 2007 to 2011 and has been the honorary president of the European People's Party (EPP) since 2002.

Niinistö was the NCP candidate in the 2012 presidential election, defeating Pekka Haavisto of the Green League (VIHR) with 62.6% of the vote in the decisive second round. Niinistö assumed office on 1 March 2012; he is the first NCP president since Juho Kusti Paasikivi, who left office in 1956. In May 2017, Niinistö announced that he would seek reelection in the 2018 presidential election, running as an Independent candidate. The NCP and Christian Democrats (KD) supported his candidacy. He won reelection in the first round on 28 January 2018 with 62.7% of the vote and his second term began on 1 February 2018.

Early life and education[edit]

Niinistö was born in Salo in 1948. His parents were the circulation manager of Salon Seudun Sanomat Väinö Niinistö (1911–1991) and nurse Hilkka Niinistö, née Heimo (1916–2014).[3] Niinistö's godfather was Fjalar Nordell [fi], founder of Salora.

Niinistö graduated from the Salon normaalilyseo high school in 1967, after which he went to study at the University of Turku. From there he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1974 and a Master of Laws with court training in 1977.[4][5]


1998 Press conference at the Council of the EU for the lauching of the Euro. Sauli Niinistö (left)
Niinistö in the 2006 Finnish presidential election

Niinistö ran his own law firm in Salo between 1978 and 1988 before entering national politics.[6]

Niinistö served on the municipal council of Salo from 1977 to 1992 and was elected a Member of the Parliament of Finland from the district of Finland Proper in 1987. In 1994 he was chosen to lead the NCP as party chairman and subsequently became Justice Minister in Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's first cabinet in 1995.[7]

Switching portfolios, Niinistö became Finance Minister in 1996, continuing in Lipponen's second cabinet from 1999 to 2003.[8] In both administrations, Niinistö was Deputy Prime Minister under social democrat Lipponen. As Finance Minister, Niinistö was known for his strict fiscal policy.[9] He was the first Finn to make a purchase with euros on 1 January 2002. Niinistö was urged by his party to stand as a candidate in the 2000 presidential election, but he refused the candidacy for completely related to his private life reasons. He announced his gradual retirement from politics in 2001, and he was succeeded that year by Ville Itälä as party leader. After the end of his term as a cabinet minister in 2003, Niinistö became vice-chairman of the board of directors at the European Investment Bank.

In March 2005, Niinistö announced his candidacy for the 2006 presidential election. He represented the NCP, challenging the incumbent President Tarja Halonen. He qualified for the second round runoff (as one of the top two candidates in the first round), held on 29 January 2006, but lost to Halonen. The costs of Niinistö's campaign were circa 2,225,000 euros, including 492,864 euros and 717,191 euros contributions from NCP.[clarification needed] His financial declaration in 2006 was made more detailed in 2009 because of controversies.[10][11]

In 2006, Niinistö announced that he was standing again for the 2007 parliamentary election. He said, however, that he had no plans to take any high-ranking political job such as the prime ministership in the future.[12] He received 60,563 votes in the 2007 elections,[13] a record in a Finnish parliamentary election; it was about 21% more than the 1948 record of Hertta Kuusinen.[14] After the 2007 election, Niinistö decided to accept the position of the Speaker of the Parliament. Niinistö negotiated the merger of the European Democrat Union (EDU) into the EPP in 2002 and became its Honorary President.

Niinistö was elected as the president of the Football Association of Finland on 8 November 2009,[15] replacing Pekka Hämäläinen, but the three-year term was interrupted when Niinistö was elected president of the republic.


President Sauli Niinistö leaves Parliament after receiving his presidency with outgoing President Tarja Halonen in January 2012.

Niinistö was the NCP candidate for a second time in the 2012 presidential election. With 37.0% of the vote, he won the election's first round and faced off against Haavisto of the Green League in the decisive second round.[16] He carried the second round with around 62.6% against Haavisto's 37.4%. Niinistö's margin of victory was larger than that of any previous directly elected president. He won a majority in 14 of 15 electoral districts.[17] Niinistö's election budget was circa 1.2 million euros.[18]

After becoming the President, Niinistö pledged to establish a special task force aiming at preventing alienation among the country's youth and expressed concern about the problems of sparsely populated rural areas. Niinistö stressed the significance of mutual understanding with the cabinet and Parliament. His acceptance speech thanked those who backed him in the campaign and those who disagreed with him. Niinistö said that the differing views expressed should be taken into consideration.[19]

