Citius, altius, fortius?, Helsinki Times, kolumni

This year we were again able to experience the Olympic spirit. Nations met and top athletes vied for superiority in a number of sports. There were successes, disappointments and feelings larger than life. Unforgettable legends and touching stories were born.

The European debt crisis, which we have battled for years, has also been evoking strong feelings. The fight has gone on and on, one round after the other. So far we have yet to see those sorely missed successes, relieved smiles, tears of happiness. Resilience and endurance under pressure have been required. And just like in sports, we have also heard criticism and hindsight-wisdom from the audience.

Though success is often down to a single athlete and a nation’s glory, the Olympic spirit is also about something greater: fair play and community. Everyone does their best.

Again, in the debt crisis we are all fighting on the same side. We win or we lose together. Unfortunately, in the economic Olympics, not everyone has done their best. Problems have blown up in our faces because the easy way out was taken too often. However, there is effort and improvement to be made for every country.

In the spirit of the Olympics, we need new attitudes and fair play in tackling the crisis facing Europe. Balancing the national economy, answering the challenges posed by the aging population and retaining competitiveness are tough sports. They require endurance, guts and creative problem solving. The prize is no more or less than the success of Europe in the competition of the continents, or alternatively our European home sinking into the heartland of depression. At the end of the day it is a question of the citizens’ welfare.

Though little Finland’s medal count is not on the top of the list, in public economy we have achieved good results. Even in international comparison, Finland has made significant economic readjustments, so the confidence in our financial management has been preserved. Therefore Finland has retained the highest credit rating of triple A. A good credit rating is golden to Finland – instead of paying interest, the collective tax euros are saved for purposes more relevant to the citizens’ everyday lives. In spite of our good record, we can’t rest on our laurels: the state of the international economy is also keeping Finland’s export-driven finances on the edge. Our small country cannot make it alone, instead we need the success and team spirit of the entire European team.

For the countries in crisis, nursing the economy back to health will be a painful exercise. Fortunately, vital procedures have already been undertaken, more or less ambitiously. The challenge is similar to what our Olympic wrestling coach has concluded regarding the strenuous weight loss that is a part of the sport: the system must not be excessively dehydrated, and you must have enough energy to keep training and sweating. The weight loss plan for the economy must also be conducted so that we don’t go too far into energy-saving mode. Along with readjustments, we must not forget other measures which will feed new economic growth, such as reforming old, expensive and dysfunctional social structures. Renewal is difficult, but we must remember that in the Olympics there are no retainable benefits either – the medals are redistributed in each Olympic Games. We must always bear in mind the motto: Faster, higher, stronger!

Jan Vapaavuori

The author is an MP from Helsinki and the chairman of National Coalition Party’s parliamentary group. He is also the chair of the National Sports Council (POIS: of Sports) and the vice chairman of the Helsinki City Council.

Translated by Maria Manner