MEP Alexander Stubb to replace Ilkka Kanerva as Foreign Minister
Party leader Katainen moved to tears over decision - Kanerva takes sick leave
The National Coalition Party has decided to name Alexander Stubb, a Member of the European Parliament, as Finland's new Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The party's chairman, Minister of Finance Jyrki Katainen, said on Tuesday morning that Ilkka Kanerva cannot stay on as Foreign Minister after the gossip magazine Hymy published text messages that he had sent to dancer Johanna Tukiainen.
Katainen said that he came to his decision "with a heavy heart"; breaking the news to journalists in Parliament caused his eyes to well up.
"This has been difficult for Ilkka. It is also the most difficult decision of my career as chairman. Ike is my friend, and he has done a wonderful job as Foreign Minister", Katainen says.
Katainen asked Stubb to take the Foreign Minister's post on Monday evening. "When your country calls, the answer is unequivocally yes", Stubb said.
The messages published on Tuesday in this week's edition of Hymy are flirtatious and suggestive. Kanerva ponders the possibility of having dinner together in one of them, but there were no overt references to sex.
There are hints of touching, Tukiainen's appearance, and her clothing in about a dozen of the messages. The magazine quotes 24 SMS messages, devoting three spreads to its scoop.
Helsingin Sanomat got access to the messages on Monday, the day before they were published.
The messages were sent by Kanerva between late January and early March. During that time he travelled, both in his ministerial capacity, and as representative of the country holding the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in a number of countries, including Norway, Serbia, Kosovo, the United States, Brussels, The Netherlands, and the South Caucasus.
The most overtly suggestive message may have been one that concluded: "How would it be to touch you with my fingers in a night club".
One message concludes with the question "Have you kept your garden in shape?"
At one point, Kanerva appears to have understood the sensitivity of his position, and expressed concern at the possibility that the messages might come out in public: "...how can you make sure that there won't be any stories in the press? It's impossible" Kanerva texted in January.
Jyrki Katainen says in the online publication Verkkouutiset that he had a thorough discussion with Kanerva on Monday evening.
"In connection with this discussion, I got a clear overall picture of the situation. There is no individual factor behind my decision - it is a whole, which includes a lack of discretion in his private life, statements that have caused consternation, and a weakening of the capacity for action after the collapse of overall credibility."
Katainen conceded that many had expressed reservations about Kanerva as the party's ministers were being named.
"I had a discussion with him in connection with the appointment, and went through the misgivings, and said that during his time as minister I do not want to end up in a situation like before. He promised me that. He was not able to keep this promise", Katainen said.
Outgoing Foreign Minister Kanerva does not plan to appear in public on Tuesday over the text message furore. Kanerva's press aide Juha Kirstilä said that he would not be giving any interviews.
The Foreign Ministry said that Kanerva has taken sick leave. This means that he will also not take part in the NATO summit which begins in Romania on Wednesday.
On Monday Kanerva insisted that he was fully fit, both physically and mentally. During a meeting with the Swedish and Norwegian foreign ministers he said that he got strength from encouraging messages from the public. He said that on Monday he had received about 100 e-mail messages expressing support.
The announcement of Stubb's appointment to the Foreign Minister's post came on his 40th birthday.
Katainen said that at its meeting Tuesday morning, the Parliamentary group of the National Coalition Party described Stubb as surprising and courageous, adding that "he puts a smile on one's face".
Stubb is widely regarded as a competent figure, and is known to be a firm advocate of Finnish NATO membership.
In the past he has served as an aide to Romano Prodi, the previous head of the European Commission, as well as in the Finnish government's EU Secretariat and Finland's permanent representation to the European Union.
Stubb has been a Member of the European Parliament since June 2004. He is married to a British-born lawyer, and the family have two young children.
His seat in the European Parliament will be taken by Finland's former Minister of the Environment Sirpa Pietikäinen.
The new Minister for Foreign Affairs will be formally sworn in on Friday.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Exhausted Kanerva cancels participation at conference in Estonia (31.3.2008)
Foreign Minister Kanerva to Slovenia; controversial SMS messages may be published next week (27.3.2008)
National Coalition Party MP calls on Kanerva to resign (18.3.2008)
Kanerva insists in magazine interview that he will not resign (13.3.2008)
Foreign Minister admits to sending text messages to dancer (11.3.2008)
Alexander Stubb, MEP
Ministry for Foreign Affairs Press Release on Stubb appointment