Advice to Finnish eurosceptics

This is another post inspired by the latest Eurobarometer survey on Finland (fi, PDF).

I've for some time wondered why the Finnish eurosceptics are entirely without political power even though public opinion in Finland isn't much different than those in Denmark and the UK. One theory I've come up with is that euroscepticism's political strength is partly due to opposition to immigration. Finland has comparatively few immigrants and opposition to immigration isn't a a particularly important political issue. Seven percent of Finns picked it in their top two problems out of a list of 15 issues, as opposed to a whopping 21 percent of EU25 citizens. My leading theory, however, is that the Finnish eurosceptics are a bit inept. Examining Finnish attitudes toward the EU offers support for the idea that eurosceptic parties are going about it the wrong way.

Dear aspiring eurosceptic party leader, since I'm a kind soul, I thought I'd give you some advice. Please read carefully.

39 percent of Finns think membership in the European Union is a good thing, 23 percent think it's a bad thing, and 38 percent think it's not good or bad. On the other hand 36 percent support development toward a political union whereas 50 percent are opposed. You should drop the opposition to EU membership per se. It's not a particularly popular stance and entirely unrealistic besides. Instead you should concentrate your efforts on opposing ever closer integration on every front except for security, environment, and trade. Basically, concentrate on the parts of the EU people don't like and co-opt the aspects voters view positively as something you too support.

11 percent of Finns support the constitution fully and 45 percent support it in part. That may sound bad to you, but Finns in general don't know much about the constitution and most don't have strong opinions on the issue. Few Finns (32%) believe their voice matters in the EU and you should try to keep things that way. Every time someone says the constitution increases democracy, note that what they're really talking about is moving political power from the Finnish government to foreign voters. Speak of the constitutional process as a part of a long-term trend toward a federal EU, where Finland would be little more than Europe's Wisconsin. Hope that no Wisconsinites are in the audience. Make it a habit to note that after the constitution passes, the European Union can override the Finnish government on important issues. Make sure that people understand that the new voting procedure, mainly the removal of the veto, will greatly diminish Finland's weight in European decision making. Demand a referendum; even some people who would vote for the constitution support that.

Oppose enlargement. It's another issue where you'll be in the majority. 53 percent of Finns oppose it and only 43 percent are in support. Try to avoid arguments about whether Turkey is European or not. It's pointless and not the real reason people are opposed. Instead speak vaguely but in serious tones about its economic situation - which is actually better than that of some members, but people don't need to know that - and talk at length about human rights abuses. Mention specifics. The racists won't care why you're opposed to Turkey's membership, just that you are, and this way you don't drive away respectable people.

Pick other issues that are important to Finnish eurosceptics. You're not going to win over many National Coalition Party supporters with your opposition to the EU, so forget about cutting taxes and allying militarily and anything else that smacks of the modern right. Turn your eyes toward the centre and the left, instead. Euroscepticism is strongest in Northern Finland, so copy the Centre on regional issues. One apparent driver of euroscepticism in the Nordic countries is the belief that the EU will hurt the welfare state, so your economic policies should probably be somewhere between the Left Alliance and the Social Democratic Party. Give Centrist and Social Democratic voters who think their party leadership has sold them out a chance to join you.

I hope this helps in building your eurosceptic party. Remember me when you get to the top.


Kanerva calls for solidarity with Estonia

In something of a change of course from the Finnish government's first take to the events in Estonia, Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva has approached (fi) Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - Germany is currently holding the EU presidency - to call for EU countries to display solidarity with Estonia. Kanerva also said in a radio interview that it's important that EU countries express their clear support for Estonia. Previously Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen called on foreign countries not to get involved in Estonia's internal matter. I guess this settles the issue of whether "foreign countries" was an euphenism for "Russia". The new comment can still be seen as contradictory with the first reaction. I wonder if the Estonian government asked Finland to do it.

Update: Vanhanen wrote (fi) about the issue on his blog. He had a discussion with Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip on Saturday evening and describes the discussion as "warm and open". The blog entry also makes clear that his call for other countries not to get involved should be seen as a defense of Estonia's right to move the statue: "The location of a statue can not in itself be a human rights issue and the international community can't have any reason to interfere in the issue. This also goes for neighboring countries ... My statement has been read with satisfaction in Tallinn against the background that all multilateral organizations on our continent have been called for help against the decision to move of the statue and the Estonian government has been advised to enter into international dialog." From that perspective, a call for EU states to show solidarity with Estonia isn't all that incongruent.

A matter of trust

I was reading the latest Eurobarometer on Finland (fi, PDF), as one is wont to do, and the section on citizens' trust for different institutions caught my eye. If the survey can be trusted, 67 percent of Finns trust labour unions, 65 percent trust the Finnish Parliament, 64 percent trust the Finnish government, and 29 trust political parties. The EU averages are 38 percent for labour unions, 30 percent for national governments, 33 percent for national parliaments, and 17 percent for parties. Finns lead the EU in trust in labour unions, the government, and the parliament. The pattern remained the same when Finns were asked about different media. 81 percent trust the radio (versus 63 percent for all member countries), 72 percent trust the television (vs 53%), 58 percent trust the press (vs 44%), and 37 percent trust the Internet (34%). The one institution that doesn't engender more trust in Finland than in the rest of EU is the union itself. 44 percent of Finns trust it when the average is 45 percent.

I'm not sure what explains the findings. There is the possibility that we're just plain more trustworthy than the rest of Europe, of course. Assuming for the sake of argument that the rest of the continent is not populated by a bunch of slithery crooks compared to us honest and upstanding Finns, what alternatives are there? Is the Finnish word for "trust", "luottamus", milder than its Indo-European counterparts? Are we just particularly gullible, which is why we trust our newspapers when they tell us that the government can be trusted? Do we not trust pollsters enough to tell them about our doubts? This sounds like a job for a pop psychologist.


Bringing out the dead

The Russian response to Estonia's decision to move the so-called Bronze Soldier, a statue depicting a Red Army soldier, and the remains of dead Red Army soldiers buried underneath from a busy city square to a quiet cemetery has been scarily over the top. There's the rioting in the streets of Tallinn, of course. Judging by the rioters' targets, Estonian shop windows are apparently the primary tools of oppression used by the fascist state. The reaction is understandable. I know that when anyone speaks ill of the dead, I smash up windows and steal everything I can to bring home the point the dearly departed should be respected. After all, what better way is there to show your respect for the dead than to help yourself to some free booze? It's what they would have wanted, I'm sure.

The rhetoric emanating from Moscow is almost as objectionable. The move is not "inhumane" or "blasphemy", as the Russian foreign minister claimed. It's not "barbaric", contrary to what the chairman of the international affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament said. It doesn't justify calling the Estonian government "supporters of Nazism", like the chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament did, nor does it make Estonian officials "provincial neo-Nazis", as they were described in a parliamentary resolution that passed unanimously. It doesn't amount to the "mockery of the dead and the victory in the Second World War".

The thing is, the Red Army occupied Estonia. It's damned difficult to be grateful to foreign occupiers, especially foreign occupiers that incorporate your country into their totalitarian dictatorship. Such an occupation, accompanied as it is with murders and deportations, is likely to create some hard feelings. I don't expect the Russians to adopt the Estonian point of view on the issue, but at the very least they could acknowledge that it exists. If they adjusted their analysis of Estonia's actions accordingly, maybe they wouldn't feel compelled to fling crude insults. It shouldn't be impossible to understand that from the Estonian perspective, moving a statue and the remains of dead soldiers that to a cemetery where those who want can go pay their respects isn't the most heinous act in the world.

On this side of the Gulf of Finland, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said (fi) that the matter was Estonia's internal affair and that foreign powers shouldn't get involved in it. Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva announced that he would be visiting Estonia next Wednesday. Presumably he won't be getting involved.

Appetite for politics

Writes Charles Bremner of the Times in his blog:

You have to admire the French appetite for politics. Nicolas Sarkozy had been interviewed for 1 hour 20 minutes before I got my 20 minutes with him on France 2 television last night. Ségolène Royal, the Socialist, had submitted to the same ritual the night before. Not many countries would put up with so much political talk on prime time.


