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Opinion: Take a pay cut, ministers!

Why doesn't the government demand that the well-heeled in society shoulder their fair share of the country's readjustment burden? It's time for Finnish leaders to set an example that will inspire ordinary citizens to pitch in for the national good, says Yle's special EU correspondent Susanna Turunen. Turunen also sounded MEPs and journalists for their views on the new Finnish administration in the attached video.

Susanna Turunen discusses Europe's first impressions about the new Finnish government. Image: Yle
Susanna Turunen

“Don’t be mean to people,” Irish journalist Sean Whelan said on Yle’s current-affairs programme A-studio on Monday June 8.

I’ve been wondering what's happened to Finland. How did our reputation change from being the best in the class to that of being the bully?

Now that the financial crisis has finally reached Finland, you seem to be making all the same mistakes as the other crisis countries. Austerity is the word - six billion euros and counting. But didn’t you learn from the past six years that forcing people to their knees only creates unemployment, social inequality and unrest, higher costs from social benefits and a decline in humanity?

Follow the Latvian example

In your search for competitiveness and better numbers on the books, you might set an example yourselves.

Dear Finance Minister, take a pay cut of 35 percent, as Latvian ministers did in 2010. That would show some courage, and we might be inspired to follow.

Instead, on that same A-studio programme, our prime minister, Juha Sipilä, avoided calling for those better off to lead by example - except on a voluntary basis.

Juha Naukkarinen, Managíng Director of the Finnish Energy Industries association, had the nerve to suggest that those who are well off should lead the way, at least for a year, by cutting their paycheques. Maybe others would then follow and we could reach a “social agreement”.

We’ll see, says the prime minister. He’s a self-made millionaire, so it won’t make a difference in his life.

Stronger together than alone

Another striking comment on that A-studio programme was made by Portuguese socialist MEP, Ana Gomes. She sees very little solidarity in our government’s programme. Finland is cutting funding for development aid; we won’t grant any further aid to crisis countries and we think we can handle our security issues alone.

As a Finn who remembers seeing former President Urho Kekkonen’s picture on every wall during my school years, it strikes me as odd that a tiny country like Finland still thinks it can beat the beast on its own. We never did.

‘The Winter War spirit’ of Finland going it alone is a myth. We had help during two wars against the Soviet Union, sending our children to Sweden for safety, for instance. A remarkable thing happened: Sweden didn’t close their borders. Why do we close our own borders now, with thousands of people in need risking their lives in the Mediterranean? We resettled hundreds of thousands of people from areas which are now Russian territory. United we are strong, alone we are exposed - and that goes with EU politics as well.

Dear government, I urge you to see that the world around us has changed. We don’t want to be alone, nor left alone when in trouble. That is why we need to fulfil our obligations to Europe, of which we a member. Our partners and friends are there. You made a mistake by demanding austerity in the name of banks, owners, investors, governments and others. Please don’t duplicate your mistakes in Finland.

Why would you want to see our unemployment rate triple or our young ones leave the country for something better, our businesses close or move abroad, our towns turn into ghost towns as it happened in so many European countries? What could you possibly gain?

So, lead the way and take a pay cut at least for a year. It would show us citizens that we are in this crisis management project together. The indecision, and inability to fix what was structurally wrong in Finland, is not the responsibility of our citizens but on our leaders and politicians. Show leadership and we’ll follow – and we just might be able to fix this together.

Susanna Turunen is Yle’s Special EU Correspondent. The views expressed in this column are entirely those of the author.

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