My parents were living in Tehtaankatu in the center of Helsinki when I was born. The snow melted during the time my mother spent at the hospital, winter turned into spring. The date was April 3, 1965. The time was 1.55 pm. Strategic measures were 50,5 cm in height and 3480 g in weight. My current weight is almost 25 times my birth weight, but my height has only 3.5 –folded since. My father was a lawyer; my mother was a Swedish ex-pat, teacher of home economics. I also have a younger brother, who is a lawyer just like his father and older brother -only better paid.
My childhood home was bilingual and we followed both Finnish and Swedish cultural traditions. In my up-bringing the importance of good manners and education was stressed. I still believe that for a child’s development home is more important than school. My fluency in Swedish has brought me a lot of opportunities at my mature age.
We moved from the center to Konala in East Helsinki when I was only one-year-old. When I was four, we moved to Puistola, a Northern Helsinki suburb, where we lived all through my school years. I have only ever lived outside Helsinki when travelling and as an exchange student in Uppsala, Sweden. When I was a child my family always spent the summers in the countryside. As we did not have our own summer cottage, we used to rent one in different places like Tammisaari, Västanfjärd, Jämsä, Laukaa and Pieksänmäki. At that time though, our home environment in northern Helsinki was also rather countryside like. From the childhood I remember the nature, different kinds of outside games as well as our German shorthaired pointer and the fact that the money was tight at home.
During my school years I was mainly interested in every possible type of sport, girls and beer- the order varied at times. However, I always took care of my duties. I was the top of my class or at least among the best throughout my school years. I passed the matriculation exam with the best possible score, Laudatur.
Maths was my favourite. Whilst at high school, to impress with my numerical skills I memorised the first 500 decimals of pi. Since my school years I have come into conclusion that learning your mother tongue properly at school is of utmost importance. There should also be more physical education at schools, but that is for other reasons.
I also learned to make my own living. I delivered papers and adverts to earn some income. From the age of 15 to 19 I spent my summers and most weekends working in El Greco restaurant; first as a dishwasher, then as a kitchen assistant and finally as a trainee chef. My work mates from those years would not be proud if they saw me in the kitchen today.
SERVING MY COUNTRY
After finishing high school my background in sports and boy scouts as well as my marine fascination led me to Coastal Jaeger Academy, which back then had a separate entrance exam. At the army, we were taught that ”the weather is not an obstacle; at most it is a slight drag”. This is true for many other things in life as well. The attitude counts! With good attitude you can achieve almost anything, with bad attitude even the simplest of things can get on top of you.
Reserve Officers’ School (or at least the 1st rifle company) was a resting home in comparison to Coastal Jaeger Academy. There was not as much bullying – they were educating officers (and gentlemen) after all. For me the highlight of the Reserve Officers’ School was the privilege to lead my troops on the legendary Kirkkojärvi -march. We succeeded brilliantly. I doubt the fellows of the partisan company still have gotten over their defeat.
After the military service I participated few times in military refreshers courses and in 1998 I took part in National Defence Course. During a simulation exercise on crises management at the National Defence Course I had the honour to act as Prime Minister. I have since been promoted to the reserve’s Captain, which made my war-veteran-father very proud. Patriotism is an important value for me.
Also important is the picture of Marshal Mannerheim on the wall in my office.
YEARS OF STUDYING
I was supposed to study economics, but at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to follow my father and study law. I did not take the entry exam seriously enough the first time around and ended up working at the construction site for year before entering the law school. Actually my year at the construction site ended a bit prematurely when my co-workers threatened to throw me down the lift shaft if I did not join the workers union. I did not join.
My student years were the most fun I have ever had. I thoroughly enjoyed the student life with its activities as well as student politics. As an anecdote from the prior, I still remember winning the legendary Pykälä beer relay few times running. From the latter, the year as the chairman of the board of Pykälä (law students’ organization), was memorable. But, there was also time spent in Domus Academica’s C-hall. And I did graduate with Masters degree very quickly, only after 3 years and 3 months of studying. Not to mention that my degree certificate still bares the daylight today. From the legal Latin terminology pacta sunt servanda (the promises must be kept) is still my favourite.