Common EU defense versus NATO

Andrew Rettman had a good article on Finnish defense policy in yesterday's EU Observer. The basic premise of the piece is that changes are underway, but that the government is waiting to see what will become of the EU not-a-constitution before taking any steps.

"Our next foreign and defence policy report will not come out before the EU constitution treaty. We are waiting for some kind of solution on that, so probably before 2009 we will have our new report," Finnish prime minister Matti Vanhanen's spokeswoman, Sanna Kangasharju, told EUobserver on Thursday (26 April).

"The general public opinion [in Finland] would be for a European security solution instead of NATO. But the politicians don't hold out much hope for this - the EU is not a military alliance and any security guarantees given by the EU states are not such as could offer real defence," she added.
The prospects for EU defense cooperation that could replace NATO are rather doubtful. As Rettman notes:
The text of the draft EU constitution - rejected in 2005 by France and the Netherlands but currently undergoing a revival process - foresees solidarity clauses on natural disasters and terrorist attacks, but not energy or defence-related crises. The idea of a real EU military wing is an anathema to neutrals like Ireland or anti-federalist EU states.
I suspect that the next version of the EU not-a-constitution won't help the Finnish government out of their NATO dilemma. Vanhanen's spokeswoman said as much, too, so why are they waiting? Is it just to run out the clock in Halonen's second term?

In related news, earlier this week Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva said (fi) in the Parliament re NATO that "this government will not be leaving a membership application". The government term ends in 2011, so that statement alone doesn't rule out the estimate of "before 2012" that appeared in the Defense News, but the next government sure would need to move in a hurry.


Politics in history

My recent post on the European Union's new law on Holocaust denial got me thinking about the effect our views of history have on our political opinions and vice versa. It's obvious that political views and historical views correlate. Reading a debate on the Finnish Civil War, for example, it's not difficult to tell the left-wingers and right-wingers apart. If an author makes prominent note that the non-socialist dominated Parliament had been democratically elected and that Svinhufvud's Senate was the country's legal government, he's probably a right-winger. If an author writes extensively about conditions on post-war prison camps and the Whites' dalliance with monarchism, he's probably a left-winger.

Historian Anthony F Upton wrote an essay on nationalism in Finnish history writing, "History and national identity: some Finnish examples" (PDF), which mostly deals with the period of national awakening and the Continuation War. The latter topic illustrates how historical views change over time, influenced by the political situation. Arvi Korhonen's driftwood theory has long been held as an example of unacceptable apologia for portraying a Finland as a piece of driftwood floating in a rapid, with no control over its course. Nowadays just about everyone agrees that Finland did actively pursue a close relationship with Germany and plan for war. However, this hasn't destroyed the reputation of the leaders Korhonen wanted to protect from blame, because many see the chosen course as the best one available. That's an argument that few people interested in their reputation would have dared to make when Korhonen was crafting the driftwood theory, so in effect this modern view is to the right of past conservative apologia. At the same time as this reinterpreting has taken place, Communist influence in Finnish society has collapsed. That's not a coincidence.

The recent ministerial appointments are another case in point. A person's view on Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen (Centre Party) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva (National Coalition Party) will be very different based on his view of Finlandization and their role in it. The kind view is that Finlandization served the best interests of Finland and centre-right politicians like Väyrynen and Kanerva were wise to play along to limit the influence of actual Communists. The unkind view is that a different political course could have been taken, a course that would have created a healthier political climate, and that the likes of Kanerva and Väyrynen were untrustworthy opportunists advancing their own interests. The flip side of the coin is that a right-wing Coalitionist is much more likely to adopt the unkind view - and to see the Kekkonen era opposition as the good guys - than a long-standing Centrist.

I've gone on a bit here, but my basic point is simple: history is much too politically important to let politicians to define what's acceptable in historical discourse. In the best case scenario they'll limit themselves to scoring cheap points; in the worst case scenario they'll severely limit the bounds of political speech.


Will someone please think of the Great Cormorants?

The Parliament has been debating (fi) the new government program. The discussion is largely ritualistic; the government naturally defends all aspects of its program and the opposition is stridently opposed to everything. There are things to be learned, though.

For example, I got the strong impression that the Social Democratic Party and other opposition parties doubt the government's ability to carry out the National Coalition Party's promise (fi) to financially support income equality in comprehensive incomes policy agreements. The Coalitionists, for their part, seem fairly confident; neither Finance Minister and party chairman Jyrki Katainen nor parliamentary faction chairman Pekka Ravi shirked away from stating that they're going through with the plan if the negotiating parties cooperate.

Another telling moment was when Left Alliance parliamentary faction chairwoman Annika Lapintie charged the government parties with condoning the slaughter of Great Cormorants. As a sop to the Swedish People's Party, whose coast-dwelling supporters come to contact with the birds more often than most Finns, the government program mentions (fi) limiting the number of Great Cormorants. Lapintie's critique is not pointed at the Swedish PP, however, but rather at the Green League. The Left Alliance seem to have identified the Greens as a potentially rewarding target and have embraced the sellout angle. Agreeing to the slaughter of the noble Great Cormorants fits the bill nicely.


Niinistö elected as Speaker

For the lovers of inside pesäpallo, the freshly elected Speaker of the Parliament Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) gave an interview to the Kaleva newspaper in which he spoke of his reasons (fi) for turning down the foreign affairs portfolio. Niinistö said that his position inside the Cabinet would have been used to undermine Coalition leader, Minister for Finance Jyrki Katainen. He compares the situation to the prime minister speculation before the election, when Katainen was repeatedly asked whether he or Niinistö were the party's candidate for prime minister. He also believed that dividing foreign policy power between the three leading candidates from the 2006 presidential election - himself, President Tarja Halonen, and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen - would have been awkward. He describes the speakership as a "practical necessity", but doesn't admit that he's disappointed. He also opposes limiting the president's foreign policy powers, saying that "royalty is not needed in the republic".

There appears to be a real effort inside the Coalition to build up Katainen as the leader of the future that goes well beyond the sometimes lackluster support party insiders showed for the previous chairman, Ville Itälä. Niinistö in particular has acted like a genuine Katainen supporter.


So, when will Finland join NATO?

Writes Gerard O'Dwyer in Defense News:

As Finland and other Scandinavian nations become increasingly absorbed with defining their separate relationships with NATO, behind-the-scenes politics suggests Finland and Sweden are moving closer to joining neighbors Denmark and Norway as formal alliance members before 2012.
I'm not sure I can believe it. If I had to pick a year when it happens, I'd go with 2013. Then President Tarja Halonen will be safely out of the way and, perhaps, the presidency will have been stripped of some or all of its remaining foreign policy powers. Joining as a full member while Halonen is in principle leading Finland's foreign policy would require some mighty forceful backpedaling on her part.

After following the Finnish debate on the issue, I found the quotes from Social Democratic Party chairman Eero Heinäluoma quite interesting:
"All parties have views on NATO," Heinäluoma said. "Some are pro-NATO and others are more cautious or against membership. The Finnish military command has made their views on NATO membership known to the Ministry of Defense. These are all grounds to believe that we will know if Finland will join NATO or not in two to three years." [...] "As a party, we see nothing wrong in principle to Finland's taking part in the NATO Rapid Response Force," Heinäluoma said. "The real issue is, can Finland afford to do so, and right now the simple answer ... is probably not."
That sounds quite a bit different than what the Social Democrats were saying during the parliamentary election campaign - and the presidential election campaign, for that matter. They've on several occasions warned that the National Coalition Party is NATO-friendly and presented this as a reason to vote for them. Now Heinäluoma sees nothing wrong in principle; it's just that the cost is an issue, gosh darn it.

Another question is whether cost is a real issue. I think I've seen some arguments to the effect that joining NATO would save money, although I have to admit I lack the expertise to evaluate such claims. The previous Defense Minister Seppo Kääriäinen's (Centre Party) view was of course that either Finland joins NATO and increases its defense budget or it doesn't join NATO and still increases its defense budget.


Let's rank presidential candidates

No, this is not a way too early post on the 2012 race.

