Simon Elo is a Member of the Finnish Parliament for the Finns Party, from the Uusimaa constituency. It is hisfirst term as an MP. He is married, and father of one son, 5 months old.
Simon, what do you stand for?
My priority, as for this government, is the economy. We have to get Finland back on track on that. Besides that, of course, one really important issue at the moment is immigration, how we will handle the issue with the refugee crisis and immigration in general. I think it’s a big issue for many European countries, not only for Finland. And then, I’m also interested in foreign policy, if you think about what’s happening, like in Syria, which of course affects Syrians living in Europe, as well. And foreign policy is also something that I’m especially interested in.
I see that you have worked on Israel. You mention that you are supporting Israel.
My sister lives in Israel. She has dual citizenship of Finland and Israel. She has been living there since 1997, and I’ve been to Israel 11 times, I think. But why I support it politically, to some extent—not every move they make, but to some extent—is because I feel, and especially in the light of these terrorist attacks that we have had now in Europe, that they are the only Western democratic country in the region. That is a natural ally for us against radical Islamism. If we want to tackle the issue here in Europe, I think it’s also natural to try to tackle it in the Middle East. And especially in the light that it has been said in public that the main organizer of the attack in Paris was operating from Syria, it’s really important to have allies from the region.
The attack in Paris has been creating a lot of emotion in Europe and in the world, but a lot in Europe, and a lot of people are supporting Hollande on this. What should be done in the European Union in order to fight terrorism?
First and foremost, the Finnish government is planning to change our legislation, so that we can give even military aid to France in this kind of situation, so that if one European Union country would be in need of help, Finland would also be able to provide even military assistance, which is something we cannot do by the current law. That’s the first thing.
I think that President Hollande is doing a pretty good job, in the sense that he’s trying to form a coalition against ISIS. I think we have to negotiate with countries like Russia on this issue. I think we have to have them on board. In essence, I think that we have to have a similar coalition like we used to have against Nazi Germany in the Second World War, the sort of unholy alliance. There are a lot of issues where we don’t agree with the Russians, but this is an issue that we need as broad a coalition as possible, and I think that they should be on board.
The case of terrorism is very different, because if there was one country in this case, it is easier, ISIS is present everywhere…
You are right, it’s not from one country, and that makes it even harder as an issue. But I feel that it’s the same kind of evil, that there’s no logical idea behind it. In my mind, it’s plain evil to do those things that they do. And at the same time, we of course have to address that we are not waging a war against Islam or Islamic countries, per se. We are fighting against terrorists, which happen to be radical Islamists. These two things have to be separated, because of course, there’s no interest and no sensible idea to wage a war against a religion or all of the followers of the religion. That’s not the point.
The point is to get to the head of the snake and cut that, so that we could be able to cut the organizational structure that they have, so that they couldn’t attack Europe or the United States anymore.
And in my mind, that’s also beneficial for the immigrants living in here and coming here, especially Muslims, because this kind of situation, unfortunately, creates a lot of tension between different groups in this society.
What should be done especially to protect Finland now?
Finland is not in direct threat. It’s a small country, not directly involved in the Middle-East. But of course, because we are in the European Union, I would say that we are probably viewed as one entity, and Finland is part of that entity. So, we have to be on board, but in the case of Finland, I am not especially worried that Finland would be attacked, because Finland’s involvement, at least so far, has been so low. I’m more concerned for countries like France and Germany and the UK, and even Denmark, for example, which have been more active in operations in the Middle East.
Let’s come to Finland’s politics. First, a question about the election of Mr. Tynkkynen. He wanted a discussion about participating in the coalition government. How do you think this will be solved? There’s the fact that he has been excluded, but he has been reelected among the young Finns. What could be done now? What will happen? What kind of solution will there be?