I also completed some studies at Hanken, the Swedish school of economics in Helsinki. These studies were however forgotten when I graduated with the Masters degree in law and started working. I spent 6 months in Uppsala, Sweden as a post-graduate student, but ended up working in the law faculty at the University of Helsinki. I worked as an assistant for a year, followed by another year as a researcher. To this day the university is the only work place that I did not enjoy – and that is my fault, not the university’s. It just took me some time to realise that I was in the wrong place.
AS A POLITICAL ADVISOR
Encouraged by Ben Zyskowicz, I applied to work for the National Coalition Party at the Parliament of Finland. This was the starting point to eight years of political advising in various kinds of assisting political advisory posts. I worked as a special advisor for three different ministers during three different governments (PM Aho’s Cabinet and PM Paavo Lipponen’s first and second Cabinets).
Out of my three ministerial superiors both Pertti Salolainen and Kimmo Sasi were Ministers for Foreign Trade and Development at the time of me assisting them. Sauli Niinistö was Minister of Justice. I was assisting Salolainen at the time Finland joined the European Union and Sasi when Finland held the EU presidency for the first time. As I was assisting Salolainen and Niinistö they were also leading the National Coalition Party as well substituted as Prime Minister. During this time I was also selected as the ”number one” assistant of the National Coalition Party’s parliamentary group to take part in various governmental meetings regularly. I still believe that a talented assistant to a minister is more influential in the political process than a regular member of parliament – and I do not believe this to be unjust.
Also, three years went by as a Secretary for Foreign Affairs for the National Coalition Party’s parliamentary group. Meeting hundreds and hundreds of centre-right politicians and political advisors concerning tens and tens of different political themes educated and expanded my views a lot. The solutions that have been reached in Finland concerning certain issues are really only some options on how the issues could have been solved.
IN HELSINKI CITY POLITICS
I was elected to Helsinki city council in 1996 for the first time. Four years prior to that I had lacked 12 votes from being elected, this time the result was clear. In 2000 the amount of votes I got improved again and in 2004 it more than doubled. All in all, my career in civic politics was ascending. First, as a regular member of the city council and as a member of the Helsinki Health Committee, then as the chairman of the Helsinki Sports Committee followed by a membership in Helsinki City Board. The next considerable step forward was in 2003 when I was elected for the chairman of the National Coalition Party’s group of councillors of Helsinki. The National Coalition Party was the biggest party group at Helsinki City Council at the time.
In 2005 I followed Jussi Pajunen – who had been chosen as the mayor of Helsinki – probably to the most desired council post, the chairman of Helsinki City Board. When the co-operation within the metropolitan area of Helsinki advanced I was also naturally given the post as the chairman of the Assembly of the Helsinki Region (this assembly included 14 cities and towns of the region). Following the councils’ structure re-evaluation I was also leading the so-called Metropolitan Area Advisory Board.
Since my post as a minister in spring 2007, I had to withdraw from the key positions in the local politics. I did not however give up my seat at the city council as it is also good for a minister to follow and influence the matters of his hometown. At the 2008 local elections, I got re-elected for my fourth period at the city council, this time springing from my post as a minister. I got a nice amount of votes too, over 7 000 – in fact I got the third largest amount of votes nationwide.
After my post as the Minister of housing ended in 2011, I was again ready to work in key positions of trust in my home city. This was of course in addition to being an MP in the Parliament. As I already had a lot of experience on a number of tasks in the field of municipal policies, I was nominated in June 2012 the 1st Vice Chairman of the City Council. The year 2012 in municipal policies was also in other respects quite successful. After the municipal elections, the Coalition party maintained its position as the largest party. My personal number of votes rose to almost 7900. I became a nationwide vote-puller.
In Helsinki there are 600 000 inhabitants, which is for example more than in Luxemburg or Iceland and about 2.5 times more than in the next biggest town in Finland. Within the metropolitan area of the capital city there are about a million inhabitants and within the Helsinki region there are a lot more. The capital area produces one third of Finland’s gross domestic product. Even though the work at the most central council posts of this area was filled with work and then more work, I am utterly convinced that, at least in my case, the political work at council and national levels supported each other. I am a better politician for t Helsinki because I have daily contact with national politics as well as I am a better member of parliament, because I am sincerely concerned and deeply aware of the issues of my hometown and constituency.