With the government program including an electronic voting pilot project to be implemented in the 2008 municipal elections, it's time to consider going to ballots that allow the voter to rank the candidates in presidential elections. Such voting methods are more time-consuming to count by hand, but if we move to electronic voting, that ceases to be an important issue. A hand count can still be done to verify the result - just make a paper trail a required feature in the voting machines - but the preliminary machine-counted results would be available immediately. There are two big advantages to this: Firstly, we'd need only one round of voting since people can express their full range of preferences in one ballot. Secondly, it would eliminate the need for tactical voting, which is a common feature in two-round elections. Why organize two votes when you can get to an accurate result in one?

The French presidential election, which uses the same two-round method as the Finnish one, illustrates the incentives for tactical voting that often arise in that system. A voter who prefers the environmentalist candidate Voynet but above all is opposed to conservative candidate Sarkozy should vote for centrist candidate Bayrou, because according to polls Bayrou has the best chance of beating Sarkozy in the second round. On the other hand, a supporter of communist candidate Besancenot should consider voting for the socialist Royal to ensure that there'll be a left-wing candidate in the second round. The common thread is that neither can vote for the candidate they feel is the best. If France used an election method based on ranking the options, they could.

If you want to get fancy about it, you could use some Condorcet method. If you want to keep it simple, go for the tested Single Transferable Vote.

Kanerva opposes stripping

During the week British Prime Minister Tony Blair advocated a stripped down version of the proposed EU constitution, where only the institutional changes present in the failed proposal would be implemented, perhaps in a slightly modified form. Blair isn't alone; French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy also supports a similar solution as does Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The main draw seems to be that such a basic treaty could be passed without those pesky referendums some national leaders were unwise enough to promise to their constituents.

In Finland, where governments have fewer qualms about disregarding public opinion on important EU matters, the minimized treaty approach has found little support. The Finnish News Agency (STT) made a mess of their article on Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva's comments, but the new government's point of view comes through:

Erkki [sic] Kanerva (cons), Finland's new finance [sic] minister, on Friday rejected the idea of culling the EU's troubled draft constitutional treaty into a so-called mini-treaty, adding it was not in Finland's interest to remove everything but matters related to decision-making from the draft treaty, rejected by the French and Dutch voters in 2005.
It's natural for a small country like Finland to oppose a mini-constitution solution, as its effect would be to take away power from the small member countries in favour of the large ones, without giving anything in return. One could defend the proposed voting rules on the basis that they're more proportional than the current system where everyone has a veto. I'll believe that the French and British leadership want to advance proportionality in the EU for the sake of fairness after they show interest in increasing proportionality in their own legislative elections.

It'll be interesting to see what happens if the supporters of the minimized treaty get an upper hand in negotiations. Is the government willing to stand by their stated position? I'm afraid I doubt it.


Filatov's high profile

While following the news during the week, I got the impression that in the Social Democratic Party it is the parliamentary faction chairwoman Tarja Filatov, not party chairman Eero Heinäluoma, who has taken the lead in criticizing the new government. As Filatov previously held the labour portfolio, she is of course a logical choice to comment on the new Ministry of Labour and Business (fi), but her high media visibility compared to the party leader is nevertheless surprising. I would be interested to know whether Heinäluoma is behind it or whether she is setting up a run for the party leadership.

It's official

Previously I wondered whether the new Cabinet's 12-8 division between women and men was a world record. None of you layabouts took the time to find out, but luckily Qatar's Gulf Times has got my back:

The new centre-right coalition government is headed by a man, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, but 12 of the 20 ministers are women - 60% - a world record according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Thanks, Qatar's Gulf Times!


EU sort of bans Holocaust denial

Writes Dan Bilefsky in the International Herald Tribune:

The European Union approved legislation Thursday that would make denying the Holocaust punishable by jail sentences, but would also give countries across the 27-member bloc the option of not enforcing the law if such a prohibition did not exist in their own laws.
I'm troubled by the prospect that the European Union will legislate what can be said. To me this seems a text book example of a the sort of legislation the EU should leave up to member countries. A situation where no single entity can set the standards of acceptable speech in Europe is better for protecting free speech than a situation where the European Union takes that role.

I suppose this particular piece of legislation is tolerable as it need not be enforced, but the precedent is not good. Consider:

EU officials involved in the drafting of the law, which needed unanimous approval, said consensus had been achieved by allowing national laws to take precedence.

If the procedural bits of the European not-a-Constitution are eventually passed, wouldn't that mean that unanimity is no longer needed? If so, will the members which advocated for this legislation to take precedence over national laws have another go at it?

Beyond the general objection to the EU legislating in this area at all, I don't find this particular law very good. An official history with which it is illegal to disagree is a fundamentally bad idea, even in cases like the Holocaust where the events have been meticulously documented and the generally accepted version is beyond reasonable doubt. Letting politicians to decide on which topics people are not allowed to be wrong is to let them take aim at ideologies they oppose. Thus German anti-Nazi politicians want to ban the denial of Nazi crimes, Lithuanian anti-Communist politicians want to ban denial of Communist crimes, Armenian nationalists want to ban denial of the Armenian genocide, Turkish nationalists have banned calling the Armenian genocide by that name, and so on. Fighting against Nazism and Communism are noble causes in my opinion, but even then legislation codifying historical truths just isn't the right way to go about it.


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.


Whole lotta women

The Finnish media may have turned into the Väyrynen & Kanerva show, but the Associated Press story focuses on the fact that 60 percent of the new ministers are women. It quotes an expert:

"This looks like a world record," said Jaana Kuusipalo, a political scientist at the University of Tampere. "Some governments have been 50-50, but a 60-percent majority of women is internationally very high."
Is it a world record? I can't think of an example of a cabinet with a larger proportion of women. (Can we pretend it's a world record until someone proves otherwise?)

Happy happy joy joy

Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that:

Denmark is the happiest nation in Europe, according to research published in Britain Tuesday, which ranks Scandinavians -- and the Irish -- top for contentment and Mediterraneans at the bottom.

Danes rated their national average happiness at 8.31 out of 10, with Finns second at 8.05, the Irish third at 7.98, Swedes fourth at 7.84 and the Dutch fifth at 7.78.

But at the other end of the scale, Greece ranked 13th with 6.79, Portugal 14th at 6.53 and Italy 15th at 6.27.
Suck our exhausts, Ireland! Suomi! Suomi! Suomi!
"The survey shows that trust in society is very, very important," said Luisa Corrado, who led the research.

"The countries that scored highest for happiness also reported the highest levels of trust in their governments, laws and each other."
The survey was taken in 2004, well before Paavo Väyrynen made his triumphant return to the government.


This '70s show

The entertainment value of the new Cabinet just went up considerably thanks to two throwbacks to the 1970s: Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva (National Coalition Party) and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen (Centre Party).

The pair are similar in many ways. Both started politicking as young men and came into the national scene in the 1970s. Both were known for enthusiastically pursuing friendly, neighborly relations with the Soviet Union (cough, cough). Both have served in many official positions and applied for considerably more. Both have had their name sullied by scandals. Kanerva sent lewd text messages to a young woman whose moderate fame was based on the size of her silicon implants; Väyrynen pinched a stewardess, fell of a chair in a bar, and "lived" in a small transportable cottage in Northern Finland so he could collect travel reimbursements. Both have scores of loyal supporters in their home region, Kanerva in Finland Proper and Väyrynen in Lapland, that have stayed with them through thick and thin. There are of course some differences, too. While both have a more than healthy self-regard, Kanerva is amicable and known as a good networker whereas Väyrynen is a pig-headed bridge-burner who keeps landing new jobs based on the theory that he'll do more damage outside than in.

It's difficult to say whether the Coalition leadership should be pleased about the Centre one-upping Kanerva's nomination by picking Väyrynen. Kanerva had come under a great deal of criticism - representative blog posts on the topic here, here, and here - but I predict that Väyrynen's nomination will easily upstage it as the focal point of criticism, thus taking off the heat from Kanerva. There's just no way to paint rewarding Väyrynen's post-election assery in a positive light. On the minus side, now the Coalition has to deal with Paavo Väyrynen for four years, a demoralizing prospect even for the hardiest soul.

