I AM A EUROPEAN
A couple of particularly apt remarks made in the recent debate about European integration have stuck in my mind. Max Jacobson said that Finland is still engaged in a defensive war in relation to European integration, a follow-up to the Winter War. Jörn Donner, on the other hand, said in an interview that Finland is Europe's appendage.
People talk about the subject in Finland much as if there were some weird European-ness threatening something that we call Finnish-ness. Leading Centre Party ideologists say that Finland will soon be losing her identity, the cream of her population and control over her own territory. Finland they claim, will become
a semi-colony which merely supplies Europe with raw material - timber. We will be left only with old folk, the poorly-off, elderly bachelors and other disadvantaged people, while the best and most gifted Finns go off elsewhere.
Those who think European-ness will offer Finland new opportunities speak of a developing continent of which Finland is part and from which we can benefit in many ways. I personally stand in this camp.
Inevitably, one is led to feel that the experiences of the last wars were so overwhelming that they made the Finns shrivel up into themselves. We defended our independence by force of arms and won it for ourselves twice. We were again convinced of the old saying that we should never rely on outside help; the Finns
always have to manage alone.
We tend to stress that we are first and foremost Finns, and only after that something else - Scandinavians or Europeans.
Yet the Finnish miracle, the survival of Finland as an independent nation, the upsurge of Finnish culture to its present fine flowering and Finland's growing economic prosperity are all part of the European miracle. For thousands of years now, the people of Europe have traded basic raw materials with each other. People here understand that wellbeing depends on markets. A closed economy cannot have been a rational goal for any nation, though the idea has been hawked around from time to time.
The people of the north have been involved in a European 'single market' ever since they started to supply furs, timber and tar to the south in return for salt, grain, utensils and weapons. For over a thousand years we Finns have been integrating with the rest of Europe in this way.
Right from the start, the societies of Europe have been changing into something unlike the great power cultures of the East or South. In these, the autocracy of the rulers was unquestioned and all-embracing. Merchant families, a bourgeoisie and an educated class emerged here, as well as ruling dynasties. Even in the feudal societies of Europe, the relationship between ruler and vassal was based on a degree of mutual acceptance. Similarly, the feudal lords granted farming land to their peasants on agreed terms.
At a very early stage a network of legal relationships emerged in European societies in which the individual was of crucial importance and the courts were independent of the ruling power. Europe is a culture of constitutionally governed states, a system of nations in which even the rulers have to obey the law.
There were a few exceptions to this process, but they did not last long. We can see that now, when old European democracies are throwing off the unnatural cloak of totalitarianism.
When Finland was made part of Sweden this guaranteed that, in terms of our society and legal system, we were integrated into Europe proper for many centuries. Though Finland was under the absolute rule of the Russian Empire for something over a hundred years, we continued throughout that period to use the European legal system that we had inherited from the period of Swedish rule.
If the inner structure of Finnish society had not been European in the most important sense of that word, there would have been no Finnish economic miracle. The fact that Finland held out against overwhelming odds is also part of our European tradition. The spirit of the Winter War was a phenomenon with historical roots.
In the spirit of European enlightenment at its best we believed that even a small nation has rights. Finnish politicians bore witness to that right, appealing to treaties and international law. The belief in our defensive ability and our democratic rights had been the cornerstone of the Finnish school system. Thanks to the work of popular education, even the poorest Finn understood when hard pressed that the very existence of the nation was at stake. Finland's defence of herself was European- ness at its finest.
We Finns seem, however, still to nurse complexes and doubts about our own European-ness. Now, as many small European nations are eagerly pondering their own European-ness and trying to get back to their roots, to their links with old Europe, there are people in Finland, some of them quite intelligent, who are still wondering how we can shield ourselves from outside influence.
The lessons of the Second World War, the realpolitik pursued after it and our considered policy of neutrality were the right path for us to follow. In post-war Europe Finland felt something of an orphan. We had proved our heroism in the tasks of war, and we decided to prove it again in the tasks of peace. By any yardstick, Finland's economic development from a backward farming nation into a prosperous welfare state was a heroic deed. But
did we, as the price paid for that effort, become over-introvert?
For some inexplicable reason, there is considerable debate in Finland about the possible invasion of the country by foreigners. According to surveys, the overwhelming majority of Finns nonetheless accept the idea of more foreigners, both as refugees and as immigrant labour. A small but loud minority is keeping the subject well-aired, although it does seem to hold the interest of the general public as well.