SPORT BUSINESS AND THE JOY OF EXERCISE
By 2001 I had had different kinds of political advisory and assistant posts for eight years running. I had drifted into politics by accident even though as a market economy-orientated-person I was originally supposed to seek to work within the private sector. Now it was time for me to go and do as I had originally planned. I was not actually bored with politics, but wanted more independence. Work as a political advisor and assistant is demanding and requires responsibility, but it is still work at an assistant level. I did not wish to leave politics, but decided that from then on I would do it in my own name.
I then found my place as a Managing Director for a marketing company solely owned by the Finnish Athletics federation, Track & Field Finland ltd. I worked there for couple of years until I was elected to the Parliament. Managing an independent company was fascinating, dynamic and educational. In a small company that employs five employees with a yearly turnover of million euros, the duties of the Managing Director are extremely wide. And it is indeed this feature that I was especially attracted to in my job; I was participating in every aspect possible and at the end of the day I was responsible for everything. I now have much better understanding of Finland’s many self-employees and owners of small businesses.
The work for Track & Field Finland ltd was also rewarding because it brought together my urge to work in private sector with my dear hobby –sport. It also provided me an opportunity to further develop the Finnish culture of sports. Helsinki city marathon and Finland-Sweden championships in athletics are two events which have a special place in my heart -after all, those are events that I have previously organised and developed.
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
I was nominated as a candidate at the parliamentary elections in 1995. Taking my age and familiarity into account, my success was fairly good even though I was not elected. In 1999 I skipped the elections, which was probably wise as Niinistö vacuumed a tremendous 30 000 votes in Helsinki. I guess there would have not been many votes left for a younger male lawyer. In 2003 I took the parliamentary elections seriously. The result followed: with 4657 votes I was elected to the Parliament.
My slogan at the elections was ”genuinely right-wing, truly from Helsinki”. With my remark about being genuinely right-wing, my purpose was to make a point that in my opinion the Finnish burghers deserve to have representatives that are genuinely conservative right-wingers and not some disguised ”half- social -democrats”. I also wanted to make the use of concepts such as right-wing and conservative acceptable again.
FIRST PERIOD AS A MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
In the parliament a young parliamentarian does not get to choose his preferred committees or other posts. As a lawyer I was appointed to the Law Committee and as I had been following EU politics with the two Ministers for Foreign Trade and Development I was also appointed to the Grand Committee. As a reflection of my bilingual background, it was also natural that I was appointed as a member of the Finnish Delegation to the Nordic Council.
Day to day work at the parliament was surprisingly dynamic and demanding especially for a younger generation member of the opposition party. There was a lot of work to be done; different kinds of legislative proposals and background memos were flowing in through my office door at an amazing speed. You were expected to be up to date in everything and have strong views in some truly unexpected things. Miracles were expected to happen one after another. The truth however is, that in the long run the only way to influence matters in parliamentary work is by having the skills and knowledge over the matters. This is my aim, time will tell how I will succeed.
Half way through my first period as a member of parliament I transferred from the Law Committee into the Constitutional Law Committee, which is no doubt one of the most appreciated, but also one of the hardest committees. In spring 2006 I was also moving forward within my own group as I was chosen as the deputy leader of the parliamentary group of the National Coalition Party. As a part of the party’s group of leaders my days began to fill with several different types of internal meetings. But, to have had a chance to be involved in shaping up the future election and governmental program objectives and targets of the National Coalition Party was extremely rewarding.
My slogan at the 2007 elections was ”the MP for Helsinki”. This was natural as I was the chairman of the Helsinki City Board and had a profile closely linked with issues concerning Helsinki and the capital region. I had even gained a fair amount of publicity with these issues especially as I was one the leading politicians vouching for the western Sipoo to be joined to Helsinki.
At the election I managed to almost double my votes to over 9000. My amount of votes improved all over the town, but proportionally most at the East Helsinki.