On the practical side of things, I think that Väyrynen poses a much bigger risk to the government's smooth operation than Kanerva. Väyrynen has served as a Minister for Foreign Affairs before whereas Kanerva's foreign policy experience stems from his long membership in the Foreign Affairs Committee. The difference is that whereas following the government's foreign policy line shouldn't pose a problem for Kanerva, Väyrynen has built himself a profile as a critic of the European Union and an outright opponent of NATO. As obstinate as Väyrynen is, it's difficult to tell how much free thinking he will be doing this time around. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen might have his hands full.

Naming more names

The Centre Party chose its ministers (fi) today. Matti Vanhanen will of course be the Prime Minister. Paavo Väyrynen, who is an ass, was surprisingly nominated as the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development. Väyrynen defeated Antti Kaikkonen in a close vote. Another extreme Centrist Mauri Pekkarinen expectedly landed the new "super ministry" and will become the Minister of Trade and Industry. A third veteran, Sirkka-Liisa Anttila, will become the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Of the Centre's rising stars, Mari Kiviniemi was nominated for the Minister of Municipal and Administrative Affairs and Anu Vehviläinen ended up as the Minister of Transport. The Minister of Social Affairs and Health will be the conservative Liisa Hyssälä. Paula Lehtomäki, who was rumored to receive a weightier post, will become the Minister of the Environment. After the election Lehtomäki announced that she is pregnant. Kimmo Tiilikainen will fill in for her while she's on maternity leave.

The Green League announced their ministers last night. Tuija Brax, one of the party's experts in legal matters, was picked as the Minister of Justice. Heidi Hautala challenged party leader Tarja Cronberg for the labour portfolio, but Cronberg was voted the Greens' candidate for Minister of Labour. Since both the Greens and the Centre more women than men (although the Centre's posts will be tied during Lehtomäki's leave), the new Cabinet will have a female majority, which I think is much cooler than the usual 50%-50% split.

The National Coalition Party and Swedish People's Party minister lists can be found here.

Executive summary

Using all my tenacity, I've managed to slog through the entire of 64 pages of the government program (fi, PDF). Vanhanen II better stay together for its full term, because I'm not reading another one of those for four years. Here are my first impressions:

Foreign policy: The government thinks the proposed EU constitution was a good one. They also feel that the EU should have a common foreign policy. Enlargement should continue and the language is supportive of Turkey and Croatia. Development aid is going up toward 0.7 percent, which is the UN target. The so-called NATO option persists. They're interested in being a part of EU response forces and cooperating with the NATO Response Force. (The foreign, security, and defense policy sections have been translated into English and can be accessed right here (PDF).)

Economy: Taxes are going up on alcohol, tobacco, electricity, and coal. Taxes are going down on income, inheritances, and food. Net spending will increase a little and net taxation will go down. Increased government income from economic growth is expected to make up the gap. Retirement age is going up. Some donations to universities will become tax deductible. Some technical stuff will change - frameworks and such. It may or may not be important, but how would I know?

Justice and internal security: The 2000 constitutional reform will be evaluated. Further change (i.e. stripping more power from the president) is said to be "possible". Election reform is coming, but it may not make it in time for the 2011 parliamentary election. The gap between the first and second round in the next presidential election will be two weeks. (Betcha the National Coalition Party was behind that change.) E-voting is coming, the first step being a pilot project in the 2008 municipal election. The jury system will be abolished for less serious crimes and the saved money will be spent on clearing court backlogs. Several pieces of legislation having to do with the police will be reformed, but no details are given. Gays and lesbians can adopt in situations where one of the couple is the biological parent, if I understand the program's byzantine expression correctly. Immigrating to Finland is to be made easier in various ways. Reading about municipal affairs makes my eyes glaze over.

Education and science: Several small sissy universities will be combined into one big macho university. Vocational schools are important, too, is the general attitude of the program. Students get 15% more government money and can make 30% more money working without losing the government money. The government wants to maintain the state's gambling monopoly. (Why do they express the wish in this section? Because gambling pays for education and science, of course.)

Agriculture and food: the EU's Common Agricultural Policy should be reformed so that its subsidies are fairer, i.e. Finnish farmers should get a larger piece of the pie and foreigners who have the sun to help them should get less. This government doesn't seem inclined to give up on agricultural subsidies without a fight.

Transport and communication: A freeway between Helsinki and Vaalimaa on the Russian border should be finished by 2015. High speed net connections will be built. School kids taking part in a "wide experimental project" will get personal computers. The move to digital TV will take place in 2007-09-01 - no mention of contingencies.

Climate and energy: Energy efficiency should be increased, energy consumption decreased, and so forth. Coal plants and oil-using district heating boilers are to be replaced with low-emission bioenergy alternatives. The target for increasing the use of renewables is 25%. Hydropower and forest-based bioenergy are mentioned prominently. Wind energy, solar energy, and the other usual suspects also get mentions. Nuclear power "must not be closed out".

Business: There's a heck of a lot of vague business speak in this section. Just about everything under the sun is "supported" or "encouraged". Total spending on R&D should be increased to four percent of the GDP.

Various mushy topics: Social security reform is probably coming by the end of 2008, but there are no details as of yet. Simplifying and clarifying the system are mentioned as goals. The possible uses of municipal service vouchers will be increased. Child benefits will go up for single parents (10 euros a month) in 2008 and families with more than two children (10 euros a month starting with the third child) in 2009. Paternity leave will lengthen by two weeks in 2010. National pensions will go up by 20 euros a month in 2008. The Coalition's theme of advancing equal pay in income policy solutions is included, but expressed so that the government is only willing to put money in it if the "municipal sector" first arrives at an acceptable decision.

Environment: I got nothing on the environment, but this section is mostly about housing anyway. Government-financed mortgages will be done away with, apparently. There's a mention of an intriguing corruption fighting scheme, a public data bank from which it can be checked that a constructor has dealt with taxes and employer obligations appropriately. Renovations that increase energy efficiency will receive monetary support. Housing is another area where the concrete details will be decided later in committee.

Ownership policy: "TO BE DONE" was the general gist of the three short paragraphs on this topic.

Developing administration: It's more interesting than it sounds, if only barely. Administrative affairs will be centered in the Ministry of Finance in the future. The Ministry of Business and Labour will include the current Ministry of Trade and Industry and most things handled by the Minister of Labour except immigration affairs. Additionally, lots of fiddling will take place.

Policy programs: Yes, let's investigate things so we'll know how to change them for the better. Great idea. Why didn't we think of it before?

Changes in spending and taxation: I already commented on this aspect.

Minutes from a 2007-04-15 meeting: The government parties need to be unanimous on a) parliamentary election reform and b) changing the water law. The latter means that the Greens can stop the government from building a reservoir at Vuotos, something which they've long opposed. ... Oh yeah, and party subsidies are going up.



Budget bingo

Prior to the parliamentary election, various parties announced their guesses/estimates on the distribution allowance, a term for how much the next government can spend above previously budgeted money. The new government's answer has now been announced and it's 3.1 billion euros. That figure is considerably less than the 4-5 billion euros advertised by the Centre Party and considerably more than the National Coalition Party's conservative estimate of one billion euros. On the other hand, the sum is very close to the Ministry of Finance's pre-election estimate of three billion euros. Score one for the technocrats, I guess. However, whereas the MoF proposed putting most of the three billion into paying off debts, the government will put 1.8 billion euros into net tax cuts and 1.3 billion euros into net spending increases. So score one for the politicians.

It should be noted that there's some vagueness on what is counted in the distribution allowance. For example, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen of the Centre claimed on his blog (fi) that the MoF's estimate was close to the Centre's figure, because the MoF's estimate didn't include previously agreed tax cuts and spending increases totaling about 1.8 billion euros.

Naming names

The National Coalition Party and the Swedish People's Party have named their ministers.

Despite rumors that the Coalition's party leader Jyrki Katainen would become the Minister for Foreign Affairs, he'll be the next Minister of Finance instead. The finance portfolio is considered the second most powerful in the Cabinet, so taking it makes sense for a party leader whose gravitas has sometimes been questioned. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will instead be Ilkka Kanerva, a veteran politician from Turku. He's been an MP since the '70s and was first made a minister in the '80s. Katainen's right-hand man Jyri Häkämies becomes the Minister of Defense, thus further strengthening the Coalition's foreign policy influence within the Cabinet. Vote king and Coalition strongman Sauli Niinistö, often mentioned as a possible Minister of Foreign Affairs, will become the Speaker of the Parliament.

