Alexander Stubb has defended his pro-European, free-trade stance during an interview on the BBC, denying that he is out of touch with the Finnish people.
Speaking on the BBC’s Hard Talk discussion programme during a visit to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, Stubb said he is optimistic that Finland’s economy will re-emerge from its long period of depression, which also coincided with the decline of Nokia, once a leader of the telecommunications market.
Stubb also insisted that encouraging free trade and a flourishing private sector is the way to get the economy functioning again.
“I want to dismantle the illusion that politicians and the public sector can create growth. I think growth comes from entrepreneurs, from enterprises and from basic work. All we can do on the political side, or the public side, is create a framework in which growth can prosper,” Stubb said.
Out of step with the people
However, Stubb was attacked as being out of step with the feelings of a large proportion of the Finnish population, many of whom have been shown to worry about issues such as immigration, and who want more economic protectionism and more distance from the EU.
Hard Talk interviewer Stephen Sackur said: “Your message sounds great when you’re coming to London and slapping David Cameron on the back. But to many Finns seeing their wages decline, they don’t buy your optimistic message.”
Stubb replied: “I disagree. I’ve been to 126 different high schools in the past ten years – I look at our youth, I look at the way we get a buzz around IT, the way in which Finland’s becoming more international… We have a functioning welfare society, we shall re-emerge and I think your view is more pessimistic than those of my compatriots.”
On the question of joining Nato, Stubb re-affirmed his own support for Finland becoming a member, but admitted that only 25 percent of the public share his view. He said that he would not bring the issue of joining Nato onto the government’s agenda should he be re-elected next spring.
“Why are you so out of step with your own people?” Stubb was asked. “When I make my policy lines, I try to be rational, I analyse,” Stubb replied.
The prime minister was also forced to defend Finland’s foreign policy actions regarding Russia, as Stubb was accused of weakness over the issue of sanctions against Putin’s government.
“I don’t think Finland’s been weak at all,” Stubb insisted, adding that the Finnish government had always backed EU sanctions, and denying reports that he had been reluctant to impose restrictions for fear of harming the domestic economy.
Stubb also played down suggestions that the looming deal with Russian state nuclear enterprise Rosatom, who would hold a one-third share in a new nuclear power plant, would tie Finland into a long-term interdependence with its eastern neighbour.
In 2013 Finns Party leader Timo Soini was also interviewed on the BBC’s Hard Talk programme, where he was pressed on his failure to discipline MPs in his party who had made offensive or racist public remarks.
Although Soini proved himself a very competent English speaker during the interview, many commentators subsequently claimed that BBC interviewer Stephen Sackur’s questioning was considerably more probing and well-informed than interviews conducted by Finnish journalists.