According to the recent studies on Human Capital Index, Finland has been acknowledged as head of the list. What is your opinion on this matter?
Yes, that is correct, for the second year running Finland has been named as the best country at maximising and leveraging its human capital potential. World Economic Forum did the study focusing on learning and employment in 130 countries. These kinds of survey results reassure that the strengths of our country are still estimated very high despite the challenges as slow growth and exports that we face since several years. As you perhaps know already it all begins from the children and the education system of Finland.
My country does not have oil or minerals or any other natural resources except for forests, but we have always thought that educating a child is the best investment in the prosperity of a nation. Another survey worth mentioning in this particular context is the one Eurostat released last year on ”happiness” among European youth. According to it Finland, together with Iceland and Austria, has the happiest youth in Europe. Also, the role of women has along the Finnish history been of crucial importance in building our society equal.
Finnish education system has been worldwide rated as the most efficient one. On what basis is this education system build?
The success of the Finnish education system is based on a couple of key elements. The starting point is skilled and motivated teachers. The teachers are required a master-level degree with training and pedagogics included. They are supported throughout their career to update their skills, as with the demands of digitalization. What also matters is that in Finland the profession of a teacher is a respected position in the society.
Then, secondly, the teaching methods. A highly qualified teacher is able to teach each pupil according to child’s own talent, challenge or need. No-one is left behind thanks to the inclusiveness of the system.
And thirdly, the key attention is paid to the child. Every child is thrilled about learning new things, but I guess the question is how to maintain that attitude along the school years. A child-driven approach of the Finnish education system guarantees that skills and talents are encouraged and fostered and at the same time special attention and support are given to children with learning difficulties. The motivation is important – our pupils spend less time in class and have less homework and exams than pupils in other OECD countries. We believe that children need time also to play, for hobbies and to meet with friends.
Could you describe us the Scandinavian model from the Finnish perspective? Is there any determinant for the high degree of feasibility that Finland does register in terms of societal and state functioning?
The Scandinavian or Nordic model has become internationally well-known over the recent years but has some differences in between the countries, that’s true. The combination of high taxes for public services with competitive and growing open economy has brought good results for several decades in every Nordic country. However, the welfare state is currently facing challenges due to the globalisation, economic crises and demographic development.
Even if Finland is on top of all kind of international surveys, Finland still remembers where it comes from. Our country had to reinvent itself and is still doing it. In the early days, Finland was a very poor and peripherical country without any other national resources but forests, lakes and its people. We started to build our nation with what we had. But especially after the Second World War people came together to rebuild the country with every pair of adult hands available. Women carried their responsibility and had an equal role in building the society working also outside the home. That was one of the elements to trigger public social services to expand, and along the years a well-running welfare state funded by taxes was created. As we Finns always look for a pragmatic solution, currently also the welfare system is being updated to meet new demands.
Please, tell us about the involvement of the Embassy of Finland in Bucharest in a campaign such as ”Together for Women’s Safety”. How do people react when they receive lessons of good practices from the citizens of a country well-known for its social protection?
It was the second year in a row the Embassy of Finland was invited to support an important initiative to raise awareness of a global problem that is violence against women and girls. As the problem exists also in Romania and in Finland, I participated to express my solidarity with the campaign and the march together with several other ambassadors and diplomats. Also the Romanian government, with Minister for Public Consultation and Civic Dialogue Violeta Alexandru and Minister for Labour, Social and Family Affairs Dragos Pislaru cohosted the campaign. Accepting the invitation to support such an important cause was told to be very welcome as domestic violence against women remains a major concern in today’s society.
One initiative which is very close to my heart that I have wanted to share in Romania is the Finnish maternity kit. The origin of it was to meet the Finnish low-income mothers’ situation in 1937. Since then it soon extended to cover all expecting mothers. The idea was to encourage women to see the doctor and midwife for regular health checks during pregnancy and then offer them the maternity kit. It had a huge impact on the child mortality rates, which have been since decades among the lowest worldwide in Finland. There are for example some Romanian NGOs studying the possibility to pilot the kit in cooperation with a Finnish NGO, and the Romanian state is also very, very interested in adopting the kit tailor made. As the ambassador of Finland, of course, I would be delighted if the kit was introduced in Romania as well to support the wellbeing of the new-born babies and their mothers.
This year, Finland and Sweden celebrated the anniversary of media freedom, guaranteed by the Freedom of Press Act, issued by the Swedish Parliament in 1766. How do you see the role of the press nowadays?
I think that good journalism is always based on facts and accuracy, and the journalists’ dedication to doing the job with honesty. As we know the quality press can be a powerful actor of an open society. The freedom of information and press are linked with good governance, and transparent, just and functional society. Free, the plural press is also among the best means to fight corruption.
However, in many countries media is put in a hard place, or vast resources are spent to spread false news and propaganda. Unfortunately, there are always people that want to abuse the freedoms of an open society. What is of key importance is that we reply disinformation with information and facts.
Is the Scandinavian long-lasting cooperation model an example for the long-term development of the European Union?
During the current challenging times, I think it is important to remind ourselves why the European Union was formed and what we all have achieved thanks to it: decades of peace, stability and prosperity. It has essentially been a union of common responsibilities and common interests. When looking at the Nordic cooperation we see it’s been fruitful as it is also based on very pragmatic reasons, for mutual need and mutual benefit to cooperate.
