Can Europe Make It?

The populist appeal – bottom-up perspectives: Finland's biggest problems

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The small city of Kouvola lies in forests where once the paper industry thrived. Recently, the region has suffered from closing factories and loss of jobs. Kouvola is one of the most important strongholds for the Finns Party. The following excerpts are taken from a focus group of party supporters.

Juho Rahkonen
14 March 2014

 “While young people have a hard time finding jobs, the government tries to extend working careers and keep older people longer in the working life. I can’t understand this!”

 “At the moment, we are moving too fast in this society. Our political leaders cannot keep up with this pace, and therefore politics has become too short-sighted. We should adopt a kind of five-year planning process like it was in the Soviet Union.”

“But do we have time for such long-sighted planning in our hectic time?” Male participant 1

 “It’s up to us, ourselves.”

 “It is globalization that causes this all. Everything is measured in quarter year time, not longer.”

 “To me, employment policy is of the most concern. All these structural changes in paper and forest industry… What about the future of our youth?”

“I am most worried about industrial jobs. I can’t understand why we are giving jobs away from Finland. Only service jobs remain here, but we can’t get living from them only.”

[Another man said that the government should focus on advancing and supporting new creative industries, such as production of computer games. He added that this is particularly important from the youth employment point of view. In the group there were a couple of experienced paper factory workers, and they thought that Finland cannot compete by mass production of conventional paper industry products; instead, Finland needs to specialize in high-tech products.]

“We need to be open-minded and innovative. But the question is: how many jobs can we create that way?”

“I used to be a hard-liner supporter for Finland’s membership in the European Union. But it hasn’t fulfilled its promises. An ordinary person can feel that for example in a grocery store. They promised that with EU membership we would get cheaper food, but the opposite has happened.”

“Another issue which really concerns me is agriculture politics. It used to suck, but in the EU time it sucks even more. It is a threat that we will no longer have food production here in the north.”

[The participants thought that the European Union is too complex and has too many different countries to work properly. There is also a common perception that Finland does everything too well and is too obedient in enforcing EU directives.]

“One example is recycling: while we here in North put everything in the right place, somewhere in Greece people dump their waste on top of the mountain, then burn a cigarette and drive away. Finnish politicians also hide behind EU’s back: they outsource the responsibility there.”

Moderator: “When we look at all these issues that you have been describing, how did we get into this situation? What has led us there?”

“Our politicians were not ready for the great structural change caused by globalization. There has been a lack of visions.”

“One reason is that there are too many railroad cars in the EU train, but no engine to lead the train. I don’t want to sound like a True Finn, but a crucial mistake was made when Ireland was given a bailout. Then everything started to go wrong.”

The statements in context

Until recently, the political landscape in the Kouvola region was dominated by the Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP), which is a traditional working class party. However, due to the austerities of economic recession and the disappointment over the old parties’ ability to handle the situation, many SDP voters have turned their heads towards the Finns Party, which is also a working-class party, but not as left-wing as the SDP.

Nearly everything that was talked about in the citizen consultations touched directly or indirectly on the future of the Finnish welfare state. Virtually all voters in Finland share this concern, regardless of their political outlook. Over the last years there has been a public debate about whether Finnish political parties are too similar.

Immigration issues are far less important for the great majority of the Finns Party voters outside Helsinki; in the vast rural Finland where they live, there are few foreigners and immigration is not actually an issue. Euro crisis and youth marginalization are those themes that unite the majority of the Finns voters all around the country, as the remarks quoted above show.

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