SDP’s Heinäluoma criticised over comments on work-based immigration
Some Social Democrats distanced themselves from Parliamentary group leader’s assertions
Eero Heinäluoma, the chairman of the Parliamentary group of the opposition Social Democratic Party, sparked a political storm on Saturday over an interview in the Swedish-language newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet, in which he criticised the government’s policy on immigration.
Heinäluoma’s message was that if the government sticks to its aim of increasing work-based immigration, there will not be enough work to go around for Finns. This would lead to greater racism.
Heinäluoma defended the view that immigration should not be increased. “It is not racism. It is a sensible reaction to the fact that we have 300,000 unemployed in the country.”
Green League chairwoman, Minister of Labour Anni Sinnemäki, denied the notion that the government is inciting foreigners to immigrate to Finland. She said that the government is simply easing the bureaucracy linked with the hiring of foreign workers.
Sinnemäki added that she does not understand Heinäluoma’s logic, according to which more foreigners would bring in racism.
Heinäluoma’s comments were also taken up on Saturday by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) at the meeting of his party’s delegate council in Lappeenranta.
He said that he felt that Heinäluoma’s ideas were repugnant, a word that he repeated a couple of times during his address.
Vanhanen made indirect reference to the notion of inciting xenophobia, and said that the Centre Party would stay out of this kind of thinking. He said that the matter is a choice of values.
“Our candidates do not flirt with immigration issues in elections”, he said.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party) also expressed amazement at Heinäluoma’s comments during an event on immigration sponsored by the NCP and held at the Old Student House in Helsinki on Saturday.
“The same kind of debate took place in the European Parliament, when the service directive was under preparation. At that time, the far right and left got together and called into question the notion of equality for international employees”, Stubb said to Helsingin Sanomat.
There have been suspicions that comments by SDP chairwoman Jutta Urpilainen, emphasising the need of immigrants to adapt to Finnish ways, were just a slip of the tongue, but Heinäluoma’s interview suggests that this is a deliberate tactic. However, Stubb did not want to evaluate the SDP’s mindset.
“If we went into the ‘When in Rome’ mentality, then as someone who spent four years in South Carolina, I should be a redneck Baptist who drives around in a pickup truck and drinks watered-down Budweiser”, he remarked acidly.
Heinäluoma’s comments also brought criticism from some of his fellow Social Democrats.
“It is the moral obligation of politicians to increase people’s awareness through facts, also in complicated questions of immigration, and not to feed prejudices”, declared Liisa Jaakonsaari, a Finnish Social Democratic Member of the European Parliament, writing in her blog.
Teemu Hirvonen, deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party’s youth organisation, is also dissatisfied with Heinäluoma’s interview.
“In the future Finland will need foreign labour. It would be short-sighted to restrict it on the basis of the current slump”, Hirvonen pointed out.
Clear support for Heinäluoma came only from Timo Soimi, leader of the True Finns party, which takes an openly restrictive view on immigration.
”In immigration, there is a rush to the sensible policy line of the True Finns”, he said at a meeting of his party’s delegate council.
However, Soini also said that he is not completely convinced that the Social Democrats are genuine in their conviction, suspecting that they are simply going after the votes of True Finns supporters.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Thors: Deliberate deception in immigration debate (22.3.2010)
Survey: More than half want tighter immigration controls (31.3.2010)
NEWS ANALYSIS: Immigration debate enters new phase (27.3.2010)
Foreign Minister Stubb defends immigration and multiculturalism (19.3.2010)