Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The strange prelude to the Finnish presidential election of 2006

Is there an opposite saying to the old Latin phrase: parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus? We had the election on Sunday, in essence a very meaningless affair where only nuances separated the two consensus candidates competing for a largely symbolic office. But this was of course hidden under all the loudness and shrillness of the campaign, millions of litres of ink and thousands of hours of tv-time. Very much ado about not very much. You might say this was the natural concequence of that sorry, stillborn hybrid of the new constitution that our very mediocre class of career politicians created in the context of Martti Ahtisaari’s political incompetence and Mauno Koivisto’s significant (and well functioned) reforms, taking almost all significant power away from the presidency and investing it in the parliament and cabinet. Well, I don’t agree: the new constitution is more in the nature of logical concequence of something deeper structural change than any primary cause for this mostly non-existent new office of president. What set this sorry stage was something quite else, deeply significant actions today largely forgotten.

Considering the momentous concequences for all levels and aspects of society these phased decisions starting in mid-80’s were absurdly low key, distant low murmurs on the background of the loud, self-confident political discourse. Nor do I argue that there were good alternatives, or alternatives that looked good, nor were the decisions made in an overtly ideological manner or that the decision makers even had any idea of their actual concequences. They didn't. In short, Finland liberalized the flow of capital movements following logically and naturally the rest of the Western market economies. In the Finnish conditions these quick moves created a particularly extreme amount of excess liquidity which led to the griveous depression in early 90’s (with the government looking at one stage in danger of default and with the unemployment getting catastrophically up to 20% in a couple of years – from a 5% level). This awful crisis necessitated, forced the further steps of seamless integration into the European and global economy, and as a concequence taking all meaningful economic policy making away from the political process and in to the markets’ responsibility. So, we do have a largely meaningless presidency, but we have also a significantly diminished cabinet and parliament. Decisionmaking has been outsourced to the global market with its unpredictability and instability. What economic political debate there is, is either meaningless or marginal. The more they talk, the less they decide.


helsinkian said...

I have to disagree with you on that one. I don't think the cabinet and parliament are meaningless. The maintenance of the welfare state is the business of the cabinet and the parliament, not the president.

Finland survived the crisis of the 1990s. Many thought then that the cabinet has lost its power to international financial markets. That is not the case. The presidency has been stripped of many powers for good reasons. Urho Kaleva Kekkonen made for years and years both cabinet and parliament basically irrelevant rubber stamping institutions. The most drastic move by parliament was postponing the 1974 presidential elections by four years but that was basically self-destructive behavior from the MPs. If you ask me, that's the dumbest decision any parliament has made in Finland and proves to even such a believer in parliamentarism as myself that any institution made of human beings is capable of idiocy.

But you're right in that Finnish cabinet has lost power to the EU, where they have one seat at a table of 25. As a strong supporter of parliamentarism I'd like to see more power with the European parliament in EU decisions. I guess this debate is essentially about Finland vs. Europe and not so much on parliamentarism vs. presidential powers.

We have municipal, parliamentary, EU and presidential elections. All of them are about different issues. Yet all these different issues are debated at presidential elections and maybe that is a good idea. The president is a person that should have a clear overview on what's happening. The president is an observer and opinion builder but not the leading decision maker which is fine with me.

stockholm slender said...

Well, yes, I think there is still a lot of potentical power and influence. But there is a consensus that only if it is not used. We have made our fundamental choices or they have been made for us. So, currently not much is separating the parties from each other or even their consensus opinion from the general consensus of the electorate. The only problem is that this consensus (on the welfare state and social justice) is irrelevant to the mechanisms of the economy.