In a surprise move - a surprise to me, at least - Anne Holmlund will become the Minister of the Interior. Former Minister of Culture Suvi Lindén makes a return to the Cabinet as the Minister of Communication. She had to resign from the previous post because of an appearance of impropriety, but the voters forgave her, so now she's back. There will be two Coalition ministers from Helsinki, Minister of Education Sari Sarkomaa and Minister of Housing Jan Vapaavuori. Vapaavuori is about as right-wing on economic matters as any MP, so it'll be interesting to see what he does about housing. Paula Risikko, who has a doctorate in health science, will become the Minister of Health and Social Services.

The Swedish People's Party had two portfolios to divvy up. Party leader Stefan Wallin will become the Minister of Culture and as such can act as the guardian of bilingualism in cultural pursuits. Astrid Thors will become the Minister of European Affairs and Integration. Thors has already said (fi) that immigration policy will become "more active" to combat aging.

The Green League is scheduled to release their minister list later today and the Centre Party tomorrow.

Vanhanen II - now with more ministers than ever before!

We have an agreement: the next government's program (fi, PDF) and the Cabinet's party division (fi, PDF) are out and proud. I'll comment on the program - nauseatingly titled Responsible, caring, and supportive Finland - later, but for now, the big news is that the number of ministers is going up, up, up from 18 to 20. (I hope they didn't raise the number just to give every party an even number of seats, because that would be enough to drive one to despair.)

Instead of a Minister of Transport and Communication, the new government will have a Minister of Transport and a Minister of Communication. The Minister of EU and Immigration is a new title, as is the Minister of Housing. On the other hand, there won't be a separate Co-ordinate Minister of Finance; that job will be handled by the Minister of Municipal and Administrative Affairs. In addition to the ministerial reshuffle, the ministries themselves will undergo some changes. Notably, the Ministry of Trade and Industry will swallow the the Ministry of Labour to create one super ministry with two ministers, the Ministry of Labour and Commerce.

In any case, here's what party gets what:

Centre Party:

  • Prime Minister
  • Minister for Foreign Trade and Development
  • Minister of Municipal and Administrative Affairs
  • Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Minister of Transport
  • Minister of Trade and Industry
  • Minister of Social Affairs and Health
  • Minister of the Environment
National Coalition Party:
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs (ooh! controversial!)
  • Minister of the Interior
  • Minister of Defense
  • Minister of Finance
  • Minister of Education
  • Minister of Communications
  • Minister of Health and Social Services
  • Minister of Housing
The Coalition is also reputed to get the post of Speaker of Parliament, so they've done quite well for themselves.

Green League:
  • Minister of Justice
  • Minister of Labour
Swedish People's Party:
  • Minister of EU and Immigration
  • Minister of Culture
The Swedish PP should also be pretty pleased with themselves to get two ministers.

Names of ministers will start to dribble out tomorrow and the last ones should be known by Wednesday, I believe.


French election machine

For the lovers of election machines, now there's one on the French presidential election (fr). It's pretty rudimentary compared to the Finnish ones with which you may be familiar, but it still passes the time. I don't speak French, but by using Altavista's Babelfish translator, I managed to answer the questions. However, I must have misunderstood some questions or the damned thing isn't very well designed, because it recommended to me - drum roll, please - Marie-George Buffet of the Communist Party of France! After Marie-George at 48 percent, Socialist Ségolène Royal (44%) and Green Dominique Voynet (40%) followed. The main right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and the centrist François Bayrou, the candidates I expected it to spit out first, were tied for fourth with 36 percent.

Apparently I'm just a move to France away from becoming a communist. It's quite distressing.

A few English language blogs on the event:

The game is afoot

Finnish foreign policy offers an example of how to change without ever changing. The prospective government parties have announced that they have arrived at an agreement on security policy, which is that there'll be no changes. According to chief negotiators Paula Lehtomäki (Centre Party) and Ilkka Kanerva (National Coalition Party), the exact language on NATO will change, but that this change shouldn't be taken as evidence that something has changed, oh no. The lack of changes that are changes won't stop the government from changing things should the need arise, of course.

Having said that, the International Herald Tribune carries an AP article that maybe goes a bit too far:

Finland and Sweden have agreed to join NATO's rapid reaction force, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said Saturday, further increasing the neutral countries' cooperation with the alliance.

Vanhanen confirmed that Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja and his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, have prepared a joint response on participating in the alliance's new 25,000-strong Response Force.
Finnish sources (fi) report that Finland isn't joining the NATO Response Force inasmuch as it will be taking part in the force's training exercises. Vanhanen (Centre) said that no new decisions have been made and that the status quo had been that Finland may take in part in practice activities. Tuomioja (Social Democratic Party) noted that "neither country would be on standby for deployment to crisis hotspots and that a separate decision on participation would be made for each NRF operation." (Note how, despite that nothing has changed, the Finnish military will be cooperating with NATO in new ways.)

In other news:
Finland's Ministry of Defense (MoD) is preparing a policy positional document that recommends the Finnish Defense Forces (FDF) join the NATO-led Strategic Airlift Consortium program (SAC).

The NATO SAC project, which involves the 15 European NATO members and Sweden, aims to coordinate military transports via air, sea and land. The project seeks to merge each country's military transport management centers into one central command organization.


Government programs through the ages

The Finnish Government has put together a rather neat website (fi) on the history of Finnish cabinets. It includes every cabinet (fi) and minister ever, but the star attraction is definitely the complete archive of past government programs (fi). Government programs have increased in size during the years, but especially some of the early programs are quite evocative of the conditions in which the cabinet has come to power and the personality of its Prime Minister.

For example, here's my translation of J.K. Paasikivi's (National Coalition Party) second cabinet's "program", issued in November 1944 as a statement (fi) to the Finnish News Agency:

The government must primarily work in the best mutual understanding with our neighbour Soviet Union, and at this time we must conscientiously fulfill the demands of the interim peace treaty. Naturally good financial and cultural relations with Sweden and other Nordic countries shall be maintained and developed. Otherwise we have so many economic and political questions that have been caused by the war, population transfers, employment situation, and public maintenance, that there's more than enough work, so no other program report is needed than to promise to help in solving these difficult questions to the best of our ability.

The Communist Party shall operate, the same as other parties, according to the existing laws. Finland shall carefully attend to its democratic social structure, which is based on Finland's national independence and sovereignty.
Now that's a government program.

A sad new development is to give the programs tacky names straight out of a company brochure given to employees on the first day of bad training seminar, e.g. the previous government's program was titled To a new rise through work, entrepreneurship, and common responsibility. As far as I can tell, Paavo Lipponen (Social Democratic Party) is to blame. His first program was titled moderately The government of work and common responsibility, but the second go-around got the hideous name Fair and supportive - a socially whole Finland. Let's have some standards, prime ministers.


Technocracy rules OK

Re my post on State Secretary Raimo Sailas of the Ministry of Finance, Aapo offers some thoughts on the influence of non-elected officials and other experts:

I'd like to make you think what problems this kind of approach - that the truth is heard from bureaucratic mouths - to societal challenges may involve. Sailas is certainly not the only civil servant who has taken role in defining what Finland should do. [...]

You never hear those openers from democratically elected leaders; they're always from professors or officials, and when the politicians finally comment their ideas, they awkwardly mumble something like how "this must be taken into consideration" but will forget it by the next campaign, where they will be once again making promises which they know they won't be able to deliver. We can of course introduce changes and reform the system by this technocratic tactic as well, but, if thinking about how sustainable it is in the long run, I find it nonetheless very worrying. There are reforms but there's no social contract behind them - which means paving the way to populists.
I'm at least as pessimistic about the nature of electioneering politicians, but somewhat more optimistic about the current system. Politicians promising what they can't deliver without going into debt is a universal phenomenon, as far as I know, and it's a positive thing to have someone who can influence our elected representatives to scale down their election promises. In practice they won't entirely abandon the costly policies on which they campaigned; they'll just scale them down to moderate the costs. For example, the inheritance tax won't be eliminated as many Coalitionists wanted, but the amount of tax-free inheritance may still rise. The food VAT won't be cut as much as the Centre proposed, but a smaller reduction may be on the cards.

