Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good Old Centre

Originally uploaded by *Thinlina*
I sometimes wonder whether getting into politics in Finland would make sense. I find myself trying to articulate the reasons for this. Today I have a clear reason: the Centre Party.

Centre Party is the most difficult party to explain to a foreign audience. It builds on a legacy of an agrarian party, claims to be liberal but has some of Parliament's most conservative, xenophobic and homophobic MPs as its members. I wish to stress that the party also has phenomenally smart, liberal and open-minded people who have at times even made me wonder whether voting for them would make sense. They are also the party with the first female Prime Minister and the first Cabinet with a majority of women. So it's not all bad. But reading the Finnish news today reminds me again how much there is still to be done and makes me wonder what exactly is the glue keeping this party together.

Centre Party has tried consistently to claim that it is the true environmental Finnish party. Their actions show however a completely different line. Only today the Minister of Environment approved the enlargement of a hotel complex in a national park in Lapland, which according to many risks the nature of the environment. Yesterday the Prime Minister (pic) expressed his support for building Finland's biggest shopping mall outside the suburban area, which means that it can be only accessed by car. As the Minister for Housing (from his coalition partner Kokoomus) has clearly stated, this action would be a clear violation of the regional plan which states that big complexes such as these have to be linked to housing and other services. As the opposition reminded the Centre Party today, Vanhanen's support for the mall is in direct contradiction with climate change policies.

I wish the problems would end here. But the most severe critique from my end is on the concepts of morale and democracy this party expresses in its actions. The last government (also led by Vanhanen) had a cross-sectoral policy on active citizenship with the main result being more money to party-affiliated think tanks. Vanhanen has also expressed that he wishes that Ministers don't discuss issues publicly before the Cabinet has decided on them. And this week the leader of his Parliamentary Group Mr Timo Kalli refused to give out the name of his main campaign funder even if this is required by law. What was the answer of the leader of the biggest parliamentary group:"I am consciously breaking the law as there is no punishment."

Shocking beyond belief. Mr Kalli has now returned the money and made the name of the funder public after extreme negative publicity on the issue. The fantastic Minister of Justice Tuija Brax is speeding up the law reform due to the incident. And what does Prime Minister Vanhanen say? According to Helsingin Sanomat he has not discussed the issue with Kalli. I cannot help but drawing a comparison to his coalition partner Kokoomus which replaced the Foreign Minister due to the text message scandal. I wonder how one can continue as a group leader after publicly dismissing the basis of the work the Parliament is doing.

This kind of governance is bad for the environment, public morale, active citizenship and democracy. Government's role should be to foster debate, not to call for people to just shut up and let Ministers do their work. Governance is about democracy and leadership, not about administration. Vanhanen is the same who criticised the media for focusing too much on social inequality when according to him most Finns are doing well. And his party is the one that only speeded up social benefit reform when there was extremely bad international coverage. Way to go.

I am so angry I am about to burst.

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