Begging, immigration and identity

Tuulia Nieminen, Johanna Nykänen and Aaretti Siitonen

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.[1] 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.[2]
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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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?[7]

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.

[1] E.g. Parliament session, 25 May 2010.

[2] Vihreä Lanka: Holokaustin perintö elää, 19 February 2010.

[3] Suomenmaa: Suomi elää tavallaan?, 8 April 2010.

[4] Aamulehti: Osta pieni puhdas Pohjoismaa!, 8 April 2010.

[5] Kaleva: Thors: EU:ssa vapaa liikkumisoikeus, 28 April 2010.

[6] E.g. Turun Sanomat: Kansallisvaltio voimissaan, 6 December 2010.

[7] Kaleva: Santa Claus Oulun presidentiksi, 14 December 2010.