There are extremely few foreigners in Finland by international standards. At the moment the total figure is around 19,000, with Swedes as the biggest single group, and actually they should not be counted as foreigners at all. Before the Second World War there were about three times as many foreigners in Finland relative to population, and then there was no debate about the matter at all. We now have a thousand refugees; in the 1920s, there were over 30,000.
If we go back into history, we find that Finland was a highly international nation. Our cultural heritage has been influenced by ideas from the East, the West and the Continent. Much of Finnish industry was originally founded by foreigners who had moved to Finland, and some of their names still survive - Finlayson, Gutzeit, Fazer, Sinebrychoff, and so on. Our genetic- constitution makes us one of the most complex mixtures in the world.
My predecessor in this post, Kalevi Sorsa, threw out the idea some eighteen months ago, also while visiting Turku, that Finland will have to compete for employers and foreign capital in future, too. "We must get used to the idea that, if Finnish companies expand abroad, we will have to allow similar opportunities to companies who want to invest in Finland."
Today, we know that Finnish companies invest ten times more abroad than foreign companies do here. We even feel national pride when we hear that a Finnish company has founded or bought a factory in a foreign country. However, we should also feel concerned about how little appeal Finland has for international enterprises. It can't be right for capital and jobs to gradually flow only in one direction.
What have we to offer a foreign company? We cannot compete with cheap labour. We cannot, and do not want to, lower the level of our social security. Language, climate, geographical location and the dour Finnish character together form quite an obstacle to anyone thinking of setting up in Finland.
We must rely on our know-how and improve our skills in this area. A foreign businessman must be made aware that it is worth his while opening a company in Finland because things are done better, faster and more expertly here than in rival countries. To be able to build up real competitiveness, international know- how, on the foundation of our excellent basic education, we must make our teaching and research even more international. We must become even more European.
It has been said that Finland should not exclude the possibility of EC membership from its plans for the future. Certainly the time may come when neutrality and EC membership are reconcilable. If, however, we think in the same way as Jacques Delors, chairman of the EC Commission, then today, the EC's long-term goal is still political union, and that brings with it the whole of the Community's foreign policy and security policy obligations. It is not possible to join the Community and take on only some of its obligations, says Delors.
Even if our economy is integrated more and more deeply with the world around, in the end we have to decide for ourselves the most important thing of all - how to manage our economy. No factors of production can be allowed to behave so as to endanger steady growth and development. The prices of labour, capital, raw materials and energy must bear a rational relationship to those of our competitors.
Leaders of the business world have recently repeatedly criticized politicians for the current state of the public economy. This is, of course, their right. The claim is made that politicians boast it is their wise economic policy that has created Finland's present prosperity. Of course they have not created it. Credit for our standard of living must go to the ordinary hardworking Finn and a fair proportion to the favourable economic climate.
On the other hand, though, surely nobody could seriously deny that the desire for political concensus shown in recent decades has not helped create the conditions for economic growth. During an economic upswing, industry's pay policy and investment decisions are beyond criticism. When a recession looms, cries go up to the Government for help and heads, it seems, should roll.
As a member of the Government, I would like to defend it. Experience and, in particular, what we see happening in Eastern Europe recently have taught us to believe in a market economy and its capacity for transforming itself to suit the demands of the hour. But we also know from our experience at home that the decision-makers in business life sometimes make mistakes and are sometimes self-seeking - occasionally both.
Personally, I think that the biggest mistake we can make in our common economic management is to break the peace and unanimity that our society enjoys, that much spoken-of concensus, which it took us generations to build and which many less stable societies envy us.
In any case, the era of isolation is now over. Finland may have to start importing labour for the simple reason that there are fields in which Finns are not willing to work, even at good wages. According to population prognoses, Finland is becoming a nation of old people. It is particularly difficult to get employees in the caring professions. We are in the same situation as Sweden was some twenty years ago, when Finns, for instance, went to work for Swedish institutions.
Even more we are threatened by the brain drain, the emigration of trained personnel. The most talented young Finns may go off to Europe in search of better training and better living conditions, and stay there. A civilized nation has no other way of fighting this trend than to make conditions in its own country in every way so good that the rest of the world loses its attraction. To use a popular comparison: if there is a beautiful and enterprising young girl living in a remote village who is not satisfied with the local male talent, no power in the world can force her to stay at home.