As for the danger from populists, Finland's electoral history suggests that the dangerous kind won't get anywhere near power unless the economy is in serious doldrums for an extended time. The early 1990s recession was rather severe, but the protest vote in the next parliamentary election went to the Social Democrats and Paavo Lipponen, an establishment figure from the right wing of a centre-left party. I think the status quo is pretty darn sturdy as of now and can easily withstand the Centre not cutting the food VAT as much as it promised or the Coalition not getting its way on inheritance tax.

Digi it

What a fine mess we have here. Finland is supposed to move entirely from analogue TV broadcasts to digital in the summer, but stories keep coming out that the move may be put off and now no one seems to be sure what will happen. The problem is consumers consumers were supposed to buy the equipment required to receive digital broadcasts, but a lot of them still only have a plain old analogue TV set with no digital gadgetry in sight. Governmental busybodies are beginning to freak out and, as is their nature, they're turning on each other.

First the Finnish Public Broadcasting Agency (YLE) announced that apartment buildings may buy central converters that will turn digital signals to analogue. The Ministry of Transport and Communications, for its part, has said (fi) that if 85 percent of TV households can't view digital broadcasts in August, cable broadcasters can convert their digital signals to analogue till February 2008. Right now we're sitting at 66 percent. YLE worthies immediately got into a row over this, YLE chairman Hannu Olkinuora saying that their digital channels may be converted and outgoing chairman of YLE's administrative council Mika Lintilä (Centre Party) saying that they may not. MP Jyri Häkämies (National Coalition Party), widely tipped to be the next Minister of Transport and Communications, then criticized Lintilä.

I did get a kick out of this quote:

According to Mikael Jungner, the chief executive of YLE, the company had arrived at the decision to allow the central converters after a "juridical analysis" but that the message had slipped out faster than had been intended.

"The decision itself has been criticised only for its timing," Mr Jungner told reporters at the transport and communications ministry news conference.
It just goes to show the value of utter secrecy in large projects affecting most of the country's population. If only YLE hadn't told consumers what will happen, they would have rushed out to buy digital TVs and converters. Better living through misleading the public!


Because you have to draw the line somewhere

I've long been averse to using the term "blogosphere", but it pales in comparison to the latest menace. If you ever catch me referring to a short online video as a "vlog" without irony, please feel free to beat me with a pesäpallo bat.

Finland's leading fiscal conservative

Some would nominate Sauli Niinistö of the National Coalition Party, but State Secretary Raimo Sailas, the Finnish Ministry of Finance's answer to Sir Humphrey, gives him a run for his (no doubt prudently spent) money. Yesterday negotiators from the government-bound parties were made to listen to warnings from Sailas and Erkki Liikanen, Chairman of the Board of the Bank of Finland. The counterintuitive thing is that both Sailas and Liikanen are Social Democrats. There mustn't be very many countries where two leading figures from a big centre-left opposition party are carted in to explain to centre-right government party leaders that they must remember to balance the books.

Sailas is most famous, infamous even, for the Sailas Paper. The Sailas Paper is a mythical scroll that can tell those brave souls who dare to gaze upon it everything there is to know about the state of Finland's finances, from the beginning of time to the day the sun grows cold and dim. Rumor has it that going against the sage advice contained therein will lead to surefire financial ruin, breakdown of societal order, and dogs and cats living together in abject poverty. To put in less flowery terms, when Sailas makes recommendations, politicians listen.

This time around Sailas recommended that the inheritance tax not be cut too much. I tend to agree with him. The proposals to reduce or eliminate the tax in certain targeted cases, so that heirs don't have to sell small family businesses or houses in which they already live, make sense to me. The Coalition apparently wants to cut it entirely, which, I fear, would hurt the degree of social mobility we currently see in Finland. The Coalition's appeal to fairness, based on the claim that inheritances have already been taxed once, is nonsensical; sentimentality aside, the dead person paid the taxes, not the heir.


Freedom on the march

From Professor Timothy Garton Ash's essay "Europe's true stories":

Europe's history over the last 65 years is a story of the spread of freedom. In 1942, there were only four perilously free countries in Europe: Britain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland.
Can anyone think of a fifth?

Red meat on the cheap

The government program negotiations got underway yesterday. Three issues were raised in the media: food's value added tax, nuclear energy, and military neutrality. The first one is a Centre Party issue. Food producers are a traditional Centre constituency and the party has brought up cutting food VAT in several election campaigns. Now is the time to deliver. The problem is that none of their government partners are very interested in it, arguing that only a part of the tax cut will be passed on to consumers. A recent study indicated that roughly three quarters of a food VAT cut will show up in consumer prices. The other two issues, both Coalition specials, are largely symbolic.

Opening the way for a sixth nuclear reactor while the fifth one is still being built won't please the Green League. The Green leaders' reasoning goes that they can increase the government's commitment to renewable sources of energy being being in the government, but still, opposition to nuclear power has been central to their ideology for a long time. Personally I hope that they see that fighting climate change is more important and that increasing the nuclear energy production is a way to cut carbon emissions. Nevertheless, the nuclear plant can be built regardless of whether the possibility is mentioned in the government program.

Not mentioning military neutrality in the government program seems like an important move, but I think its practical implications would be minor. Finland already cooperates extensively with NATO and the government program isn't going to put an end to that. On the other hand, as I've written before elsewhere, I don't believe that a full membership is happening during Halonen's presidency, again regardless of the government program. The EU's military dimension, too, will move along just the same no matter what the Finnish government program happens to say.

PS: The Esko-Aho-for-Foreign-Minister-(ooh-he's-our-Carl-Bildt) rumour is showing signs of falling through. I kind of figured it would.


Health care funding flow charts

Courtesy of the OECD, you can check out how Finnish health care funding works in one neat flow chart. It's aesthetically pleasing.

Similar charts for many other countries are also available. For a giggle, take a gander at the United States' system.

(Via Ezra Klein.)

From Fennoman parties to the modern centre-right

If that title doesn't set your pulse racing, I don't know what will.

I've come to the conclusion that although the Finnish Party is generally held to be the precursor of the National Coalition Party, the modern Coalition is better analogous to the Young Finnish Party. The Centre Party, on the other hand, has more of the hallmarks of the Finnish Party.

Aside from a short-lived liberal group, the earliest party division in Finland was based on language. The brilliantly named Finnish Party represented the Fennomans and the not quite as wonderfully named Swedish Party, the precursor to today's Swedish People's Party, represented the Svecomans. The Finnish Party split into two gradually starting in the late 1870s. At first a group called the Young Finns formed a faction, then a sort of a party within the party, and finally broke off on their own. The reasons for the split are difficult to pin down, but my understanding is that at first it was more about style than content. The Young Finns were more confrontational toward the Swedish Party and, crucially, also toward the Russian authorities. They supported public demonstrations and their newspapers criticized the Fennomans' opponents more eagerly and with harsher tones.

Later on the two groups adopted different goals. Notably their responses to Russification differed, with the Young Finns advocating passive resistance and the Old Finns wanting to make concessions to remain in the Czar's good graces. During the independence struggle, most Young Finns pushed for full independence whereas most Old Finns, ever the pessimists, advocated greater autonomy because they believed that it was the best that could be achieved - that Russia wouldn't allow Finland to survive as an independent nation.

While the differing styles and approach to Russia account for the division, the two parties' social and economic programs came to differ, too. In general on social issues the Old Finns advocated conservative values, whereas the Young Finns were more liberal - and often badly divided. In economic questions the Old Finns, though, were to the left of the Young Finns. An interesting point of comparison are their election programs in the 1907 parliamentary election, available on the Web here (fi) and here (fi). It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Old Finns' economic reform proposals went further.

