An interview which again proves that there is a new generation of brilliant politicians in Finland, dedicated to improve the country’s situation situation. As an architect and a member of the Swedish People Party, he has interesting views on what really goes on about politics in this country.
How did you come into politics?
I had always had an interest in politics and societal matters, and I had been active on a local level in different organizations, but never politically, really. I grew up in the ‘80s, and I think during this period I had maybe a certain prejudice against political youth movements. I did not feel like it was my way of getting involved in the political process.
In 2008, in the local elections, I was asked if I’d enter, but I did not feel it to be the right time.
And then, in 2012, I was asked again, and at that point, I thought that I should watch this and see if it works and what I think about it. It went really well, I got into the Kirkkonummi city board and city council, and I have now been working there for three years. And I’ve liked it, I’ve liked the cooperation, the discussion, and being able to get involved in local matters, and even having an impact. So, with that experience behind me, I thought a year ago that I should try my wings in a bigger race, and decided to enter these parliamentary elections. I wasn’t even a party member when I entered in the local elections in 2012, and even before the parliamentary elections I was quite an unknown quantity inside the party, too. So even if I it wasn’t really an upset, it was quite a surprise to many that I got in.
What is your role in the party now?
My subcommittee assignment are the environmental subcommittee and the gender equality subcommittee, which means that I also take care of those things inside the party – more specifically the environmental part. So, in a way, I am the environmental voice of the party, if you could say that.
When is the next congress of the party?
Next June. There’s one every year.
I don’t know yet. Now, during the winter, people are gathering proposals that will be debated. We’ll see. But we are, at the moment, working on the new party program, which of course will be one big thing that the congress will discuss. And we have been working on the environmental side of the party program. I myself would like it to be more ambitious than it has been before.
It has been a surprise that the party is not in the government. Does it change something in the party?
It obviously changes the way you work in the Parliament. For me, it is the only reality I know, of course, so I can only talk to this based on what others have been telling me. But when you’re in the government, you have easier access to information. You know what’s going on. You know what is being prepared. Things don’t come as surprises in such a way. But when you’re in the opposition, you need to be much more proactive, and you need to begin to think beforehand, and really try to find out information. It is not served to you on a silver plate. So, the whole work is different. And of course, when you’re in government, whatever you think, you basically support the government’s position as an individual parliamentarian. But in opposition, you have more leeway. You can move more freely, which means that, at times, we support the government’s position, and at times not.
And what went on so that the party is not in the government? What was the difficult point?
Sipilä is a new prime minister, and his way of thinking of what is an effective coalition was that you have three big parties, and you don’t take along the small players. He did not really think about ideological coherence, but thought of it more as a power game, a power gamble. And that’s why three is better than four or five, because it is easier to reach common positions. But I’m not sure if that’s played out so well. And then, of course, he wanted to have the True Finns inside the government, as they have now been doing fairly well in two elections. Leaving them out wasn’t really an option. And the True Finns did not want us there, so that probably also played an important role.
And how is it in the Parliament? What is your experience as a new member of the Parliament?
It is very positive. It is a nice working environment. People are really nice. It is a very socially active workplace, and you get to know things. You get to dig into things, and you learn a lot all the time. And also, in a way, when I looked at Parliament from the outside, or when anybody looks at the Parliament from the outside, you easily get, obviously, the official side, which is what happens when the camera is on and people are debating in the big hall. That is a very polarized discussion, it is a very theatrical discussion, and maybe not very constructive.
But then, when the cameras are not on, when we work in the subcommittees, it is fairly collegial. People usually go to certain subcommittees,because they have an interest in that matter. So, that interest also already unites people. I think there is a will to, together, try to work for something good. And the government/opposition divide is not at all as clear in the subcommittees as during plenaries.
So you have interesting contacts with people from different parties?
Yes, and I think it is probably more important now in the opposition than before. It has been really nice to notice that you can build these inter-party networks. There are several unofficial networks of like-minded people that decided they wanted to work for certain things. For example, we have this energy innovation group with members from all parties. So, like-minded people have gathered around this challenge and try to push it through in all parties and into all parties’ programs, and try to work towards a common goal in that way.
Can we expect big changes in the field of energy?
I think we are seeing big changes already now: The City of Helsinki decided to phase out coal last week. The world is very rapidly changing all around us, and I believe that it would be important for Finland to be proactive and try to not only follow, but also lead, because it is a huge business opportunity. We have lots of small firms that could gain a foothold in this market, but that means that there needs to be a domestic market for them, too, for their products, so that they can, through that domestic market, also, then expand to gain export opportunities.
What can be done to develop this internal market in Finland?
All the cities should be serious about the COP-21 agreement, and be serious about their carbon footprint, and be active in trying to change their structures in a direction that could lessen their carbon footprint, because I think that the stricter we are, or the higher we set our goals, the better it is for our own industry, for Finnish technology. We can do it. And we are already very advanced in that field. It is not in our interest to try to go where the bar is the lowest, but try to be ambitious.
So, we cannot expect any subsidy for Finnish citizens in order to use green energy?
There is a lot to do, as far as regulation goes. For example, if you produce electricity on your house, at times, you have extra energy, and then you should easily be able to put it out into the grid, and get paid for it, which at present is not the case. For example, we have energy regulations that treat solar panels you have on your roof for feeding your own house with electricity, and solar panels in your garden, outside your lot, differently. We have constructed all these regulatory barriers that, in many ways, make it difficult to produce energy locally.
