With Finland assuming the EU presidency until the end of December its President Tarja Halonenn is going to find herself at the head of the Union at a critical time. She is Finland’s first female president, at at the start of her second six year term she enjoys 80 percent popularity in the latest polls.
EuroNews was invited to her summer getaway in Kultaranta, where this veteran of social democrat politics, and government ministries comes to recharge her batteries. A place of calm ahead of busy times:
“A theme to be developed under your presidency is the “nordic dimension”. What does this mean in a European context?”
“This means bringing the nations around the Baltic together in the way that for the last decade the Mediterranean nations have done, bringing neighbours into the Union. In the south some countries are members, others are trying to be, and others will never be interested in joining. In the north of course we also have members and countries like Russia, which is a partner and rich in future potential. Further north countries like Norway and Iceland are rich and well developed, but are not looking for membership at the moment”.
“The nordic style “welfare state”, wedding social security safety with high competitivity is interesting more and more European politicians. Is your model applicable elsewhere in Europe?”
“In Europe we have to compete, that’s the game. In Finland, Sweden, everywhere, we have to play the quality card, we can’t do quantity, so to get that quality we have to concentrate on quality factors, and that means the workforce itself.
I think Europe is immediately competitive internationally if it backs education, education, and education. I repeat it so we’ll remember.
I should add research, and all the other knowledge industries”.
“The Lisbon strategy, not a new thing any more, and still unapplied, seems excellent, and I think that the unhappiness shown by Europeans towards the European Union is partially due to the fact that we have been unable to satisfy their desire for a big competitive internal market”.
“In the struggle for equality when will the election of a woman no longer be “news”?
“Of course, we need women to be elected as often as men, as opposed to the old idea that women need to be taken into account three times more to stand a chance of election. Half the population is feminine, if we don’t use this half of humanity as efficiently as the other we all lose out”.
“Quotas can encourage and assist at first; Finnish women won their full rights just 100 years ago. At the moment nearly 40 percent of parliament is feminine, but in government currently more than 40 percent of the ministerial jobs are held by women, because political parties are taking the equality issue very seriously”.
“Here at the moment we have a lively discussion about women in power, not in the public but in the private sector, because it seems that there the career advancement prospects still appear slim”.
“This year sees the 20th. anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Many European nations are afraid of nuclear power, but you are expanding capacity. Why?”.
“I think that in Finland and elsewhere in Europe we are more mature than before and we can debate this responsibly. We want the Finnish presidency to be a chance to open and amplify these debates, so a producer-consumer dialogue can open wider.
Several countries interest in nuclear power has grown as a way to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, but that isn’t the only way of tackling the subject. We have to find a way of debating this calmly”.
“During the second world war Finland was at war with Russia. Since then relations have been cordial, despite the cold war. How can this be of use to the EU?”.
“This was a very intimate neighbourly relationship; living next to each other for decades, whether or not we were Finns or Russians. We can share this concrete experience, even more as this fact has deepened in recent years”.
“Russia has become more powerful. Can it be seen as a threat to its neighbours”?
“Russia offers more of an opportunity than a menace. I’ve said several times now that the Russia we have today is the best we’ve ever had. It shares our European values, and fights to defend them. In times of change there are always risks, and these concern not only Russia and Finland, but the rest of Europe”.
“Often high ranking officials are elected to international bodies, like the United Nations, from small states. If you were asked, would you become the UN’s General Secretary?”.
“Of course, anyone would be interested by such a job. At the moment however Asia is pushing for a candidate, even if there are no rules on the subject. I hope above all for a successful candidate who is good in the job, because the UN must be representative of the entire world, and I hope a balance is found in this sense. However, irrespective of their origin, if there are competent female candidates, they should be eligible”.