After the elections I had the honour of being chosen as the chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee. However, more important was the National Coalition Party’s excellent success at elections as it opened the doors to government negotiations. The outcome of the elections was historical as it was the first time in 40 years that a purely non-socialist government was formed based on the electoral outcome. During the government negotiations on behalf of the National Coalition Party I was responsible for municipal and regional policy as well as other issues concerning the sectors of ministry for internal affairs and ministry of justice. Concerning these issues, I think the government programme is competent – to say the least. To mention a small detail, I am exceptionally pleased about the government’s plan to cut down the use of jurors as this decision was something I was strongly for.
The most important thing for me however, was to be chosen as the minister of housing for the PM Vanhanen’s second cabinet of ministers. As my area of responsibility I was given everything concerning housing, building and town planning. A little bit later I was also given the responsibility of the affairs concerning Nordic co-operation. I was chosen as a minister both in the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.
As the Minister of Housing I was influencing significantly the promotion of energy efficiency in buildings among other things. Perhaps an even stronger handprint was left in reducing long-term homelessness, which was one of my key projects.
However, I received perhaps the most attention for bridling reckless construction of shopping centers. Securing the accessibility of commercial services especially for elder people, the promotion of environmental and climate values, as well as the defense of a European city culture were all reasons behind my opposition to poorly designed construction of shopping centers outside the city centrums. The question is still relevant when it comes to safeguarding the vitality of especially small and medium-sized sub-regional and regional centers.
All in all, my term as the Minister of Housing was most rewarding. In four years, you can do quite a lot. On the other hand, for some cases it can be a hopelessly short period of time.
AS THE CHAIRMAN OF THE LARGEST PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
The parliamentary elections of 2011 will be remembered for the ”jytky” (the sudden upsurge in popularity of the True Finns) and its impact on the entire party field. Historical was also the rise of the National Coalition Party to the largest party. I was again very successful myself as my personal number of votes rose this time to over 11 000.
It proved to be exceptionally difficult to form a government, and the government negotiations took record-long. In the end, Jyrki Katainen’s six-pack was formed. I acted as a leading negotiator on behalf of my party in the group concentrating on municipal affairs. After the program had been completed, the section on municipal matters was highly appreciated. A few years later, the atmosphere had changed quite a lot.
When the parliamentary work got started, I became the Chairman of our parliamentary group. As the chairman you are and you must be involved in everything important, but compared to the ministerial posts, the pace is considerably more relaxed.
MINISTER OF ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
In November 2012, I entered again the government, this time as the Minister of Economic Affairs. The post is one of the most challenging ones in the government, at least when it comes to versatility. My responsibility extends to literally everything between heaven and earth, even underground, as the portfolio includes also space matters as well as mining issues.
It was also a very challenging point in time. A global breach had hit our economic structure with a heavy hand, meaning that the traditional foundations of our economy were in big trouble, and tens of thousands of jobs were lost. On top of all that our competitiveness was crumbling.
A few high-profile company cases were on top of the agenda in the beginning of the period, for example STX, Talvivaara and a little later also Fennovoima.
Minister of Economic Affairs is the so-called first minister in the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. The Minister is responsible for both industrial and innovation issues, energy policy as a whole as well as the development of regions. In addition, my portfolio included questions on the financial market from the the Ministry of Finance. The nature of the task had naturally a strong international dimension.
When Sipilä’s Government was appointed in late May 2015, I had served as a minister for a total of 2,451 days. The next challenges will take me to Luxembourg as I will take up the position of Deputy Director-General of the European Investment Bank as of 1 September 2015.
ABOUT MY PRIVATE LIFE
Having a political career nowadays involves a question about the limits of one’s privacy. I tend to protect my privacy. I for example refused entry from the journalists and photographers that wanted to participate in my wedding. Many of my colleagues that have a more positive view about political populism think I am a fool. But I respect myself more this way.
However, there are few basic things to be said about my private life. I have a brother as well as a half-brother and a half-sister. Both of my parents have deceased. I am married for the second time. My wife is a Professor of small animal surgery at the University of Helsinki. I am not particularly religious even though I do believe strongly in Christian ethics.
I live in Töölö, Helsinki. My hobbies are reading and sports, especially golf, jogging, rink ball, floor ball and tennis. I am more of an evening person than a morning one. I enjoy a glass of red wine – and prefer to eat pasta and ice-cream.