Finland and the Politics of Crises

3.  Debt, Power and Morality

Finally, as against this long term politics of crisis prevalent in Finnish politics earlier outlined, we focus on a particular instance of crisis politics that Finland has been engaged in: the current crisis of the Eurozone. In doing so we seek to show how Finland’s engagement with the crisis in the Eurozone has been exemplary of the crisis politics that it has perpetuated within its own borders in the last decades. Through the Euro crisis we show how the Finnish response to the crisis perpetuates a certain conceptualisation of crisis already present within Finnish politics and that through the perspectives of debt, power and morality it has aided in exporting similar power-relations to the European space.

What is perhaps particular about Finland’s relation to the crisis is that it stands outside of the immediate crisis zone of Southern European states, or ‘austerity states.’ Before the crisis Finland was one of the ‘poster-boys’ of European integration with a low debt-to-GDP ratio and a purported strict adherence to the rules and goals of the European project. As such one of the most significant elements of the crisis within the Finnish context is its relationship to a crisis ‘outside’ of itself, which it must necessarily involve itself within. Yet insofar as this is true, it enables the reproduction of, we argue, a relation prevalent in domestic Finnish crisis politics, a relation between a ‘pure’ and ‘responsible’ area and an outside that is on the contrary ‘impure’ and ‘irresponsible’ and thus requires correction.

The Finnish response to the crisis, similar to the British case highlighted by Emma Dowling, has been couched primarily in moral terms. Thus as Paul Jonker-Hoffrén has argued, it has been common in the popular press to conceptualise the crisis with wording such as ‘countries that lived carelessly on borrowed money,’ ‘moral decay,’ ‘countries that handled their accounts badly’.[9] The discourse focused on the spending of countries such as Greece and Portugal, and left out the structure of the Eurozone itself, the sources of loans that made such lending possible, and the nature of capital itself. Such moralistic interpretations of the crisis fundamentally structured the Finnish response to the Eurozone crisis. It must be noted here, however, that Finland has been at the centre of the response to the crisis alongside Germany, Austria and the Netherlands as one of the dominant Northern Eurozone states, and the Finn Olli Rehn has held the position of Vice-President of the European Commission throughout the crisis period. Taking that into consideration, its interpretation of the crisis must be seen as integral to the overall response to the crisis in the Eurozone.

One prime example of this logic is the unilateral collateral agreement between Finland and Greece in the most recent round of bailouts. The agreement, which sought to ensure that any Finnish loan to the crisis fund for Greece, was backed by a collateral – meant to reduce Finnish risk – and has faced much criticism. Described almost universally as meaningless and unworkable, what such deal belies is a moral demand not to be implicated in another party’s wrongdoing, and holding wrongdoers accountable and punishable for their financial profligacy. Perhaps this entire moralistic attitude can be summed up in the close-to ‘philosophical treatise’ put forward by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen on the concept of solidarity. Here, it might be worth noting that the word solidarity appears in almost all of the major European documents on the crisis, but is never defined. Katainen distinguishes between fair and unfair solidarity in which he interprets unfair solidarity as Finland having to bail out irresponsible countries, or having to help others, whilst fair solidarity implies that all states are ‘playing by the rules’. ‘Unfair solidarity,’ according to the Finnish PM, is what we are currently witnessing; member states opting for lax economic policy are bailed out by those playing by the EU rules. What the EU needs, Katainen argues, is not a large scale institutional reform, but ‘fairer integration.’ Fairness, as he points out repeatedly, boils down to abiding by the common EU rules.[10]

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