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Räsänen: Fighting to stop gay marriage and jihadism, but pro-immigration

The leader of the Christian Democrats Party, Päivi Räsänen, is a polarising woman, and her popularity numbers aren’t probably what they could be. Is it because she’s got a lot of stances on difficult issues, or could it be because she’s a woman with very great power?

Päivi Räsänen.
In this Yle News election interview, chair of the Christian Democrats Päivi Räsänen offered her opinions on gay marriage, Islam and jihadism, and immigration. Presenter: Mark Odom, Producer: Sam Kingsley, Camera: Ronnie Holmberg, Edit: Retu Liikanen / Video: Yle

Räsänen stands alone as the only female out of the main eight party leaders, but she doesn’t seem to think very much about it. She and her party, however, do seem think a lot about issues like letting families decide about parental leave, helping out entrepreneurs - and in particular, family values.

Those values that Räsänen’s party preach include the Christian ideals of tolerance and inclusivity. But the party's in fact dogged by accusations of spreading just the opposite - especially because of their stance against same-sex marriage.

Räsänen - who's also interior minister - has said she wants Finland to take in more immigrants and refugees. But she's also caused controversy in the past by hinting that Christians might be better suited to life here than Muslims.

We caught up with Räsänen in Tampere where she was campaigning last weekend. Our conversation started with one of her biggest issues lately; her opposition to same sex marriage.

Late last year, a divided parliament voted to approve marriage for couples of the same sex. The law still has another two years before it’s official. That extra time, Räsänen hopes, still might give her a chance to prevent it.

Staunch opponent of gay marriage

"We think that marriage is basically between a man and woman," Räsänen said. "That’s why we are still fighting, so that marriage has the same basis also in the future."

"In this period it was through a citizen’s initiative that it came to parliament - not government’s proposal - parliament voted for same sex marriage, and we opposed it, and tried to hinder it but we didn’t succeed. But it will be implemented in March of 2017 and we still have time (to prevent it)."

We asked several times whether society norms have changed enough that she and her party might sway from their stance on the issue. The answer every one of those times was a resolute "no".

But how does it affect her family or society at large if gay people want the right to marry?

"Of course it doesn’t affect straight to our family, I don’t think so," she said. "But in every nation’s legislation how they decide, it depends on values. Of course when we think about Christian values, it is the relationship between a man and woman that forms the marriage."

Lower taxes

As far as the economy goes, Räsänen said her party hopes to push through legislation that would lighten the tax load on entrepreneurs and small businesses.

"We have to decrease the amount of bureaucracy that hinders entrepreneurship," she said. "And then we also need deductions in taxation, to lower taxes for small companies. We have a proposal in our programme that the taxation of small companies would get a five percent reduction."

We asked if she agreed with a fresh report by the Finance Ministry that government needs to save an extra six billion euros by 2019. She said that she trusted the Finance Ministry to be the best expert on the subject.

"Yes. I believe (six billion euros) is the right number," she said. "But it is hard because I know, now that we’ve been in the government for four years, and have (made) cuts to expenditures and increased taxation altogether (saving) about seven billion euros. It is not easy to find more (to cut)."

Räsänen said she thinks the best way to save more money in the budget in the long run would be in the form of structural reforms to services.

More immigrants needed

We asked if Finland needed more immigrants.

"Yes, we need more immigrants,” she said. “We have areas in our labour market that we do not get Finnish people to do. Nowadays we have many immigrants working as bus drivers or taxi drivers and so on."

In the past, Räsänen has also spoken about the need for immigrants and refugees to better integrate into Finnish society. She said that Finland has a responsibility to take in as many refugees as municipalities can absorb.

"Christian Democrats consider and propose that we should raise the (refugee) quota to 1000 or even more," she said. "But it depends on municipalities…..we are trying to entice our municipalities to take more refugees."

"We have to bear our responsibility of solidarity in this world," she said. "Because we know that there are billions (sic) of refugees all around the world who don’t find a home, and Finland can offer a home to them."

Against jihadism, but not Islam

We asked Räsänen about comments regarding her trepidation about the “Islamification of Finland.” She answered that Islamification isn’t a worry of hers, but radical Islam is.

"I’m concerned about jihadism, global jihadism, because it’s a problem also in Finland," she said.

"The majority of Muslim people are peaceful and I’m not worried about them. But I am worried about jihadism. Extremism. Because in Finland we have about 60 persons who have left Finland as foreign fighters to Syria and northern Iraq and it is a big problem," she said.

"We have some 100 people who perhaps are radicalised in Finland," she said. "There we need to cooperate with mosques so that our own authorities can cooperate with Muslim communities. So that we can together combat (extremism)."

"Quite recently we have started cooperation and conversation, our police authorities have gone to mosques and have been discussing there with Muslim people," she said.

"And for example I invited some Muslim mothers to come to our ministry and we had discussions about how to prevent their young boys and girls - their sons and daughters - from becoming radicalised. And they were very fruitful discussions."