Heidi Hautala is not a candidate, but she has been active in the campaign, in particular helping the new generation of Greens in this campaign. She is a well-known political figure in the Finnish landscape, and one of the most popular Green politicians in Finland. She has been a Member of the European Parliament from 1995 to 2003 and 2009 to 2011. She chaired the Subcommittee on Human Rights 2009–2011. She served as Minister for International Development and State Ownership Steering in Jyrki Katainen’s cabinet. She resigned in 2013 and was then reelected in the European Parliament in 2014. There she is the Chair of the Parliament’s Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly (EU Eastern Partnership) and a member of the Delegation to the EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. She works in the Development Committee and Legal Affairs Committee.
What is happening in the European Parliament in Brussels, which may have an impact on our lives?
First hot topic is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the free trade agreement negotiated between the EU and the US, is going to affect people’s everyday lives in terms of standards on consumer protection and environmental health. That is why we need to take it very seriously. The negotiation is likely take a long time before it is finalised, but now is the moment when the European Parliament can influence the content. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament can say yes or no to international agreements. Thus it must also get full and timely information. I think it’s our big responsibility, and we are far ahead of the role of any national parliament, in this respect. Just this week it became clear that there is a very strong opposition against the infamous “investor-state-dispute-settlement” mechanism (ISDS).
Does this trade agreement mean that we might have beef with hormones and chicken preserved with chlorine on our table?
I don’t think that the European Commission can get the majority for this treaty in Europe, if they make a compromise on these kinds of things that really impact consumers. It would be dramatic to say that because of this agreement our standards will become lower. Very few people would accept that, and it would be the recipe for failure.
Another hot issue is Russia, more precisely Russia and Ukraine. I am the president on the EU side of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, the parliamentary component of the Eastern Partnership, consisting of members of the European Parliament as well as the national parliaments of Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. EP did not accept that the parliament of Belarus is a member as the elections in the country are far from free and fair. We do face serious human rights issues e.g. in Azerbaijan which has a very severe crackdown of the civil society. It is a very conflictual region. Armenia is occupying a part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh and they’re caught up in war.
Then there is the war in Ukraine which lays a big shadow over everything.
My main aim is to get the right support for these countries that are choosing an EU-orientation. It is a very difficult process, because they have to build institutions, they have to fight corruption and implement 300-400 EU-directives. Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine are on this path.
Then you have the specific situation of Belarus, which is very close to the Kremlin.
There are a lot of other topics I am involved in in Brussels, among others transparency for which I worked long. The EU development policy has a crucial year with many important UN conferences.
We have seen you campaigning for the parliamentary elections by supporting Green candidates. What is your feeling about this campaign?
I look at it a bit from outside and realise that we never had a similar situation, where the government was so weak, and failed almost daily towards the end of its term. Of course the Greens were part of that government for three and a half years, and I was personally in for two and a half years.
I think the problem of such a multi-party democracy is that it may end up in very broad coalitions with 4 to 6 parties. It is then difficult to have high level compromises. You either reach low level compromises or you have unclear compromises written into the original program of the government. Then later every party ends up having a different interpretation. It is not a good to have a broad coalition, and it seems to be the general feeling in the country.
I feel sympathy for all the candidates who are struggling with getting in touch with voters after answering hundreds of questions in the election machines, as they call them. I am happy that there is a positive atmosphere around the Greens now which creates an energised campaign. I try to help a bit.
What kind of coalition would you see as possible?
One should never judge before the elections, but the worst would be a value conservative government with the Centre party and the “Finns'” party. It might even cancel a major achievement of this government, the same sex marriage law. I do not expect that the Centre Party will be leading a prominent environmental policy either. There is still a near-total denial of the environmentally harmful agricultural practices for the Baltic Sea. Besides, environmental policy has come up under the heading of better regulation, which means deregulation. There is a complete illusion that, if we get rid of regulation, businesses will flourish and the economy will grow. I am also against the unnecessary regulation, but I think this has become at high level a very ideological discussion, not a pragmatic one. My favourite unnecessary, directly harmful EU regulation is the Daylight Saving Time. I have decided to do my utmost to kill it. There is no rational argument for switching clocks twice a year.
In this country, until very recent years, the only question in energy policy was “how we can get more of it at a reasonable price, especially electricity for industry”. For years, the answer has been nuclear, a heavy reliance on nuclear. The government gave green light to a Russian, Kremlin controlled nuclear project. But the electricity consumption patterns forecasts have been brought down from the years when they were artificially high. Consumption used as a good argument for building nuclear plants. The industry has been in a huge restructuration. The perspective must also change. I hope that the Center party will make a new energy policy its core area.
You cannot hide it any more that the society is very much changing due to new technical possibilities. Finland must now take the new way, which for us Greens is the key. I would be very happy to see the Greens again in such a new government
You can be surprised that, in this country, the Greens have been in the government since 1995 in all kinds of coalitions altogether for fifteen years of the last twenty years. Only between 2002 and 2007 we have been in the opposition.
It is the nature of the Greens. The opposition is important, but moving things is in our political DNA, and I think we have good people doing that. Preferable is to try to go to the government on such conditions that you can explain it to your voters and make things happen. The Greens might also end up in a coalition depending on the outcome of the coalition.
Would a new nuclear plant be a red light for the Greens?
Yes. This is our destiny (she laughs). We always end up with the same question. We left the government twice, and only because of nuclear power decisions we opposed.
Lucky for me I had to leave the government well ahead of European elections. It allowed me to return to the European Parliament where many people say I am at my best, which you can interpret any way you like. I also do.
If you are at your best, say, in the European Parliament, would you still be interested in the Finnish politics one day?
I have done enough there. After leaving the government in October 2013, I began to think where I could best use my expertise and experience. I then established a one woman consulting firm for companies to help them deal with human rights and development policy. I had my first client who wanted me as a senior advisor on development policies. I, however, agreed to be a candidate for the EU elections, and got elected. I still have the company, and I most likely work as an independent consultant in the future. As the minister responsible for state enterprises my best contribution was to reflect together with the chairs of the boards and CEOs on what kind of unexpected societal challenges they were facing, such as the use of child labour in Pakistan or land use -violations in China. I am now looking at corporate accountability issues more from the EU legislator’s perspective and looking f