Will there be a new law about removing the barriers?
Yes, I think that is one thing that we definitely need to look at, because traditionally, Finnish energy production has been about creating huge mills, whether they are coal mills or nuclear ones. We have believed in very centralized sources of power. The time for those solutions is over. There will be several smaller ones, and the whole grid needs to be smarter. This development is also an opportunity for Finland.
With the big companies building housing and offices, are you seeing the architects taking into account these kind of obligations in the cities in Finland?
Yes, I think architects generally are fairly progressive in this sense, but it is not enough that the architect is progressive. The one building the house also needs to have that mindset and the will to maybe not take a risk, but to go the extra mile to try to achieve something. They need to be ambitious, too, and I think that is usually the problem.
We are, in many ways, like a country with one solution. There is one certified truth that we then apply everywhere. And that is very much the case in building. We want to make the safest decision possible, so we apply the same solution everywhere, for 10 years in a row, and we don’t see the other opportunities out there. And then, of course, if that decision turns out to be wrong, then we have one very big problem everywhere instead of all these small, separated ones.
What is done in Kirkkonummi about energy?
In Kirkkonummi, unfortunately, not very much. I think the problem, on a city level, is the way we do budgeting. You look only one year ahead, and the whole life cycle cost of, for example, a building is not really discussed when we make an investment. And I think that is, to a certain extent, a matter of the budgetary techniques that Finnish cities use and how they calculate the total cost of ownership. So, now, when the economies of our cities are pretty bad, to try to convince them that it might be worthwhile to maybe spend the extra 500 euros per square meter to create something that, for example, lasts 30 years longer or conserves 20% less energy every year or something like that, that case is fairly hard to make.
During your campaign, you were saying that you would be useful as an architect in the Parliament, from the viewpoint of an architect. Is this what you bring into Parliament mainly?
If you think about the process of moving from the profession of an architect to a parliamentarian, as an architect, when you start a project, you get lots of demands from different areas, and the architect’s task is somehow to make them into one whole solution that satisfies those demands as well as possible. And that’s pretty much what you do when you make a law.
And one thing that an architect also needs to face is that, usually, you fall in love with your first brilliant idea, and you think that it is really great, and you are really excited. But after a few days, you realize that it is crap. It is really bad. And then, you need to somehow swallow your pride and throw it away and start all over. And that’s a really natural part, a really vital part, of the creative process. And that’s something an architect has to do every day. You have to kill your darlings and start over. That might be a good experience to take with you into the political process.
From this point of view, what do you think of the government process and the government plans?
I think that their problem has been that they have had to kill their darlings, but they have done it all in public. They have not done the creative thinking process when they were preparing their projects, they should have looked through things and asked themselves, “How could this work? Is this feasible? What are the consequences for this category of people?” because then, they would have noticed that it was not adequate, and they would have started over. But they have thought about something, pushed it out into the open. Then they received lots of criticism, and they realized, “OK, this is not good. We’ll go back and think about something different.” They have done this killing-your-darlings business out in the open. And it hasn’t really played out very well for them.
But what is good is they have taken steps back when they have noticed their mistakes, and I think that this, all in all, is a good thing. But I think what has been the hallmark of their first half year is that the preparation and the thoroughness with which they have worked their propositions hasn’t been very good.
Among the reforms which are on the table, which is for you the most important for Finland to be successful?
I think one should watch the economy from the point of view of the entrepreneur. An entrepreneur who has a small business—what would make him hire one man more or one woman more? What would make him expand his business? And then try to define a few things, and then implement those. And I’m really sorry that this government’s agreement with the different unions doesn’t seem to come through. They have buried it several times already, but it might, of course, be that they will try it a fifth or a sixth time. If not, I think that these so called forced laws, that they will do as an alternative, are a really crude tool, a really mechanic tool to try to reach the same effect. When used, it will lead to lots of unrest and strikes, and we will have a really, really rocky road ahead.
So, I think that the government should focus on easing the process of making local solutions, paikallisia sopimukset, as they call it. Because if that goes through, then the companies have the flexibility they need, and a solution in which they dare to employ more people. And then we don’t need to take these forced laws into effect, because I think hey are the wrong tool, even though I agree on the goals. The atmosphere we’re seeing now shows that it will not lead to a good result. So, I think all the efforts should be focused on trying to get these local agreements to be the de facto standard.
You are the owner of a small company?
Yes, I have an office here in Helsinki with 15 employees.
What will you need to hire new people?
For me, for our office, it is not really a problem. For us to hire, we just need more work or more things to design. And the whole branch of our business, of architecture, is quite different from others, we are on a quite flexible market in a sense…
One last point—what is the position of your party on the health and social reform?
Our party’s position is generally that it would have been better to try to make a municipality reform and try to form municipalities big enough so that they can bear the load of basic healthcare. But as that did not go through, and we see this reform as a necessity, I think that the reform that we have now is a very complicated hybrid of three different wills, for each party in the government. So, I have a hard time seeing that it can be very effective. Personally, for our party, we see that one important factor in this whole thing is that we can secure enough of local democratic involvement into the process.
The regional area of southern Finland will have 1.5 million users, and some regions in the north of Finland will have slightly above 50 000 or 100 000. So, that, the huge disparity in sizes, is a problem.
And then, of course, as a party that thinks that the bilingual aspect of Finland is important, we are worried that, with these big entities, it will be difficult to get service in both domestic languages to the extent that you still can get today. And that is something that just needs to be taken into account in the process.