The following column was today (Friday February 15th) published in Swedish in the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet:
Turning our backs on the future
The public debate regarding the European Union budget framework for the next seven years has, in many ways, gone awry. We are stuck at talking about net payments, about the difference between payments to the EU and payments received from it. That kind of debate creates a number of pitfalls, the first of which concerns how we see ourselves, the second how we view the world.
There is an element of simplified romantic nationalism in the medial hotchpotch of politics – and of politicians. It is a mixture of Runeberg and Linna. In Linna’s Under the North Star trilogy, the Koskela family occupy a world centred around their village where most of what they produce is for their own consumption. They have their horse, their cow, their pig, their oats, and their porridge. Only a very tiny percentage of their blood, sweat and tears are shed for the world beyond the village. But in today’s debate, payments to the EU are equated with the hard day-labour that Jussi Koskela had to provide for the local minister, Dean Salpakari, at cost to his own croft. No points for guessing who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.
But that is not the world we live in.
That today’s European debate has been reduced to its present level really amounts to a spiritual and cultural bankruptcy which twists the delicate message conveyed in the writing of these national poets of Finland. Jussi Koskela cleared his marshland in 1884. My calendar says 2013, when almost half of our gross national product will be produced for export.
An editorial in the Helsingin Sanomat, the major newspaper in Finland, describes the members of the European Council as EU politicians, but in reality they are village politicians. When it comes to the domestic debate on municipal boundaries in Finland, leading politicians are quite capable of accusing local decision-makers of being narrow-minded. But during the flight from Helsinki to Brussels, those very same politicians undergo a strange metamorphosis and become village politicians without the will or ability to see the commonalities of our – and Europe’s – future challenges. And all we get from them after this transformation are stutterings that they have broken the increase in net payments. That is the logic of peddlers.
However, that is not the worst thing about the reporting on the EU budget framework. There are two tricky failings in the reporting. The first is about us now going ‘the Greek way’ by creating an underbalanced budget with more promises of payments than ready cash to pay for them – just as we are trying to teach the countries of southern Europe that that is what they mustn’t do.
But worst of all is that, in their meeting last weekend, the EU ministers compromised on investments for the future. The big investments in common energy networks and transport structures, so loudly promised 24 months ago, were cut in half. Funding for new investment in research and innovation was cut by a quarter. The only things the politicians fought for were farming and regional subsidies. For a Europe in crisis that seems quite incredibly shortsighted.