Cooperation with Mongolia in green energy is possible
Independent economist and media personality D.Jargalsaikhan, commonly known as Jargal DeFacto, invited Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipilä on his “Interview DeFacto” television talk show during the 11th ASEM Summit in Ulaanbaatar.
Below is the transcript of the interview by Jargal DeFacto, where Prime Minister Sipilä talks about Finland’s political and economic issues.
Welcome to Mongolia.
Thank you very much.
How was your flight?
It was a nice flight.
You flew by yourself, right?
Yes, I did. Flying is my hobby. I have been a pilot for about twenty years now.
Wow. You are the first leader I’ve met who has flown a plane to Mongolia. You came last night, right? Thank you for coming to Mongolia. I have a few questions about your country, political issues, and some economic issues. First of all, you are leading a coalition. Finland has been run by a coalition for many years.
Is it hard to run a coalition?
Well, we are used to it. We have always had coalitions, and now we have three parties in my coalition. The cooperation [between the three parties] has been very good.
What are the most recent political issues you’ve faced?
Of course, we have quite challenging micro issues in the European Union area. But of course, domestically, we have to turn the economy around to a positive road again. This is my government’s first target.
You have been a businessman. How do you see the role of the government in the economy? Should it be big and large? What’s your agenda now?
Yeah, it’s very important that we have stable public economics, and we have had deficits in Finland during the last eight years. It’s very important that we can stabilize the public economics and, of course, for companies and the entrepreneurship, it’s what we are making in the legislation side. It’s very important for companies also.
How much is the state involved in the economy? Do you have state-owned companies, a particular set of roles in the government for fixing prices? What is the role of the state in Finland’s economy?
Our economy is very liberal. We don’t have any fixed-priced system. Our taxes are under regulation, but otherwise, we have an open market situation. Of course, we have state-owned companies in the energy sector, steel industry, and paper industry, but the state has minor shares.
You said state-owned companies, but are you saying that they aren’t 100 percent the state’s?
[The state has] minor shares in the paper industry, but in the energy sector, we have a majority of the shares.
What is the reason for having the majority of shares of state-owned companies in the energy sector?
It’s very important that we are independent in the energy sector. We have one company making fuels, and also renewable fuels, and another sector is, of course, supplying power to the network. The network is owned by the state.
Who is fixing the prices, or are they determined by market prices?
It is a market price. We are buying extra energy from Sweden and other countries from the Union side. It’s under very heavy competition.
Finland has several suppliers for this sector, right?
Yes, we sure have.
In terms of political issues, what is the largest challenge in political life as prime minister?
We have had quite a few challenges. We have an economic crisis in the European Union, then there’s the immigration issue, which has continued since my first year. Now, we have the “Brexit” situation under negotiation, so there have been many crises also, besides the economic situation in Finland. We are also making big reforms: social and health care reform, leather market reforms, and smaller ones also in Finland. Our hands are full of work at the moment.
Finland is familiarized with a very good healthcare system, particularly the general health insurance, which you have had for almost a hundred years. The government is quite big on taxing. How much do you charge? I’m asking this question because in the anti-corruption index, Finland is always one of the leading 10 countries. What makes the Finnish governance that good in terms of fighting corruption?
I think that the people are trusting in our political system and our offices. We have free education in Finland. This is very important; everyone can get a free education through high school and university. Our healthcare system is also almost free for everyone. Only small payments are demanded from the public. I think that this is the basis for our society. It is based on trust.
As a politician, do you report on revenue and your financial situations?
Yes, it’s very open. You have to report everything you own.
Do you also report on your expenses as a political leader and a political figure?
Yes, if you used public funds. It’s totally open.
That probably brings more trust to ordinary people, governors, and people serving the people.
My next question is about Europe. Now, with Brexit, what is the general view of the Finnish people about the European Union and the future?
We are behind the European Union, but of course, we see some challenges because of the Brexit referendum. There’s also opposing views in Finland and critical voices in every country. I think that this is very important for democracy, that you have critical voices, because there’s always something you can improve in the European Union and the political system. But the Finnish people are behind the European Union.
Some countries are raising voices for the Brexit referendum. Is there such an occurrence in Finland?
Of course, there is some disruption, but not a very large one.
What are their major arguments for what they say we should do?
To be in the European Union we have a very effective single market, and this is very important for companies, subcontracting, free movement of the people, and money. It’s very important for subcontracting in Europe. Of course, the critical voices – the people – think there’s too much recreation. This is one issue we need to be very careful about in the future.
In regards to the immigration issue, are you receiving many refugees?
Yes. Last year, we got about 32,000 asylum seekers to Finland. It was 10 times what we nor- mally have in Finland. Today, the situation is quite normal in Finland, but of course, the route still remains in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries.
What is the policy for the integration of these people into your society, so that they grow up together peacefully and with normal cooperation? What do you do for that? How does it work?
We have a special program for integration. The most important thing is that they get to learn skills, get jobs, children get an education, and so on. So, we have a special program for integration. Many people in Europe believe that this will have an impact on the young working age population, the dynamic and willing to work age. Yes, it will have a positive impact on the labor market. That is for sure. At the same time, we have quite a high unemployment rate in Finland. It has been a challenge to find jobs for asylum seekers.
You aren’t a NATO country and don’t get European security. How do you see this context in your area? As part of security, what are your concerns and what are your challenges?
There has been some tension in the political arena because of the Ukrainian situation. The tension between the west and east has increased. It affects Finland also. But Finland and Sweden are military-allied countries. I think that, for us, this is also the best way in the future. We are partners with NATO, and this is a good arrangement for Finland.
Is this your constitutional requirement? How was this decision made politically inside the parliament?
First of all, the president and the government have to decide to change the status. After that, we have decided that there will be a referendum if there would be a change in our position. At the moment, this is the situation, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Back to the economy. For Mongolia, Finland is the home country of Nokia, very competitive in the paper industry, forestry, etc. How do you see the competitiveness of Finland in each sector?
I see very positive competitiveness for green fields, green environment, green energy, and green mining. I can see some cooperation between Mongolia and Finland in that field. We have a lot of technology in these fields. ICT, Nokia, and these kinds of things are the basis for our industry, but we have very strong paper and metal industries. Green fields, green energy, and the renewable energy sector are a combination of chemical, paper, and metal industries. ICT, this is a combination of the skills we, the Finns, have.
What is behind the Finnish people about this ICT you have? You are always creative and a lot of young people are doing publications. Your software programs are always used around the world. What is behind this? Is it motivation, competition, or education?
I think that, first of all, it’s education. We are very highly educated in people in Finland. This is the basis for that. I think that our innovation capability is one explanation. Also, we are very keen to learn the new and be number one in new things.
Speaking of cooperation between two countries, we follow a lot on what is happening in your country. We are very similar in having a small population and having big neighbors. In between two countries, trade and investment are still low in volume. What can we do to improve that situation and to have more investment from Finland?
I think trade has been about 10 million EUR, and we can do much more together. I think that green mining is one issue we can cooperate on. We have a lot of technology in that field.
You recently joined parliament and became prime minister last year. In that sense, what is the most important character to lead a whole nation?
At the moment, we have so many reforms ongoing. We have to be very strong in our government to make it happen, because we have delayed too much in our reforms. Social and healthcare reform is one of them, as well as the labor market. We also have a lot of challenges in our digitization and so on. But we will do it. We still have many years for that.
You are also personally leading these changes, right?
Yes. That’s right.
Thank you very much for being with our program and good luck in Mongolia.
Thank you very much.