Finnish youth figures sympathetic towards EU federalism at Linnaseminaari

, by Juuso Järviniemi

Finnish youth figures sympathetic towards EU federalism at Linnaseminaari
Haikon kartano at sunset. Photograph: Juuso Järviniemi

Last weekend, the annual Linnaseminaari organised by JEF-Finland (Eurooppanuoret) took place in Porvoo, with more than 120 participants in attendance. The event, which has run for more than twenty editions, has seen significant growth in the recent years, with the attendance growing from some five dozen to well over a hundred.

The seminar has become famous for its high-end venue and notable guest speakers. Taking place at a manor in a historic seaside location dating back to the 14th century, the event gathers key figures from youth wings of political parties and from national-level youth organisations to discuss the future of Europe alongside other participants.

What also characterises the event is the presence of explicit discussion on European federalism. Unlike so often in Finnish public discourse, on the #linnaseminaari Twitter hashtag participants openly called themselves federalist. At the panel debate between representatives of political parties’ youth wings, taboo proposals like the EU’s right to directly tax citizens gained support from various parties.

Courage to speak out?

One of the guest speakers, Social Democrat party secretary Antton Rönnholm – whose talk was given in personal capacity –, pointed out that politicians often avoid discussing their history with federalism. Judging by the Twitter discussion, courage to speak one’s mind, and to make an impassioned case for European unity, were regarded as virtues across the board among the attendees. It was recognised that the upcoming parliamentary and European elections in spring 2019 are an occasion for politicians to run a campaign ‘with heart in it’.

Juho Romakkaniemi, CEO of Finland Chamber of Commerce and former chief of Commissioner Jyrki Katainen’s cabinet, spoke about how one’s political views are often shaped in the youth, not least in events such as Linnaseminaari. Many past attendees to the seminar have subsequently gone on to hold influential offices. If the young adults strolling around Haikon kartano this weekend keep the spirit of Linnaseminaari at heart, and find the much-discussed courage in their daily lives, Finnish public debate on the European Union may soon look rather more visionary than what it is today.

Pursuit of the common good, prioritising of values

Minister of European Affairs, Culture and Sports Sampo Terho from the Blue Reform party, a moderate breakaway group from the nationalist Finns Party, has become known as a Eurosceptic. This shone through in his speech at the event, but one could also find surprising common ground with deep green federalists. While Sampo Terho might not be in favour of a European Constitution approved through a pan-European referendum, his call for more democratic control over EU treaty changes wasn’t all that far from the idea. The only difference lies in one’s conception of whether it should be the European public, or 28 national publics, that should give the legitimation for the EU treaties. One can’t say which of the two ideas is objectively better – in the end, the answer lies in the heart, not the brain.

It’s not only constitutional matters, but also the day-to-day policy that is ultimately just a game of values. Elisa Tarkiainen, a JEF alumnus who now works as the Special Adviser on EU and international finance for the Finance Minister, spoke about how shaping the EU budget is about prioritising values. She echoed Juho Romakkaniemi who pointed out that discussions on the EU budget should rather be about what we want to achieve with EU funds to make Europe a better place, than about which country gets how much.

While the observation about the EU as a ‘game of values’ may sound banal, it’s not a given. The traditional conception of EU budget negotiations, for example, is that it’s a tug of war between national governments, rather than values as such. The idea that the EU is about politics and values, not about grey public administration, is still one that has to be spelled out.

Questions such as “what values do I hold dear”, “what’s my vision of a better world”, and “why do I care about politics” felt immensely relevant at Linnaseminaari. A strong EU is very much compatible with the core values of a range of (youth) parties, or perhaps even a prerequisite for effectively advancing these values. At the seminar, it was not hard to see that many of the heavy hitters of Finnish youth politics have consciously recognised this.

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