Meet the candidate hoping to be Europe’s first indigenous MEP

Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi says he'll be representing all of Finland's Arctic residents if he gets elected to Brussels - and he's got plenty of in-depth policy proposals to make as well.

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File picture of Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi (SDP) / Credit: News Now Finland

On a chilly spring morning Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi (SDP) is shuttling through Helsinki Central Railway Station, taking a well-traveled route from Lapland to the capital.

After this month’s European Parliament elections he’s hoping for a much longer commute, all the way to Brussels and Strasbourg. If he gets elected, Näkkäläjärvi won’t just become the EU’s most northerly politician, but also its first indigenous MEP.

“I have an apartment in Helsinki and also in Rovaniemi. I live in those two cities. And my girlfriend lives in Heslinki. So if I get elected to the European Union parliament and move to Brussels, I guess I have three addresses” he says.

There’s certainly never been an indigenous MEP from Finland before, and, Näkkäläjärvi believes, not from any other EU country either. Current MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri (SDP) has spoken of distant Sámi roots, but neither she nor her parents are registered on the Sámi Parliament electoral roll, and she’s said during this current campaign that she doesn’t self-identify as Sámi.

There’s precious few Sámi politicians visible on the national stage in Finland and currently only one Sámi member of the Finnish parliament. Näkkäläjärvi, with his role as chair of the Social Democrats Youth organisation, is a rare example.

“Many Sámi people who are active in politics are active in Sámi politics, in Sámi Parliament elections and the Nordic Sámi cooperation; and also in the United Nations and international level, but not so much in Finnish politics, either local or national” explains Näkkäläjärvi.

Campaign van advertising Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi (SDP) for European Parliament elections, May 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Balancing representation

Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi is careful to point out that he’s not running as a Sámi candidate per se, but as a Social Democrat candidate.

In a traditional society where questions of identity and representation are as sensitive as they are important, he stresses that he feels as much Finnish as Sámi.

“My father’s family are Sámi people, reindeer herders and have been living in Inari and Enontekiö, and I have been living in Sámi culture. But I have also been raised up in Finnish culture, my mother’s family are from Rovaniemi” he says.

“I hope that if I get elected to the European Parliament I represent both. Of course if I would be the northernmost member of the European Parliament in Finland, and if I would be the only Sámi member of the European Parliament I need to concentrate on Sámi politics, Arctic politics and all the phenomenons which have an impact on the Sámi people, and people living in the Arctic” the 28-year old tells News Now Finland.

Broadening diversity in Finnish politics

For this elections the Social Democrats – and other parties on the left – have a number of candidates with minority backgrounds running for office.

It was the same in April’s general election as well, with more minority and immigrant background candidates running than ever before – yet only two got elected. No change in the status quo.

Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi thinks the needle will undoubtedly shift on this in years to come.

“I feel that it’s the basic idea of representative democracy that you choose people to make decisions, and the people who are decision-makers should represent all the people not only people who are doing well already” he says.

“I believe in 20 years the situation is better in Finnish politics when it comes to all representation of minorities like Romas, Russian-background minorities, Somalis, people who came to Finland as a refugee”.

He also wants to see more diversity in terms of economic background of candidates, although says that gender equality is one of the success stories of Finnish domestic politics.

“Even though we have a lot of discussion about racism in Finland, and the discussion is polarizing, and candidates and politicians say stupid things about minorities, I feel in general development is going forward” he says, attributing the impact of social media ‘opinion bubbles’ as one thing that has increased the polarization of politics and society.

European Parliament lection campaign advert for Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi on Helsinki metro, May 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Changing things up in Brussels 

Like every aspiring politician, Mikkel Näkkäläjärvi has a wish list of things he’d like to achieve if he gets elected.

It’s tough to whittle it down, so he reflects for a few days, before sending a follow-up email.

At the top of his list is harmonizing corporate tax rules and creating minimum tax levels in EU states “to prevent a race to the bottom” he says.

Secondly, he wants to use the EU’s trade policy as a stronger tool for climate politics.

“The European Union is the biggest economy in the world, and if the EU would demand more from its trading partners, it could have a greater impact on climate change”.

He also wants to reduce EU agricultural subsidies and invest more to Erasmus+, research, security and border control.

And as a bonus: “I would end having the European Parliament’s plenary sessions in Strasbourg”.

After all, if he’s already got three different addresses, why add a fourth?

File picture of flags outside European Parliament building in Brussels / Credit: iStock