With the Finnish general election just over three months away – on 14th April – political and parties start the new year in full campaigning mode.
We talked to candidates from the four most popular parties – a combination of two will almost certainly form the core of the next government – to find out what they wanted to focus on during the campaign.
All four candidates, interviewed separately, said that climate change and environment issues were the main reason they got into politics. But beyond that they cite social justice, the economy, inclusion, and security issues as motivators as well.
Environment & security
As a Green party candidate the environment is at the top of Atte Harjanne‘s agenda. The 34-year old is currently a member of Helsinki City Council and hopes to be elected to parliament at the spring elections.
“On the party level, I feel like the Greens are still clearly the ones that prioritise environmental issues. But we have to earn this position, and recognise we’re not the only ones who are interested in it” says Harjanne.
“But from a personal level, I have a background doing research on the socio-economic impact of climate change, and I feel like I can bring a voice to the table, some expertise that might be new even within our party, and combine the frontier of the research world with politics” he explains.
Harjanne also sees a clear connection between environment issues and security policy, and thinks there should be more attention focused on that in the next parliament, even if it isn’t at the top of voters’ wish lists for politicians.
“I’m a bit of an oddball in the Greens. I’m an active reservist and I have looked into the security issues of climate policy and also hybrid security. I don’t want to politicise things too much but sometimes it’s a problem when we talk about security issues and foreign policy and someone says climate is the biggest issue, but you have to think about how it all fits together, to have perspective” he says.
The upcoming general election sees a number of older politicians bowing out from the national stage, which could mean there are more opportunities for younger politicians and fresh ideas to break through.
“We will see a lot of new active faces in politics, and that’s a great thing and really interesting to see what happens. I don’t think it’s going to be some big revolution, but I think it will be a big enough shift that it will be reflected in the political culture for the coming years, and I hope it’s the basis for new forms of cooperation between different parties” says Harjanne.
Environment & the economy
At 21-years old, Hanken economics student Veera Hellman knows it’s an uphill struggle just to raise enough money to run an effective campaign.
“There’s a lot of candidates that spend tens of thousands on their campaign. I am a student. I don’t have that much money. I have to pay my rent and I can’t put aside as much money as someone working full time can do” she says.
“The money isn’t the most important thing. It’s the message. But the money helps me to reach out” Hellman adds.
With some prior experience working for Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP), Veera wants to use her campaign to show that the environment and the economy can work in tandem as a political concept.
“For me as a member of the National Coalition party I think that most people think we are the party where economics plays the biggest part, but I would like to show that economics and environmental issues don’t shut each other out” she tells News Now Finland.
“We don’t have to make decisions that are only for the environment, but we can make decisions that are economically sound and environmentally good” Hellman explains.
She wants tougher legislation to penalise people or companies who damage the environment, and would like to see new science and technological strides from Finnish universities working to solve climate change problems, especially with regards to plastic pollution.
Another reason Veera is running is to show a younger side of the National Coalition Party. She first got involved in youth politics at age 15, as a member of the youth council in her hometown of Pori.
“I have to speak out from the perspective of a 21-year old woman, and in politics there’s not so many young women. Our party has a reputation as a party for the rich people, and there might be a lot more men than women, so I would like to be part of the process and show that we are not the party for the rich ones, we are a party for everyone” she says.
Environment & inclusion
Running in the capital, Husu Hussein thinks his experience on Helsinki City Council has prepared him for the next job in parliament.
“I think I’m a pragmatic guy, I love challenge, and I see a lot of people who promise and talk about a lot of things, but when it comes to doing those things, they don’t” he says.
Hussein is working an extra job as a taxi driver to help finance his campaign, and like the other three candidates we talked to, climate change is the number one reason he’s running for higher office.
“It’s not one country’s issue, it’s a personal thing, a local thing, a governmental thing, a national thing and a global thing” he tells News Now Finland.
“We are misusing our resources. We just keep on consuming things. But as long as we keep pointing fingers saying whose fault it is, whose problem it is, I don’t think we as humans will achieve what we are supposed to achieve” he says.
Also high on his list of priorities are the many challenges facing Finland’s young men. There’s a core group comprising more than 60,000 of these men out of work and out of education between the ages of 18 and 26. When they leave behind the structure of military service they don’t have something else to go to, and get let down by a system and a society that’s supposed to support them and help them succeed.
“If we don’t get those guys to do anything beneficial for their lives they’re not only going to be a problem for themselves but for the whole country. We need to get them education and work” says Hussein.
Although he was born in Somalia, Husu is quick to point out that he’s not an immigrant candidate, but rather a candidate with an immigrant background who can use his experience and expertise – running Finland’s largest multicultural network Moniheli – in the national parliament, serving an increasingly diverse population.
“I am going to represent everyone, but I am going to bring immigrant issues to the negotiating table […] I believe every immigrant who comes has something to offer to this society” he says.
Environment & social policy
After running unsuccessfully for parliament in 2011, Eeva Kärkkäinen took a break from politics, but soon found herself back at the coalface, as a special adviser to Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre).
“I can’t help it! I think politics is amazing even though it’s hard. It’s hard and interesting and it’s the way to make a difference” she tells News Now Finland.
Politics, she says, is the way to change society for the better, and there are two reasons she got engaged in politics in the first place: climate change and social justice.
“How do we make sure Finland is a welfare state 20 years from now, and every kid has the same opportunities regardless of their family background?” Kärkkäinen asks.
“The government has just raised the minimum benefits, but it has been a difficult four years because it was a long, economically difficult period for Finland. It’s obvious that it hasn’t been the best time to make the social security system better. But now because the economy is doing better, it’s possible also to make changes in the next parliamentary period” she says.
From Eeva’s perspective, those changes don’t just come with people having more money in their pockets. She sees it’s about what kind of services are available for struggling families, or parents who might be unemployed.
“We are talking about preventing services such as domestic help or low threshold services for mental health. Do people get help when they need help”.