It is a responsibility of the current board of the committee to address the issue. For me, the situation is that the third vice chairman, as he is, has, from our party’s point of view, violated certain of the laws that we have in Finland on privacy of people when he made his point, and wanted to have signatures for that. He didn’t say to people explicitly that he was going to publish their names, and he did not clarify if their signatures were authentic or not. So, that’s the reason why he was expelled, not because he has different opinions, but because he has violated the law, and that’s a big mistake, if you are the third vice chairman of a party, to do something like that.
And , politically, you cannot direct the party from the seat of third vice chair. You would need to be the chairman of the party. So, then, there needs to be adhesion to some kind of structure, in order for us, as a party, to function. And unfortunately, in my mind, he hasn’t adhered to this kind of organizational structure. He has tried to walk over everybody else. That kind of leadership doesn’t work in a political party.
So, what will happen now, in your own opinion?
He has said that he might sue the party board because of this decision, and probably he will do it, and we will see what happens in court. I’m quite certain that we have a good, solid legal case, that he has violated these laws, and because of this, he had to be expelled. So, I don’t believe that it will beneficial for him to sue the party, but that’s his right in a democratic country.
We’re not going in the direction of a soft solution, negotiated solution?
Probably not. There won’t be a soft solution, because the party board feels that he has violated the laws, and also made wrong political moves. So, there’s really no room anymore for a peaceful solution. The only peaceful solution that I could see is that he doesn’t sue the party, he accepts the fact that he has been expelled, and maybe waits for a few years and shows that he has changed, and maybe he can be taken back in the party. But that’s up to him.
What do you like especially in the government program? What kind of positive things are being done?
I like the atmosphere of actually doing something, because for the last four years in Finland, the problem was that the government was dysfunctional. We had 6 parties in the government, out of 8. In the later years of the government, we had still 4. The issue is that we had from the communists to the capitalists, from that extreme left to the right, so it really was a dysfunctional government. And now we have a better base. We have parties that are reasonably center right, in my mind, all of these three parties, to some degree at least. So, it makes a better place to make policies.
If you think about economics, we have now made a plan to make a social policy reform. That is really important for Finland. Of course, it is also really important to look at different sectors where we can make some cuts, because even when we are making these kind of cuts that we are making with this government, still we are taking 5 billions euros more deficit next year. So, it is important for the government to have a plan to make the government economy so that we would not increase our debt until 2020! That’s the most important thing.
The next thing that I feel is, of course, good from the point of the view of the Finns Party, at least, is that our immigration policy is a bit more strict than it used to be, not being strict in the sense that we are trying to bar people from coming to Finland, not in that sense, but I would say that humanitarian immigration is clearly separated from the rest of immigration, especially because of the refugee crisis. We have made a lot of policy changes in the government.
At the same time, I think it’s really important to see that there are a lot of different kinds of immigration. For example, I can say, from my home city of Espoo, which has a lot of video gaming companies, they have said to me that they need a lot of talented people from abroad, and it has been too hard for them to recruit them. And they are probably right, and this is something that the government has already decided, that we will ease the legislation for this kind of companies to hire experts like that to Finland, that we don’t have from our own population.
But as I said, I think it is good that the policy on humanitarian immigration is a bit stricter. It’s not as strict as in Denmark, for example, or even Norway, but in my mind it’s better to have stricter policies than in Sweden for example. I think that Sweden has now probably found out that their policy is not working. That’s the reason, probably, why they now have border control with Denmark.
Are you pushing for a green card-type solution or a Canadian or Australian solution?
That’s a really good question. Personally, I think that we should take the example of countries like Canada and the United States and organize the immigration with clear criteria. But the problem is that the Finnish society (and all the Nordic countries as a whole) is pretty different from Canada or the United States. If you think about our labor policies, for example—totally different. It’s much easier in the U.S. to hire somebody and sack him if it’s not working anymore. If you go back in New York, most of the taxi drivers are immigrants, and when you speak with them, they are doing great. They like their job, and they are getting—not average wage, probably, but enough to live, and they feel that they have a path to get something better.
