Ville Niinistö, the chairperson of the Green League, took part in an election debate at Skanssi Shopping Centre in Turku on Saturday.A major player not affiliated with any of the six ruling parties was pulling the strings in the Government of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen (NCP).

Industry lobbyists sought to influence the decision-making of the Government on a number of issues, claims Ville Niinistö, the chairperson of the Green League and a former Minister of the Environment.

He offers an example: Minister Jyri Häkämies (NCP) and his successor Jan Vapaavuori (NPC) engaged in fierce debates with Niinistö on several issues, including Talvivaara. Häkämies stepped down as the Minister of Economic Affairs in late 2012 to assume his current responsibilities at the helm of the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK).

Niinistö believes no party should allow advocacy groups or other third parties to influence their policy-making. “The most blatant examples are the dividend tax reform and the in-principle decision on Fennovoima's nuclear power plant,” he says.

He reminds that the Government lent its ear to lobbyists while drafting the tax reform to the extent that it had to call off and re-draft the entire reform – for the reform was deemed to excessively favour unlisted companies.

Niinistö also admits that the Green League has found co-operation with the National Coalition particularly difficult. The Social Democratic Party, in turn, has not “been on the Greens' case” as much.

He nevertheless refuses to criticise Katainen, who relinquished the office of the Prime Minister last year to pursue a position in the European Commission, and instead estimates that Katainen would have made a good Prime Minister under different circumstances.

“The situation just happened to be unusually tense,” he says.

Niinistö argues that the conservative advocacy groups of industries – and especially the forest industries – regularly put the brakes on development and continue to wield to much power. The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) has similarly excelled in looking after its own interests.

“That's alright as such, but the power of advocacy groups should be more transparent,” he states.

The fact that the power wielded by advocacy groups is often invisible and therefore beyond the influence of voters constitutes a problem for democracy. Niinistö would increase the transparency of the preparatory processes during which researchers, experts and various non-governmental organisations are consulted.

“There are several manufacturers and executives in Finland who don't agree with the old guard,” Niinistö says, identifying Pertti Korhonen, the chief executive at Outotec, as an example. This group, Niinistö believes, recognises the business potential of developing green energy solutions.

The concentration of power has according to Niinistö hindered the renewal of the economy toward that of Sweden, where digital and industrial expertise is being consolidated successfully.

“Finland must transform itself into an economic frontrunner that relies on a circular economy, distributed renewable energy systems and digital solutions,” Niinistö envisions, calling for bold decisions from the Government.

The political system of Finland has stagnated, he adds. “People here are prone to thinking that it's somehow dangerous to reveal things to citizens while they're in preparation.”

As a result, the political system remains inflexible, closed and conservative – the exact opposite of what the public wants. “People always say that researchers sit in closed chambers, but in reality it's the policy-makers who do,” says Niinistö.

His statements give the impression that he is some kind of an independent observer. Niinistö, however, has been involved in politics practically his entire life and has no intention of giving it up.

The Green League will head into April's parliamentary elections with the objective of increasing its number of seats in the Parliament by 6 to 16. In addition, the elections will provide an indication of whether Niinistö continues to enjoy the support of the party faithful.

The party is scheduled to hold its party conference in the summer, but no one has yet to declare their interest in challenging Niinistö for the gavel.

Niinistö says that he is more aware of the limits of his strength after going through a divorce as well as a difficult spell in the Government over the past four years. “I was on the verge of burnout for two years. The going isn't as tough in the opposition, at least the children are pleased.”

This article is the third part of a series of eight interviews by Helsingin Sanomat with the chairpersons of the largest political parties in Finland.

Part 1: Paavo Arhinmäki (Left Alliance)
Part 2: Carl Haglund (Swedish People's Party)
Part 4: Timo Soini (Finns Party)
Part 5: Juha Sipilä (Centre Party)
Part 6: Päivi Räsänen (Christian Democratic Party)
Part 7: Antti Rinne (Social Democratic Party)
Part 8: Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party)

Katja Boxberg – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Vesa-Matti Väärä