Who is Jyrki Katainen

Finland's government has now officially changed. With National Coalition Party leader Jyrki Katainen becoming the second most powerful person in the Cabinet, I thought it would be a good time to profile him. His Wikipedia article and other sources in English are quite brief.

Katainen was born in Siilinjärvi, Savo, in 1971. He's married and has a young daughter. His hobbies include jogging and hunting. His rise to the top of Finnish politics has been speedy. He ran for the European Parliament in 1996, but fell well short. In was elected to the Parliament from the Northern Savo electoral district in 1999. Katainen's seat came thanks to an electoral coalition with the True Finns, whose current chairman Timo Soini lost the electoral coalition's final seat narrowly to Katainen. There's some irony in Soini voters being partly responsible for Katainen's political career, considering how utterly dissimilar the two's political opinions are. Katainen was elected The Coalition chairman in 2004 and has now become the Minister of Finance at the age of 35.

Katainen represents the moderate, social reformist wing of his party as typified by former chairman Ilkka Suominen. He was elected as party leader with the support of the left of the party - plus, it should be noted, some influential Coalition fiscal conservatives like former Ministers of Finance Iiro Viinanen and Sauli Niinistö. In the final vote Katainen defeated Ilkka Kanerva, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs. Katainen had been a supporter of Ville Itälä, the previous chairman and a fellow moderate, and the opposition to his election mainly came from opponents of Itälä and of course Kanerva's regional supporters from the southwest. Katainen's closest supporter and confidant inside the party is probably Jyri Häkämies, the new Minister of Defense. Häkämies was even the best man in Katainen's wedding.

In 2004 the party was in a minor crisis. The 2003 parliamentary election had resulted in a loss of six seats and disputes between the supporters and opponents of Itälä had sowed disunity within party ranks. The polls were not good. During the Katainen era, the Coalition has now obtained four relatively good election results. In the 2004 municipal elections it improved on its 2000 result by one percentage point after enduring some dismal poll ratings in 2003. In the 2004 European Parliament election it lost some support from 1999 but retained first place. In the 2006 presidential election Niinistö almost beat Tarja Halonen, a popular incumbent. In this year's parliamentary election the party increased its support and obtained a second place. This string of results has kept Coalition supporters happy and solidified Katainen's power within the party.

As a politician, Katainen's speaking skills are usually considered a strong point. He delivers his points with more enthusiasm, even passion, than is usual in Finnish politics and is rarely lost for words. Katainen loves to talk about his party's values, which in Finland isn't code for religion, but instead for things like freedom, responsibility, equality of opportunities, tolerance, and just about every positive abstract concept ever invented. He defines the Coalition as a values-based party - left unsaid is the inference that the other major parties are based on defending some interest group. When he doesn't watch himself, he has a tendency to meander and get lost in abstraction. Political opponents have often sought to cast doubt on his credibility, inspired by his youth and the imposing shadow of Niinistö hanging over him.

In foreign policy matters, Katainen is a strong europhile. He has spoken (fi) of "European realism", by which he means acknowledging that Finland's national interest is tied to the European Union's operational capability and competitiveness. He has stressed the need to take an active approach as the way to win influence within the European Union. I suspect he would love to take Finland into NATO if it were feasible. More than Finnish politicians in general, he has emphasized the importance of Finland's bilateral relationship with the United States. On the other hand, under his leadership the Coalition has initiated contacts with United Russia, Vladimir Putin's party.

Katainen is not an economist and as a Minister of Finance I expect him to stick closely to the course marked out for him by experienced Ministry of Finance officials and the government program. The program contains enough tax cuts to keep the Coalition base satisfied and enough spending increases that he won't develop into a hate figure outside the party. I expect him and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen to get along well in the government. Katainen is from the wing of his party that is closest to the Centre and Vanhanen is from the wing of his party that is closest to the Coalition, and there should be any personality clashes. Problems can come if either Vanhanen or Katainen can't keep their troops in control, but coming to an agreement on the broad strokes should be relatively painless.


Anonymous said...

Where did he study? And what? It doesn't say on his website which implies he's ashamed.

Ari said...

Upon close inspection, his site (fi) does mention that he's a Master of Social Sciences. Ylioppilaslehti reports (fi) that the title is from the University of Tampere.