In Finland, the problem is that the starting rate is so high. The cost of labor in Finland is so high that it’s hard for an immigrant to get even the first job. And in that sense, in the book that I will be actually presenting tomorrow on the refugee crisis, I’m proposing that we should intentionally create this kind of low-cost labor market, in particular for new immigrants, because it’s so hard for them to get into the labor market at the moment.
Of course, you can imagine that the labor unions in Finland will probably oppose this kind of motion, so I’m not really optimistic , but I feel it is impossible , basically, to massively get these immigrants in jobs if they are low-educated, if we don’t have this kind of low-paying jobs in Finland. That would be then like a stepping stone to get to the next job, that they would first have this kind of low-paying job, and then they would get some experience. It is a necessity.
And one thing that the government is doing now, concerning refugees, is that , at the same moment that they get into Finland, and they are registered as refugees,they are going to be able to work, not on a normal labor market, but some kind of work, in exchange for the Social Security. And this would, in my mind, decrease the tensions between the local population and the refugees, so the people would actually know for sure that they have a work. And that would also facilitate their integration to be active and not only wait. And then, hopefully, they would also naturally learn the language a bit while working, as well. The government has a consensus that this kind of legislation would be put forward early next year.
Did you try to speak with the unions about the content of your book?
Not yet, no. I would say that this idea that I have in the book is, of course, a bit of a provocation, as well, to raise the discussion, because this kind of discussion has never taken place at all in Finland. We have only been thinking that, “OK, everybody needs to have a certain level of wage, and also immigrants, and that’s it.” But in my mind, reality is that you cannot expect an immigrant to be on the same level of productivity instantly as a person that has been living in Finland for his whole life. It’s also unfair for the immigrant. So, there should be lower-level jobs that you can get easier, too, and then get to the next level.
So, your book is published tomorrow? Where can we find it?
It will be on PDF on the Internet
And from the point of view of the government program, more generally, what would you like to fight for, which is not now taken into account?
Well, of course, this is not the Finns Party government. We have three different parties, and the government is a coalition, so in essence it’s a compromise program. What I would like to add is a bit more Euroscepticism, in the direction of Paavo Väyrynen’s initiative on the euro currency—personally, I support the idea that Finland would be better off the euro. And this kind of discussion, or at least some kind of research, on the issue, in my mind, would be welcome. Why couldn’t the government make a research of what kind of consequences it would have and what we are gaining at the moment from being on the euro?
But at the same time, I have to say that this kind of initiative will not pass in the Parliament now. There is some majority for Finland staying in the euro, even though I know a lot of experts, especially from the UK and also from the United States, who think that Finland is a country that is actually suffering from the euro currency at the moment. But this kind of discussion is something that I would like to have more.
Does it mean that this discussion could finish with somebody making a report and analyzing the situation?
Yes, I think that that would be good, because in Finland, there haven’t been that many analyses from respectable think tanks or firms on this issue. There has been a couple, but they have been, in my mind, a bit biased. Generally speaking, the EU policy, I would say, in a Finnish perspective, is in a status quo situation at the moment. None of the parties are willing to change particularly anything, not deepening the relation, but not, at the same time, making a looser union. We are actively following what the UK is doing now with their referendum on the European Union. But as I said, the Finnish government, at the moment, is not willing to change our relationship with the EU, not for integration, and not for disintegration. Status quo is our decision.
What do you think about UK’s initiative, the referendum?
To me it seems that they feel being on the sidelines of the European Union. They probably feel that Germany and even France are dictating the European Union policies more than they do, and they still have a feeling of having an empire, so they are not willing to be dictated like that. That’s how I see it.
Is there any last message you would like to deliver?
I think it’s good that you have this kind of website that is explaining Finnish policies and introducing Finnish politicians in English. That’s a really good thing. And I actually hope that there will be more people with immigrant backgrounds in our party, as well. There are more and more, I know, from different backgrounds. I know people from Sierra Leone, from Russia, from Estonia, from Germany, from different countries, but still in Finland, unfortunately, people with immigrant backgrounds are quite passive in politics. And I hope that will change, and hopefully your website can help in that.
Thank you very much.