Party #1 has a large rural base, centrist economic program, advocates socially conservative values, and emphasizes maintaining close, friendly ties with our eastern neighbour. Party #2 is more urban, economically to the right, more liberal, and more critical of our eastern neighbour's power. The descriptions fit the Finnish Party and the Young Finnish Party circa 1907, but also the Centre Party and the National Coalition Party circa 1967. Nowadays the Russian question has lost its importance, but the old divisions can still be seen e.g. in the parties' attitude toward NATO membership.

For the Coalition, I think the switch was complete by the time J.K. Paasikivi died. He was the last connection between the Coalition and the old Finnish Party.


Minister lists

It's a bit early for this, but what the heck. Arno Ahosniemi (fi) of Kauppalehti Presso, Timo J Anttila (fi) of Ilta-Sanomat, and Jaakko Hautamäki (fi) of Helsingin Sanomat have posted preliminary lists of ministers. By aggregating the results we get a pretty good idea of current conventional wisdom.

Prime Minister: Matti Vanhanen (AA) (TJA) (JH) - Duh. Vanhanen (Centre Party) as the Prime Minister is certain, of course, unless he fails to form a government and no one expects that to happen.

Minister of Finance: Jyrki Katainen (AA) (TJA) (JH) - Katainen (National Coalition Party) as the Minister of Finance is nearly certain; the portfolio has more often than not gone to the leader of the other big government party and there's no indication that Katainen won't take the spot.

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Paula Lehtomäki (AA) (TJA) (JH); Sauli Niinistö, Ilkka Kanerva, Esko Aho (TJA) (JH); Olli Rehn, Alexander Stubb (JH) - If the Centre gets the portfolio, it's in all likelihood going to rising star Lehtomäki, though Rehn and Aho have been mentioned. The Coalition's leading candidate is Niinistö with Kanerva and Stubb being outside possibilities at best.

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development: Leif Fagernäs (AA); Mari Kiviniemi, Suvi Lindén, Stefan Wallin, Astrid Thors (TJA) - Who knows?

Minister of Justice: Tuija Brax (AA) (JH); Astrid Thors (TJA) - Brax (Green League) is mentioned because she's a jurist, but it's entirely possible that her party won't get the portfolio.

Minister of the Interior: Jari Koskinen (AA) (TJA); Ilkka Kanerva (TJA) - Koskinen (Coalition) is getting some portfolio by most accounts.

Minister of Regional and Municipal Affairs: Hannes Manninen (AA) (TJA) (JH); Pekka Ravi (TJA) - Manninen (Centre) is his party's acknowledged expert on municipal affairs and the subject is very important to the party.

Minister of Defense: Marja Tiura (AA); Tarja Cronberg, Ilkka Kanerva (TJA) - Another crapshoot.

Co-ordinate Minister for Finance: Astrid Thors (AA); Mari Kiviniemi (TJA) - This portfolio is a bit of a consolation prize. I would think that it goes to either the Greens or the Swedish People's Party as their second spot, which would rule out Kiviniemi (Centre)

Minister of Education: Sari Sarkomaa (AA) (TJA); Mauri Pekkarinen (TJA) (JH); Anu Vehviläinen, Paula Risikko (TJA) - Sarkomaa (Coalition) and Pekkarinen (Centre) are both widely tipped to be ministers.

Minister of Culture: Anu Vehviläinen (AA) (TJA) - I have no idea why Vehviläinen (Centre) would be particularly suited for this position.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry: Juha Korkeaoja (AA); Kimmo Tiilikainen, Katri Komi, Jari Koskinen (TJA) - Koskinen (Coalition) is a farmer by trade. Centre has several possible candidates - Korkeaoja, Tiilikainen, Komi.

Minister of Transport and Communications: Jyri Häkämies (AA) (TJA) (JH) - Häkämies (Coalition) is Katainen's right-hand man and in a leading role for Coalition in the government negotiations. Transport issues are important to his electoral district, Kymi. And by transport issues I mean lines at the Russian border.

Minister of Trade and Industry: Mari Kiviniemi (AA) (TJA); Mauri Pekkarinen, Paula Lehtomäki - All candidates are from the Centre. Kiviniemi, the party's lone MP from the Helsinki electoral district, is widely expected to become a minister.

Minister of Social Affairs and Health: Paula Risikko (AA) (TJA); Sari Sarkomaa (TJA) - Risikko (Coalition) is the party vice chair and has her education in health.

Minister of Health and Social Services: Tarja Cronberg (AA); Juha Rehula (TJA) - This is another portfolio that isn't particularly wanted.

Minister of Labour: Mauri Pekkarinen (AA); Anne Holmlund, Inkeri Kerola (TJA) - During the election campaign, the Coalition criticized the Social Democratic incumbent despite the decrease in unemployment and demanded that the next Minister of Labour has to come from some other party. The pressure will be on for whoever lands the job next.

Minister of the Environment: Stefan Wallin (AA) (TJA); Heidi Hautala (TJA) - Wallin (Swedish People's Party) held this post in the previous government and most reviews were positive.

To approach this from a different angle, here are the names that are mentioned by all three sources, sorted by party.

Centre Party
Kiviniemi, Mari (Minister of Trade and Industry?)
Lehtomäki, Paula (Minister for Foreign Affairs?)
Manninen, Hannes (Minister of Regional and Municipal Affairs?)
Pekkarinen, Mauri
Vanhanen, Matti (Prime Minister?)
Vehviläinen, Anu (Minister of Culture?)

National Coalition Party
Häkämies, Jyri (Minister of Transport and Communications?)
Katainen, Jyrki (Minister of Finance?)
Koskinen, Jari (Minister of the Interior?)
Risikko, Paula (Minister of Social Affairs and Health?)
Sarkomaa, Sari

Green League
Cronberg, Tarja

Swedish People's Party
Wallin, Stefan (Minister of the Environment?)

That would leave five portfolios unfulfilled assuming they stick with 18 ministers.


What's important? II

Previously I dealt with the government parties. This one's dedicated to the loyal opposition. As previously, the data comes from Vaalit ja demokratia Suomessa by Heikki Paloheimo et al. In a 2003 survey respondents were asked how important they considered 30 different possible political issues to be. Then the authors calculated how the answers correlated with party support.

Social Democratic Party

Social Democrats are, perhaps surprisingly to some right-wingers, very close to the political centre on most issues. There are very few goals which they rate much higher or lower than the average voter does. When everything is taken together, however, the picture becomes clearer.

The one goal Social Democrats think is clearly more important than the average voter is:

  • Securing the level of public services
To anyone who has listened to Social Democratic leaders' rhetoric, this shouldn't come as a huge surprise.

A few rungs of the ladder down, we find:
  • Decreasing unemployment
  • Strengthening the integration of the European Union
  • Securing the level of health care and medical care
The EU thing may surprise some, but at the time the party was led by the noted europhile Paavo Lipponen.

Of goals Social Democrats find less important than the rest, only one really stands out:
  • Improving the conditions of entrepreneurship
Maybe that's the party's labor union wing talking.

Social Democrats can compete with Centre Party supporters for the title of the most centrist lot fairly evenly, but they are nevertheless noticeably centre-left. Emphasizing the importance of government-provided services seems to be the defining characteristic, the one issue on which they stand out.

If it's somewhat difficult to find the defining characteristics of Social Democrats, analyzing the other opposition parties doesn't pose the same problem. All four stand out, but in very different ways.

Left Alliance

The two big issues Leftists find more important than the average voter is:
  • Improving the status of poor people
  • Securing the level of health care and medical care
Slightly less significant, but still good predictors of Leftist leanings, are:
  • Improving the income of the unemployed
  • Securing the level of care for the elderly
It's pretty safe to say that Leftists support an interventionist government which helps the needy. The notable feature is emphasis on support for the poor and the unemployed, not only the sick and the old.

There are also a number of goals they think are significantly less important than the average voter:
  • Cutting taxes
  • Reducing crime
  • Increasing discipline and order in society
  • Improving the conditions of entrepreneurship
And rock bottom, as befits an ex-communist party:
  • Strengthening religious values
In effect, Leftists are the anti-Coalitionists. The topics on which the two are on the same side of the centre are few and often they're at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Christian Democrats

Christian Democrats have one overarching concern, which shouldn't be too difficult to guess. Yes, it's...
  • Strengthening religious values
The positive correlation between supporting Christian Democrats and finding strengthening religious values important is in fact the biggest of any party/issue correlation in the survey, comfortably beating out even Greens' emphasis on increasing the efficiency of environmental protection.

