Ardern irked by age question as she meets Finland PM Sanna Marin

Access to the comments Comments
By David Mac Dougall  & AP
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left) meets Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (right) in Auckland, 30 November 2022
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (left) meets Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (right) in Auckland, 30 November 2022   -   Copyright  Luci Harrison

Sanna Marin is on a working visit to New Zealand and Australia this week, the first ever by a Finnish prime minister. 

But did she meet her Kiwi counterpart Jacinda Ardern just because they're both women of a similar age? 

That was the question from a New Zealand journalist -- a man -- at a press conference in Auckland on Wednesday morning, and it drew a sharp response from the two prime ministers.

"A lot of people will be wondering, are you two just meeting because you're a similar age?" asked the reporter from Newstalk ZB, as Ardern looked on, seemingly irked.  

 "My first question is whether anyone ever asked Barack Obama or [former New Zealand prime minister] John Key if they met because they're of a similar age?" the NZ PM shot back.

"We have of course a high percentage of men in politics, it's reality, and because two women meet it's not just a matter of their gender," she added, before reciting a list of export items that flow between the two countries -- with the balance of trade in Finland's favour -- and highlighting how the EU-NZ Free Trade Agreement could really help open up new markets in Finland for New Zealand exports.

The question about the ages of the two prime ministers -- Sanna Marin is 37, Jacinda Ardern is 42 -- came after other questions from NZ journalists about whether the two women would be mentoring each other; if young female politicians have to work harder to avoid criticism of their personal lives; and whether Marin was concerned the New Zealand media was calling her the "party prime minister".

The Finnish PM said she and Ardern had talked about the need to support women's rights, especially with the current situation in Iran, and that there were many areas where the two countries could tighten cooperation. 

As for the perceived reputation as a party animal? "I don't focus on it," said Marin. 

"During our government period there has been the global pandemic, there is war now in Europe, there is an energy crisis and perhaps an economic crisis in front of us, so there are many things on my plate," Marin stated, adding that the media was free to write about whatever they wanted. 

Diplomatic response to the press conference

New Zealand's ambassador to Finland Andrew Jenks told Euronews he was "surprised" that journalists asked these sorts of questions.

"But no, the two PMs did not meet because they are the same age -- they are not -- or both women or both brunettes." 

"The visit was a signal of the strong relationship between two like-minded counties who understand the value of working together to support the international rules-based system at a time when it is under pressure," he added.

Ambassador Jenks pointed out that both countries have had "robust responses in terms of substantial military and non-military assistance to Ukraine," and that the recently-signed free trade agreement means there is likely greater cooperation in the future on dependable and trustworthy sources for technology and commodities, including with the green transition that both Finland and New Zealand are undertaking. 

When asked about what soft-power influence smaller countries like Finland and New Zealand could exert, Marin says when it comes to Ukraine, "we need hard power." 

“They need weapons, they need financial support, they need humanitarian support, and we need to also make sure that all the refugees fleeing from Ukraine are welcomed to Europe,” Marin added.