Begging, immigration and identity

Anoth­er issue of impor­tance in the Finnish EU dis­cus­sion was the Roma beg­gars in Helsin­ki. They were still few in num­bers, but attained a high­ly sym­bol­ic val­ue, tak­ing up a great deal of atten­tion in the par­lia­men­tary and media dis­course.11E.g. Par­lia­ment ses­sion, 25 May 2010. Beg­ging on the streets of Helsin­ki was seen to rep­re­sent the dark­er aspects of the EU’s free­dom of move­ment, and was often under­lined in con­junc­tion with the argu­ment that Roma­nia and Bul­gar­ia joined the EU too soon. Out­law­ing beg­ging was dis­cussed, togeth­er with minor­i­ty rights and Euro­pean stan­dards.22Vihreä Lan­ka: Holokaustin per­in­tö elää, 19 Feb­ru­ary 2010.

Relat­ing to the dis­cus­sion on the free­dom of move­ment, the wider debate on immi­gra­tion was also heat­ing up in Fin­land. It is not strict­ly an EU mat­ter, but the Roma ques­tion raised ques­tions of inclu­siv­i­ty and iden­ti­ty.33Suomen­maa: Suo­mi elää taval­laan?, 8 April 2010. An inclu­sive, rather than exclu­sive, Finnish iden­ti­ty tends to be tied in with a basi­cal­ly pos­i­tive atti­tude towards EU inte­gra­tion, which also has con­no­ta­tions of naïveté in the Euroscep­tic dis­course, much as an open atti­tude towards immi­gra­tion in par­tic­u­lar and inter­na­tion­al­ism in gen­er­al does.44Aamule­hti: Osta pieni puh­das Pohjo­is­maa!, 8 April 2010. The expres­sion “When in Rome…” was pri­mar­i­ly used by the pop­ulist True Finns, but, in spring 2010, the Social Democ­rats also took to both using this expres­sion and employ­ing pop­ulist rhetoric sup­port­ing those who feel their employ­ment threat­ened by immi­gra­tion. Then Prime Min­is­ter (PM) Van­hanen and For­eign Min­is­ter Stubb both con­demned this atti­tude with excep­tion­al­ly harsh words, with espe­cial­ly the lat­ter iden­ti­fy­ing his view of what it means to be a Finn to be essen­tial­ly inter­na­tion­al­ist. Europe and Immi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Thors, who has even received death threats from anony­mous sources due to her alleged­ly uncrit­i­cal atti­tude towards immi­gra­tion, empha­sised on numer­ous occa­sions that the immi­gra­tion debate in Fin­land tends to be plagued by gen­er­al­i­sa­tions, over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tions and out­right big­otry.55Kale­va: Thors: EU:ssa vapaa liikku­misoikeus, 28 April 2010. This debate must, how­ev­er, also be seen in the con­text of the upcom­ing 2011 elections.

On the whole, the received wis­dom in the press was that the main iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Finns is still the nation state. While this may be true, often the ques­tion­naires and fig­ures quot­ed for these argu­ments are based more on knowl­edge about the admin­is­tra­tive machin­ery of the EU than on Europe per se.66E.g. Turun Sanomat: Kansal­lis­val­tio voimis­saan, 6 Decem­ber 2010. As men­tioned, the dis­cus­sion on fed­er­al­ism remained rather abstract and shal­low, with the ques­tion of nation­al inde­pen­dence being the main stick­ing point on both the Greek cri­sis and the Lis­bon Treaty. Finland’s periph­er­al loca­tion is a point of wor­ry for many – will the EU bureau­cra­cy in far­away Brus­sels be able to under­stand our excep­tion­al con­di­tions when it comes to farm­ing and the wel­fare state, for exam­ple?77Kale­va: San­ta Claus Oulun pres­i­den­tik­si, 14 Decem­ber 2010.

On 22 June 2010, Mari Kivinie­mi (Cen­tre Par­ty) was offi­cial­ly appoint­ed as the Finnish Prime Min­is­ter, with the pre­vi­ous PM Mat­ti Van­hanen resign­ing for rea­sons which he was unwill­ing to com­plete­ly reveal. One of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Vanhanen’s time in office was the change in his EU posi­tion over time: from slight­ly EU scep­ti­cal to its advo­cate. Kivinie­mi is expect­ed to con­tin­ue along the lat­ter line. She belongs to the lib­er­al wing of her par­ty, and is the sec­ond female to take up the position.

    Footnotes

  • 1E.g. Par­lia­ment ses­sion, 25 May 2010.
  • 2Vihreä Lan­ka: Holokaustin per­in­tö elää, 19 Feb­ru­ary 2010.
  • 3Suomen­maa: Suo­mi elää taval­laan?, 8 April 2010.
  • 4Aamule­hti: Osta pieni puh­das Pohjo­is­maa!, 8 April 2010.
  • 5Kale­va: Thors: EU:ssa vapaa liikku­misoikeus, 28 April 2010.
  • 6E.g. Turun Sanomat: Kansal­lis­val­tio voimis­saan, 6 Decem­ber 2010.
  • 7Kale­va: San­ta Claus Oulun pres­i­den­tik­si, 14 Decem­ber 2010.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.