The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with Antti Pesonen of Finland’s Independence Party. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of March 17-23, 2016. Find the podcast of this interview here.
MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series is Antti Pesonen. Antti is the former chairman of the Independence Party of Finland, a party which advocates, among other things, the withdrawal of Finland from the European Union and the Eurozone. He will speak to us about the movement that he is a part of, what has been happening in Finland, how Eurozone membership and EU policies have impacted the country, and he will share with us his take as to what has been happening in Greece and throughout the European continent. Antti, thank you very much for joining us today.
AP: Hi, and thanks very much for this opportunity.
MN: To begin, share with us a few words about the Independence Party, how it began, its history, and what it stands for.
AP: It began in 1994, before the Finnish decision about the membership to go to the European Union. There was a group of people who thought that there has to be at least one party that defends Finnish independence and real democracy, so we think even today that we need real democracy and welfare, we need also an independent state. Finland becoming a member of the European Union meant that Finland is not anymore an independent state. It’s the main reason for the party, and after 20 years, more and more people have seen that there is a real need for big change and own currency and own decision-making.
MN: What are conditions like in the Finnish economy today, and what has been the impact of European Union and Eurozone membership for Finland?
AP: Eurozone membership has meant many difficulties. It has cost Finland and its people a lot. Our exports have gone down dramatically. There is now news that in January of this year, exports have gone down 10% from 2015, and there is growing unemployment and, in many ways, a kind of mental chaos in Finland, because in the biggest media there is still the attitude that they don’t want to have a discussion about a euro exit or EU exit. So there seems to be only one alternative, and this alternative is based on EU membership and the euro. Our party is still outside of parliament, and therefore its very hard to get your voice heard.
MN: We are on the air with Antti Pesonen, former chairman of Finland’s Independence Party, here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series. You mentioned the decline in exports…from what I understand, this decline is in part due to the European Union’s embargo towards Russia. Tell us about the impact of this embargo.
AP: Yes, it has had a very big meaning, especially for the sector of export of food to Russia, which has gone down dramatically, and also in other sectors. Russia has not been the most important export country but one of the most important. The embargo has large consequences in many ways. Also, our western neighbors, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, they have their own currency and they have possibility to rule their own economy much better than Finland.
MN: What has the government’s response to this economic downturn been in Finland? Have there been austerity measures and cuts that have been implemented, for instance?
AP: Yes, there is now a continuing and a strong and difficult discussion about how to cut public spending, and there is huge pressure for wages and it’s difficult to say how it’s going to be with the government’s decisions. But it’s clear that they will cut public spending, and it means more and more difficulties for the poorest people. It seems clear also that unemployment will increase because of these decisions that are ahead.
MN: Now, how do the people of Finland in general view the country’s participation in the European Union, the Eurozone, and potential NATO membership, and how does the media in Finland portray these institutions to the public?
AP: I must first say that I think the main problem for these issues is in Finland is that there is no real, open discussion in public, big media. There is a growing need and growing opinion that Finland should leave the euro and return to its own currency, but it’s such a strange situation that in the Finnish parliament there is not one party that is for euro exit or EU exit. Public opinion is, of course, very much connected to what are the topics in the media, and this silence about alternatives is dangerous, but of course there is some hope and much hope, for example, through Britain’s coming referendum of leaving in the EU or staying there. It’s very good for people to see that there are alternatives. About NATO membership, Finland is outside of NATO and about 60 or 70% of Finns are in favor of staying out of NATO, but in the biggest parties there are strong views that Finland should join NATO, and even more, there are in the government and in the Finnish parliament strong opinions that Finland should be more and more connected to the EU’s foreign and security policy. I must stay also that from my point of view and from the Independence Party, we strongly stress that it’s very important for Finland to stay out of big powers’ conflicts and also outside of NATO. Now Finland is connected to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and other conflicts the EU is part of, and as a neighbor of Russia, for Finland it’s very dangerous long-term to be part of conflict between the west and Russia. My point of view and the Independence Party’s is to get Finland neutral, just like Switzerland is.
MN: We are on the air with Antti Pesonen, former chairman of Finland’s Independence Party, here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series. You mentioned, of course, the growing support in Finland for an exit from the Eurozone, and this has also been reported in some international media as well. Who is behind these calls for an exit from the Eurozone, how is the Independence Party participating in this movement, and what do you estimate is the support for a Eurozone exit at this time in Finland?
AP: I think that even though there is not now such an open, public discussion, the reality that real politics and real decisions that people have seen, these are the main reasons for growing need to leave the Eurozone. I think it’s very promising that people, after many years, have been able to make their own decisions, even when it’s not seen in political decisions and the government’s policy. But I think that such kind of strong views will increase, and someday will lead to maybe referendum or some kind of other decision that makes Finland leave the Eurozone and take its own currency, which is very important for the base of the economy and our future.
MN: Now, many of the other positions of the Independence Party of Finland closely relate to issues that are of great importance in Greece as well, including defending domestic food production, developing self-sufficiency in energy production, and ensuring the balanced development of the country’s regions. Tell us more about these positions.