Let’s look at the Nordic Council. The group was formed in 1952 to promote cooperation between the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Its first concrete result the same year was the common labour market and free movement of people across borders without passports. Another example is the NORDEFCO, Nordic Defence Cooperation. Its five members’ objective is to strengthen their defence capabilities by identifying areas for cooperation. Participation is voluntary.
What I’m trying to say is that in the complex and interlinked world of today no single country can cope with on its own. However, there is not one size to fit all. For our part, Finland has benefited a lot from the Nordic cooperation and the EU-membership and continues to contribute in a pragmatic and constructive manner to both.
How would you characterise the relations between Bucharest and Helsinki? Do we distinguish some proper directions of bilateral cooperation?
The bilateral relations have always been good, but there has before been a little bit of distance obviously due to the geographical distance. I have had very good cooperation with the authorities during my mandate since more than a year, and I am happy to tell you that interaction has been on the sharp rise with new partnerships established thanks to several factors. For example, the contacts and bilateral dialogue are going to stay active the forthcoming years as both of the countries prepare our consecutive EU-presidencies in 2019.
As Romania will take over the rotating EU-presidency for the first and Finland already for the third time, Finland is willing to share from its experience to support Romania for a successful presidency. We will also continue deepening our bilateral dialogue on mutually important security and foreign policy issues. There are also prospects of cooperating in very important issues related to children, as is the education sector or maternity kit.
I’m also delighted to see the interest of noteworthy Finnish companies willing to contribute their know-how in the reforms of Romania. Thanks to your country’s more transparent and more predictable business environment there are more and more Finnish enterprises exploring their investment possibilities.
Helsinki is presented as the spearhead for the smart city concept paradigm, taking into account municipalities’ plan to reduce the traffic by increasing the public transport infrastructure. How important is to transform our cities in eco-friendly settlements?
Yes, in the context of European 2020 policies and initiatives aimed towards creating connected Smart Cities and Regions, Helsinki was presented as a frontrunner. This development did not, by all means, happen overnight. A well-functioning and well-connected public transportation of our capital region has become a very attractive and easy an option for day-to-day commuting between home and office or home and school. Its popularity has also had a direct impact with less traffic in the city centre and at the same time with the levels of pollution.
I salute the initiative of the NGOs that created bike sharing and bike rental outlets in major Romanian cities, it is such a good idea. And Bucharest can be proud that has 23 square meters of green space per inhabitant – that is more than an inhabitant has in Paris or in Madrid. The parks are so beautiful, but there is still a bit work to do to catch up the recommended standard of 26 square meters of green space per citizen. In Finland, people have always appreciated as close a contact as possible with nature, even in the bigger cities, and that has been tried to take into account in the city planning projects.
Could you describe the Finnish paradigm of sustainable forestry? Which features do we distinguish?
The Finnish narrative of forestry is about traditions and it is about values. The majority of forests are still owned by private families that have looked after their green gold in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner since generations.
In general, Finns have a special relationship with nature and the so-called ”everyman’s right” guarantees all the people a permission to pick berries and mushrooms or go hiking and enjoying the woods even if it is not their property. This freedom has facilitated maintaining the respect to forests. But as it has been almost the only natural resource of my country, the mindset and also law was founded a long time ago that forests must be looked after. Instead of abusing the forest, you give it time to revitalise itself. This means that the net growth is never negative. Still today Finland is the most heavily forested country (74,2 % of the land area) and its forest reserves are now greater than ever before in the 20th century. We also still have vocational training for forestry professionals from lumberjack to forester.
Tolerance is one of the most debate-creating aspects in Romanian civil society. How is Finland managing this niche problem?
I believe that children learn from adults at home or at school the fundamental values and ways of behaviour towards other people. It is a big responsibility. In Finland, the constitution states that every person living in Finland is considered equal, not depending on gender, age, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability etc. Everyone is equal in front of the law. Transparency, inclusion, participation and cooperation are key elements in working for a truly multicultural and tolerant society.
However, there have been lamentable incidents due to coexistence with people coming from other parts of the world that show tolerance is put to test also in Finland. Also, minorities sometimes face difficulties in getting their voice heard. In such cases, institutions as non-discrimination ombudsman or equality ombudsman or numerous NGOs can be of help. An example of well-established cooperation between the government and the civil society is the Advisory Board on Romani Affairs. It monitors the development of the social participation and living conditions of the Roma in order to promote equality.
This year study of the Fund for Peace has relieved the most stable state in the world: Finland. Is there any ‘recipe of success”?
You make me feel humbled for raising these international surveys where Finland is on top! What I think these surveys show is that economic growth or wealth are not the only guarantees of the quality of life. It can be things such as equality or equal opportunities, trusted education, or tolerance and inclusion. They are not given for free, so Finland needs to mend possible differences and problems when necessary as our society develops culturally even more diverse.
International Relations are considered as being, first of all, Intercultural Relations. Is the building of cultural bridges a feasible strategy for a better European Integration?
Well, International or European Relations are based on each country’s perception of each other as a partner and collaborator. Understanding other country’s cultural peculiarities, traditions, habits and values in parallel with its positions or legislation or joint conventions makes cooperation, of course, easier. Respecting the different traditions or ways of thinking belongs to the normal good behaviour of each of us, not only to international relations.
For me, one of the richnesses of the EU is the variety of culture and traditions all member states proudly present and bring along. Primarily, culture is to enjoy and share experiences. I think that cultural bridges get us closer to each other in the mind and spirit, but are not a feasible vehicle or a tool alone to enhance EU-integration, which is, finally, a political and intergovernmental process.