Presidential candidates meet at debate organised by main labour union confederations
A certain amount of differences and actual arguments occurred on Wednesday evening at a debate of six presidential candidates.
The event was organised by three Finnish labour union confederations - the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK), and the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland (AKAVA), and took place at Helsinki’s Old Student House.
Disagreements emerged on presidential authority, and somewhat surprisingly on the performance of outgoing President Tarja Halonen.
Social Democratic Party candidate Paavo Lipponen was critical of what he saw as a lack of respect in connection with the so-called "plate dispute".
He was referring to the decision by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) whose government decided that the President should not, as a rule, attend summits of the EU.
This ended the practice under which a second plate had to be reserved for Finland at summit dinners.
Lipponen said that the matter could have been handled better, and with more respect for the President.
Green League candidate Pekka Haavisto came to the defence of Vanhanen, while criticising Halonen.
Haavisto said that the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs was often left uninformed about matters related to the EU meetings because the minister had to make way for the President.
According to Haavisto, the President did not even bother to brief the Foreign Minister on what happened at the meeting. “That is why rules were needed”, Haavisto said.
True Finns candidate Timo Soini took the opportunity to criticise statements made by President Halonen on racism in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat earlier this month (see linked article).
On this matter Eva Biaudet (Swed. People’s Party) came to President Halonen’s defence, saying that Finland needs more and not less discussion on the issue, and she felt that the President’s statement was a welcome move.
President Halonen’s performance was also mentioned when the candidates discussed the issue of presidential authority, which will be curtailed further at the beginning of March 2012, the point at which the new president takes office.
Haavisto criticised Halonen’s outspokenness in the issue. He noted that the change was based on a decision by Parliament.
Both Soini and National Coalition Party candidate Sauli Niinistö felt that the constitutional change is taking too much authority away from the presidency.
Lipponen disagreed, and asked what had happened to respect for the authority of Parliament.
Lipponen criticised Niinistö for placing himself above Parliament in a role in which the President keeps bad politicians in check.
He also said that Soini seems to have become intoxicated by the popular mandate.
Lipponen voiced the view that the candidates do not have enough self-confidence.
He noted that the President continues to have significant power in leading foreign policy.
Biaudet also was quite comfortable with the revised presidential powers.
Pekka Haavisto took a swing at Centre Party candidate Paavo Väyrynen, saying that he would not be comfortable with a surly president who sees himself as a challenger of the government, refusing to sign legislation that is not to his liking.
The unusually lively panel discussion also brought forward some concrete initiatives.
Haavisto called for more meetings of the foreign and security policy committee of the President and government. He also said that both the president and the government should be allowed to convene the meeting.
Niinistö felt that the Greek loan crisis should be handled by professionals - that is, the International Monetary Fund. He said that the EU should “stop treating its own child”.
“The IMF might do it in a brusque manner, but then it will be taken care of", argued Niinistö.
Taking part in the panel were six of the eight presidential candidates.
Absent were Left Alliance candidate Paavo Arhinmäki and Christian Democrat Sari Essayah.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Presidential candidates debate at Helsinki Book Fair (31.10.2011)
Parliament approves cuts in presidential powers (24.10.2011)
Presidential poll: Niinistö remains overwhelming front-runner, Väyrynen support rising (15.11.2011)
Presidential race: Centre Party politicians lash out against Niinistö (14.11.2011)
HS interview: President Halonen urges Finns to dare defend victims of racism (15.11.2011)