In May 2017, Niinistö announced that he would seek re-election in the 2018 presidential election, running as an independent candidate.[20] His candidacy was soon supported by the National Coalition Party and Christian Democrats.[21][22] In the election, Niinistö received 62.7% of the votes, becoming the first president in Finland to get elected on the first round of popular vote.[23]

During Niinistö's presidency, neighbouring military cooperation ties between Finland and Sweden got further strengthened, culminating in the NATO accession bids for the countries being joint rather than separate.[24] Amid threats of a veto from the Turkish government over Sweden's accession, Niinistö was steadfastily committed that the application was joint and that also would mean that Finland would decline an invitation.[25] Finland and Sweden agreed a deal in principle that would allow the countries to join NATO with the Turkish government on 28 June 2022 in the wake of the veto threat.[26]

Foreign policy[edit]

Niinistö with Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2019
Niinistö meeting US President Donald Trump in October 2019

As President, Niinistö visited Russia and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2013 to promote bilateral trade (e.g. Shell, Cargotec, YIT). He discussed ice hockey and business, but not human rights issues or the selling of Russian military equipment to Syria and its transport through Finland.[27]

At the same time as the sanctions against Russia, mainly caused by the Russian invasion in Crimea and eastern Ukraine,[28] Niinistö said that the focus should be on easing tensions and increasing understanding between Europe and Russia. He stated that Finland should serve as a broker between Russia and Europe. He also stated that "Russia understands that the conflict in Ukraine has generated debate in Finland over this country's own security policy. It's important that President Putin understands Finland's position on NATO membership in this debate. Finland accepts that Russia is working to find a solution to the acute conflict in Ukraine, but it needs to do more."[29] In an interview with The Washington Post in January 2022, Niinistö stated that he could not speak to Putin's intentions regarding the frozen relations between Russia and the West, but cited what he described as Finnish "wisdom" on experiences in dealing with Moscow. "Finns certainly learned the wisdom that a Cossack, that means a Russian soldier, takes all that is loose. You have to be very, very, clear, where the fixed line is."[30] When he was asked to shed light on his thoughts about Putin after the Russian attack to Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Niinistö replied: "The masks have now been taken off, showing only the face of war."[31]

The Foreign minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov used a statement of Niinistö in his arguments about future choices for the next Prime Minister of Finland, saying, "'Does Northern Europe need this? How will Russia react?' President Niinistö asked these questions with the subtext. He knows that the answer is negative: nobody needs this"; Lavrov added "President Niinistö realizes that what happened in Ukraine is impossible in Finland."[32]

In his New Years Speech 2015 Niinistö stated: "We condemned Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea as soon as it happened and then condemned Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine. We have done this in the EU context but have also made this clear in our direct contacts with Russia. We condemn any illegal occupations, illegal use of force or attempts to limit the sovereignty of independent nations. Such actions never achieve anything but danger and increased tension. While power may have once grown out of the barrel of a gun, these days it leads to nothing but chaos."[33] On 16 July 2018, Niinistö officially hosted U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Putin for the US-Russia Summit in Helsinki. Niinistö was involved 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York on 25 September 2018. President Niinistö spoke about Russia and Baltic nations affairs at the UNGA 2018.

Niinistö met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on 26 October 2016 in Tehran, Iran. He also met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. They discussed closer economic cooperation, human rights in Iran, the situation in the Middle East and the threat of terrorism. Niinistö said: "Iran was one of the first countries to recognise Finland's independence, and now our countries will further deepen their cooperation."[34]

In April 2017, Niinistö supported One-China policy.[35] Niinistö visited China on 13–14 January 2019 and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, they went through common issues between Finland-China to raise friendship and partnership. Xi Jinping and Niinistö jointly launched the 2019 China-Finland Year of Winter Sports.

In 2018, Niinistö said during the election campaign that he would block arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia,[36] due to their involvement in the Saudi Arabian–led intervention in Yemen.[37]

In October 2019, Niinistö condemned Turkey's military campaign in Kurdish–controlled areas of northern Syria. He said that two NATO member states are "quite involved" in Syria.[38]

On 24 February 2022, the Russian president Putin ordered the Russian Armed Forces to begin an invasion of Ukraine. On 4 March 2022, Niinistö did a one-day visit to Washington DC to meet President Joe Biden and number of other US politicians and security personnel. The meetings was initiated by Niinistö's office earlier the same week. In a press conference with Finnish media, Niinistö said that in the meeting the presidents discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on European and Finnish security. Furthermore, they agreed on deepening Finnish-US security co-operation and bilateral relations.[39]

Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the press conference announcing Finland's intent to apply to NATO in May 2022.