It is worth noting that the world is integrating despite what governments may decide. Fashionable consumer trends are the forerunners of integration. Spurning ideological and economic barriers, young people dress in the same kind of jeans in New York, Peking, Moscow, Helsinki and Espoo. In all these places, the young drink coca-cola and listen to the same pop artists. As it develops, the worldwide information technology network will more and more surely standardize fashion and taste, consumer habits and, as we have noted, to some extent also opinion.
Integration is not something that concerns only people. One of the many working group meetings connected with EFTA-EC cooperation was held last summer in Finland. The subject was certain agricultural problems. At the meeting it became clear that the standards used for pig penning in the EC area are more demanding than, for instance, in Finland. A local paper found this made a good headline: "Integration good for sows too."
Farming in Finland - as in other developed industrial countries - has to be subsidized, otherwise agriculture would not be possible. So we could say that farmers already get a kind of 'civic wage'. We are subsidizing a way of life, not an industry. When a farmer is paid subsidy, he is naturally getting an honest wage for his work, but something else is also happening. You see, only one third of a farm's turnover represents the farmer's wages, the rest comes from bought inputs.
These bought inputs are largely imports. A farm buys foreign machinery, uses foreign fuels, fertilizers and even pesticides. The much vaunted self-sufficiency is ultimately just bluff, and the domestic origin of Finnish farm products is about sixty per cent at best.
The policy of farm subsidies has led not only to impoverishment of the taxpayers but also to over-production, over-fertilization and over-mechanization. Talk about 'pure Finnish food' has quite rightly been questioned recently. The idea of self-sufficiency in times of crisis is another claim that does not stand up to closer scrutiny in a system which in any case calls for a forty per cent import input to work at all.
In all key items, Finland is an over-producer these days. So products already subsidized once have to some extent to be sold abroad under still more subsidies. And again dipping into public funds. Economically speaking, this is about as much use as a pump which pumps water into a well. And all the time the amount of money going places other than the farmer's pocket is growing. The innocent farmer, victim of a misplaced subsidy policy, eventually gets all the blame from the angry consumer.
Concern is also shown for the survival of the Finnish language and Finnish culture. Quite rightly. Yet cultural history shows that these things, too, are in a constant state of flux. Finnish has developed over the centuries into what it is today; we have borrowed words from East and West and are subject to new influences all the time. The language lives and changes, though in some people's view always, of course, for the worse.
If people had always thought like that, we would have to expect people in modern Italy still to be speaking Latin. As I already noted, the media are a great unifying force and English loan words and expressions are quick to be adopted in Finnish, too. On the other hand, half of the vocabulary of English comes from Latin and Greek, and the rest from Germanic origins. English and French are more closely related than Finnish and Hungarian.
Though European integration will clearly have a standardizing influence, it has already been found that merely the speed of the process and debate about it have inspired small national cultures, little ethnic groups, to new efforts and a new flowering. Obviously this is a natural reaction to standardizing trends, and as such is to be warmly welcomed.
The European cultural community is already planning systems and funds whereby small regional cultures can be supported and preserved. It would not be in Finland's interest to be left out of such developments.
Gradually people are beginning to realize that material wellbeing does not guarantee happiness. However, lack of it usually ensures misery. There is still a great deal of mental suffering in the affluent society which cannot be eliminated by social welfare. So it is important to open up new prospects for people, to give them new goals for the future. It is only that which keeps us whole as people.
We tend to stress the importance of being different; for Finns, particularly, it is something honourable. The old story about the man who set off, axe in hand, up the river to seek out the neighbour whose woodchip he found in his water is still true at bottom. Relations between people are based, though, on the minimal possible mutual understanding, on finding things in common.
Europe will integrate at dozens of levels, in both economic and intellectual fields, as long as the spiritual flow of European- ness can stream back into its ancient channels or is allowed to find itself new ones. It was the fate of Europe to find itself for a while paying for the conflict between East and West. With détente, European-ness is going back to its point of departure and this is a process in which we Finns want to be intimately involved.
Ladies and gentlemen:
The most important goal of education is to give people healthy self-esteem. When we ourselves acquire a basic education, we learn to understand whole entities, to meet the demands of our own profession or trade as well as possible; when we see something of the world and learn foreign languages, we no longer need to envy our neighbours, to be afraid of Europe, to hate black men and tease our classmates in the break.
"A healthy mind in a healthy body," the ancient Romans used to say. "A healthy self-esteem in a prosperous Europe," could be the motto of today's Finns.