AP: Yes. We need strong reform, for example, energy policy. There are now all the technologies available to produce energy from sustainable resources, also in Finland like all over Europe and the world. Finnish official energy policy is largely based on nuclear power and also on the import of electricity. We are much dependent on import of power. Making a sustainable future and getting more jobs and having people to decide for their own future needs strong reform. For example, in energy policy and also, like you mentioned, about food. There is now such kind of situation that the import of food to Finland per year is 2 billion euros more than our export of food. In energy, it’s about 8 billion euros per year bigger import than export, and these are two quite important topics for the Independence Party, for there to be a big change. It means also more jobs to Finland and, in many ways, more sustainable policy in the future.
MN: We are on the air with Antti Pesonen, former chairman of Finland’s Independence Party, here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series. You mentioned of course that the Independence Party has not been elected to the Finnish parliament and that there is no party in parliament that supports an exit from the Eurozone or the European Union. What are the obstacles that your party faces in earning enough electoral support to enter parliament?
AP: This is a very good question. It’s clear that it’s very hard to work when the public, big media is against you and when you have nearly no money to get your voice heard. I think that our time is coming. I’m sure about that. One obstacle has been that there has been and there are some so-called alternatives. There is one big party in parliament that seemed to be an alternative to EU politics, but it’s now in government and it’s making just the same policy that the old parties have done. Also, nowadays, it’s more and more clear to many and to voters who made this party big that they have been cheated. But we must concentrate on our own job and our own alternative, to make it more and more clear, and I’m sure that reality awakens people and there will be a strong change for parliament in elections that are coming, and also a strong change in the politics of Finland. It’s an old saying that you can cheat all a short time and some for a long time, but not all for all time. The Finnish people are used to be ruled by someone. We have been, for 600 years, under Swedish rule and after that, for about 100 years under Russian rule, so the independence time in Finland was quite short and it’s also in the mentality, this kind of attitude to be ruled by someone, but I am sure that EU membership and all this, what it means, will not be for a very long period. It will last some time, some years ahead, but there will be big change.
MN: Now, the Independence Party, from what I understand, participated a couple of years ago in a pan-European meeting of like-minded and Euroskeptic parties, which was organized in Greece by a Greek movement, the United Popular Front, or EPAM. What relations does your party maintain with these movements that exist in other European countries?
AP: Yes, and it was a great success and a great meeting in Athens, what you just mentioned. We have some connections and we try to build more. There are many movements, for example in Denmark and in Britain and now, after this Athens meeting, we have connections to Southern Europe, which is very, very good for us in many ways, as we can get information and see how people’s needs and opinions are very much the same all over this area, even when the cultures are different and the countries have different kind of history and so on. This kind of cooperation is very good and very important, hopefully for all.
MN: The government of Finland has been known to have often adopted a very harsh stance towards Greece with regard to the so-called “bailout” agreements that Greece has signed with the troika. How do you view the stance of the Finnish government towards Greece and the Greek crisis?
AP: Quite problematic, to say the least. I must say first that public media and the information that ordinary people get from, for example, this Greek crisis, it’s quite one-sided and I think that the government’s opinion and attitude is quite strongly dependent on what, for example, Germany has done. The attitude and opinion of Finnish people towards the Greek people is not the same as the Finnish government decisions.
MN: We are on the air with Antti Pesonen, former chairman of Finland’s Independence Party, here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series. What was your reaction to the referendum that took place in Greece regarding the austerity measures, and the aftermath of the referendum and the actions of the Greek government?
AP: Yes, I’m not very surprised, but it’s not very nice to see that people are cheated and governments are doing things that are the opposite of what had been promised, and which are against the majority of people’s opinion. It’s quite sad to see.
MN: How do you view the ongoing refugee crisis and the actions of the European Union and the Western European countries in response to this crisis?
AP: The Western countries are behind this crisis, because if there hasn’t been Western military actions in the Middle East and these areas that the refugees are coming to Europe from, the situation will be quite different. I think that the biggest Western countries are not taking their responsibility for this crisis. It’s very, very sad to see that people, millions of people, have to suffer so much, and of course many millions have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria, for example. When we try to think about solving this problem, it has to be a question, number one, of how to stop killing and fighting. It’s obvious that when states are ruined and there are, for example like now in Afghanistan or in Libya, there is no real state anymore, it’s a very, very dangerous situation in many ways, and there is no one that will take responsibility for the security and building some kind of sustainable future. Of course, when this refugee crisis is reality, there has to be some kind of measures to take care of these people, and there is a need to help people as close to homes as possible, but some of these refugees also need to get placed outside of their own countries. It’s not easy, I think there are not very easy solutions for this, but to avoid growing racism and other very negative consequences, governments should now concentrate to stop this crisis and conflict.
MN: In wrapping up, where can our listeners find out more information about the Independence Party of Finland and your platform?
AP: We have a websie, www.ipu.fi, and I hope that we will get information in English and also in other languages there, but in Finnish there is quite much information.
MN: Well Antti, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series.
AP: Thanks very much.
Please excuse any typos or errors which may exist within this transcript.