On 12 May 2022, ten weeks after the beginning of the invasion, president Niinistö and prime minister Sanna Marin advocated in a joint statement for a 'NATO membership without delay'.[40] On 21 May 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Niinistö that "overlooking threatening terrorist organisations that pose a threat to a NATO member is not in the spirit of the alliance."[41] On 21 May 2022, Niinistö, after a telephone conversation with Turkish President Erdoğan, announced that they were ready for dialogue with Turkey regarding Finland's membership in NATO and that they always condemned terrorism.[42] On 8 June 2022, Niinistö said he was surprised by Turkey's opposition to Finland's NATO membership.[43]

Niinistö with US President Joe Biden in March 2023
Niinistö with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in June 2023
Niinistö with Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob in July 2023


As the President of Finland, Niinistö holds the power of pardon for individual criminal sentences and related sanctions. In 2019 and 2020, he did not pardon anyone,[44] and has pardoned on average only three people per year. In comparison, his predecessor Tarja Halonen reached a figure of 20 pardons per year on average.[45] Niinistö has explained that he is in good agreement with the policy of the Supreme Court of Finland, which has always processed the case first before the President sees it. Niinistö has supported the abolition of the presidential pardon in his presidential campaigns, calling the institution an outdated "royal tradition".[46]

Personal life[edit]

Niinistö with Pertti Heinonen in 1985
Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio

Niinistö married his first wife, Marja-Leena (née Alanko), in 1974 and they had two sons. Marja-Leena was killed in a car crash in January 1995. Niinistö wrote about the time after the death of his first wife in his book Viiden vuoden yksinäisyys (translation: "Five years of loneliness").

While a cabinet minister, Niinistö, as a widower, was romantically involved with MP Tanja Karpela, a former beauty queen and later Minister of Culture. Karpela's Centre Party was in opposition and Niinistö was considered the second-most influential man in government. In 2003 Karpela and Niinistö announced their engagement, which they ended in 2004.[47]

In 2005, Niinistö met Jenni Haukio, who at the time worked for the National Coalition Party and interviewed Niinistö for the Nykypäivä magazine.[48] They later became romantically involved but kept the relationship secret from the public until the wedding on 3 January 2009.[49] In October 2017, the couple announced that they were expecting a child, and they subsequently had a son, who was born in February 2018.[50][51][52] In 2017 Niinistö and Haukio's dog Lennu went viral across the world.[53][54]

Niinistö is the uncle of Ville Niinistö, a Green League MP from Turku, former leader of the Green League and former Minister of the Environment.[55] Whereas, ex-Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö is not related, and their family names have different origins.[56]

Niinistö is a survivor of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. He escaped the ensuing tsunami by climbing a utility pole with his son in Khao Lak, Thailand.[57]

Niinistö is a devout Christian and member of the Lutheran Church.[58][59]

Niinistö enjoys roller skating in his spare time, and in the winter he often plays ice hockey.

Beside his native language, Niinistö also speaks English and Swedish.[60]


Niinistö on the 80th anniversary of the start of the Winter War in November 2019

Niinistö opposes the president's right to pardon prisoners and only pardoned one prisoner during his first year as president.[61] He opposes same-sex marriage but thinks that same-sex couples should have the right to adoption and a common surname.[62] He supports euthanasia under certain circumstances.[63] In December 2017, Niinistö stated that Finland should not apply for NATO membership in the current circumstances. According to Niinistö, as a member of NATO, Finland would lose the opportunity to stay out of the crisis. However, Niinistö wondered that in the event of a crisis between Russia and the EU, Finland should consider membership very seriously.[64]

Popular culture[edit]

Niinistö appears as an animated character in the political satire TV series The Autocrats.[65]


Coat of Arms[edit]

Coat of arms of Sauli Niinistö
Sauli Väinämö Niinistö
Azure, five leafs of linden united by their stalks Argent in a radiant pattern.
"Juurista voimaa" ("Strength from the Roots")
Collars of the Order of the Elephant and of the Royal Order of the Seraphim
Other versions

National Orders[edit]

Foreign Orders[edit]

Honorary doctorates[edit]


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External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the National Coalition Party
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Deputy Prime Minister of Finland
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Preceded by Speaker of the Parliament
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of Finland
Order of precedence
First Order of precedence of Finland
Succeeded by
Tarja Halonen
as Former President