The two other big issues for Christian Democrats are:
  • Strengthening traditional values and moral beliefs
  • Increasing foreign development aid
Both flow fairly naturally from the Christian angle.

Compared to the above three issues, in everything else Christian Democrats are fairly close to the political centre. There are some issues they don't find as important as the average voter, like:
  • Decreasing differences in regional development
  • Strengthening the integration of the European Union
But these are not the issues that drive the party's support. Promoting socially conservative, Christian values is the important thing.

True Finns

Unsurprisingly, True Finns have a number of issues on which they stand out.
  • Reducing crime
  • Increasing discipline and order in society
  • Limiting foreign workers' entry into the country
  • Improving living conditions
  • Limiting refugees' entry into the country
Conclusion: they live in crime-ridden concrete suburbs and hate foreigners.

As supporters of a party that largely defines itself by its opposition to things, True Finns are also well defined by the things they find less important than the average voter:
  • Improving the status of poor people
  • Strengthening the integration of the European Union
  • Improving the status of racial or other minorities
  • Improving the status of families with children
  • Increasing the efficiency of environmental protection
I was surprised by the lack of emphasis on improving the status of poor people, as I recall seeing demographic data which indicated that True Finn voters are less wealthy than the average Finn. Maybe they see "poor people" as code for "refugees". In general, party supporters don't share the right-wing economic goals of e.g Coalitionists, but also reject a number of left-wing goals. The picture is one of an isolationist, authoritarian, contrarian bunch.

Biggest individual vote shares

I was waiting for someone to do this so I wouldn't have to do the math, but since I haven't seen it anywhere, here goes. Many sources have carried a list of parliamentary election candidates who got the biggest vote totals: 1. Niinistö, 2. Vanhanen, 3. Soini... Not coincidentally, all three are from the Uusimaa electoral district, the biggest in the country. But let's see who got the biggest individual vote shares:

1. Niinistö, Sauli (National Coalition Party) 60'563 Uusimaa 13.0%
2. Lahtela, Esa (Social Democratic Party) 10'813 Pohjois-Karjala 12.6%
3. Väyrynen, Paavo (Centre Party) 10'944 Lappi 11.2%
4. Cronberg, Tarja (Green League) 7'804 Pohjois-Karjala 9.10%
5. Katainen, Jyrki (Coalition) 10'806 Pohjois-Savo 8.45%
6. Viitamies, Pauliina (Soc Dem) 6'690 Etelä-Savo 8.06%
7. Tennilä, Esko-Juhani (Left Alliance) 7'739 Lappi 7.94%
8. Vehviläinen, Anu (Centre) 6'789 Pohjois-Karjala 7.92%
9. Mustajärvi, Markus (Left) 7'675 Lappi 7.88%
10. Lehtomäki, Paula (Centre) 16'390 Oulu 7.12%

At first look Niinistö's accomplishment doesn't seem so phenomenal in this comparison, with Lahtela and - dispiritingly - Väyrynen breathing down his neck. But when you look at what election districts the other candidates hail from, the small gap starts to look bigger. Niinistö is the only candidate on the list from the five biggest electoral districts. Lehtomäki, who's from the sixth biggest electoral district, has the second best vote total in the top ten and she's tenth. Lappi, Pohjois-Karjala, and Etelä-Savo, the three smallest districts, fill seven of the ten spots. It makes sense that getting a big share of the vote is easier in small districts, as they have less candidates competing for the same 100 percent share.

Also, of course in terms of MPs, a big vote share in a big electoral district is worth more than the same percentage of votes in a smaller district.

Bubbling under with more than 10'000 votes and 5% of the total votes were:

Tiura, Marja (Coalition) 17'578 Pirkanmaa 6.92%
Kiljunen, Anneli (Soc Dem) 10'770 Kymi 6.42%
Mieto, Juha (Centre) 13'768 Vaasa 5.66%
Zyskowicz, Ben (Coalition) 17'607 Helsinki 5.53%
Vanhanen, Matti (Centre) 24'112 Uusimaa 5.16%


Finnish political compass

I've written about Finnish parties' place in the political field before (e.g. here and here), but the treatment the topic really calls for is an arbitrarily put together political compass. The exact placements are subjective, but my opinion is mostly based on data found in Vaalit ja demokratia Suomessa by Heikki Paloheimo et al., the Finnish Business and Policy Forum's 2007 Attitude and Value Survey, and the Helsingin Sanomat's election machine's (fi) pretty, pretty maps (fi).

The left/right axis is based on economic issues, the liberal/conservative on social issues.

5 |
4 |
| 7
left -------2--+----------> right
| 3
| 1
| 6

1 Centre Party (Keskusta)
2 Social Democratic Party (Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue)
3 National Coalition Party (Kansallinen Kokoomus)
4 Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto)
5 Green League (Vihreä liitto)
6 Christian Democrats (Kristillisdemokraatit)
7 Swedish People's Party (Svenska folkpartiet)
8 True Finns (Perussuomalaiset)

It should be noted that some parties' support is spread more widely than others'. Examples of parties with a diverse lot of supporters are the three most centrist parties, the Centre, the Social Democrats, and the Swedish PP. True Finn supporters are all over the map in their economic opinions and the National Coalition Party voters and politicians display quite a bit of variance on the liberal/conservative axis.

Opportunism of the worst kind

Thanos Kalamidas's intermittent coverage of Finnish politics in Ovi Magazine isn't very good. Consider the recent article "A dark blue government & the jolly greens", for example.

Kalamidas writes in the intro that the Christian Democrats managed to enter the last government, when they of course managed no such thing. The statement that a lot of the Social Democratic Party's voters moved to the right-wing National Coalition Party is dubious, unless Kalamidas is privy to some data I've missed entirely. (In his election preview, he wrote that the Coalition's symbol is a blue rose and that the battle of the SDP and the Coalition has been dubbed the "War of the Roses", a phrase I had never heard before in this context since the blue flower in the Coalition logo is a cornflower.) These aren't big mistakes, but they don't exactly inspire confidence, either.

To be fair, the premise that the Green League has sold out is an interesting one. I agree with Kalamidas that the Finnish Greens' policies aren't always in sync with continental greens, especially continental greens of reddish hue, and they're probably more willing to compromise than most. However, we're talking about a political system in which the Coalition and the socialist Left Alliance can coexist not only in the same government, but in the same Ministry of Finance. If purity is what one wants in a political party, there's always the Communist Workers' Party on the left and the Finnish People's Blue-Whites on the right - although they might be willing to compromise, too, if only they had something to offer in a deal.

Kalamidas describes a few years back how he asked one Green candidate what the party is doing to ban land mines. According to him, the candidate answered that land mines are a tradition in Finland and there's nothing to do about it. Regardless, the Greens as a party have been among the most enthusiastic supporters (fi) of Finland joining the Ottawa treaty to ban land mines. The mention of Hannele Luukkainen's switch from the Greens to the Coalition - I believe she's the politician in question - is just odd. If the Greens have already sold out, why did she have to change parties, again?

Kalamidas concludes that the Green League folks are "nothing more than opportunists and the worst kind", who "prey upon people's sensitivity to satisfy their pitiful ambitions" I'm not sure how the Greens are supposed to be hiding their true nature from land mine hating, nuclear energy opposing lefties. I think they were quite open about their ambitions before the election. I expect them to have trouble maintaining their current level of support in the government, but it should be kept in mind that their current level of support is very good compared to most European green parties, the sort Kalamidas would prefer them to be. Would they be influential if they had a five percent support and no intention of entering anything but a left-wing government? I very much doubt it.


Previous election coverage

I've written quite on a bit on the 2007 Finnish parliamentary election while guest blogging on Aapotsikko. For reference purposes, I thought I'd link to all the posts in one handy post. So, previously, on a different channel:

Not directly related to the election, I also wrote the following: