Finnish presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto (Green League). LEHTIKUVA

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Presidential campaign slogan – Common Finland

Pekka Haavisto, a seasoned Finnish politician affiliated with the Green League, held the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs. Born on March 23, 1958, Haavisto boasts a multifaceted background, spanning journalism, environmental activism, and a wealth of political expertise.

Currently making his third bid in Finland’s presidential elections, Haavisto enjoys support from the Association of Voters and the Greens. Haavisto played a pivotal role in founding the Finnish Green Party in the 1980s.

Early life

Haavisto graduated in 1976 from Helsinki’s Munkkivuori School. While he initially pursued social sciences at the University of Helsinki, he did not complete the degree. Beginning as a journalist in the late 1970s, Haavisto transitioned into politics, becoming a prominent figure in the Koijärvi Movement focused on preserving bird habitats.

Political journey

His role as editor of the Green League's official newspaper marked his initial foray into politics. In 1987, Haavisto entered the Finnish parliament, holding his seat for eight years. Despite a temporary absence from parliament after the 1995 elections, he made history by becoming the first representative of a Green Party in Europe to hold a cabinet post, serving as the Minister of the Environment.

In a departure from domestic politics, Haavisto dedicated six years of his career to international service with the United Nations. His role involved leading UNEP research groups in conflict zones like Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Palestine, and Sudan. Additionally, he coordinated the UN investigation into the effects of depleted uranium in several countries, showcasing his commitment to global environmental issues. His involvement in Darfur peace talks as a special representative of the European Union further elevated his profile.

After returning to Finland’s politics, Haavisto’s political journey took a significant turn when he was nominated as the Green League candidate for the 2012 presidential elections. His candidature made history not only as the first openly gay presidential candidate but also as the first male candidate to have served in non-military service.

Despite not emerging victorious in the elections, Pekka Haavisto firmly dismissed speculations that his sexual orientation played a significant role in his electoral performance, refuting any notion that his homosexuality was a primary factor in his electoral outcome.

His notable performance earned him a ministerial position in Jyrki Katainen's cabinet. He continued as Minister for International Development under Alexander Stubb and later served as the Foreign Minister's Special Representative for African Crises in 2014.

In the aftermath of the 2019 national elections, where the Green League achieved unprecedented success, Haavisto assumed the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs. His leadership was characterized by a focus on EU-Russia relations and a proactive stance on global issues. The major landmark achieved during his tenure was Finland’s membership in NATO in 2023.

Following this, he ended his role as foreign minister  as he declared his candidacy as an independent in the 2024 Finnish presidential election.

Presidential elections

In his reflections on Finland’s NATO membership decision, Pekka Haavisto underscores the critical nature of ongoing consultations regarding Russia. He emphasizes the need for Finland to actively engage in NATO operations, especially given the evolving security landscape.

He notes that NATO membership doesn’t conflict with other foreign policy objectives such as a human rights-based approach, peace mediation, or disarmament.

On Russia-Ukraine conflict, Haavisto passionately voices support for Ukraine. He advocates for a robust display of international solidarity, urging assistance in the reconstruction efforts.

Haavisto has also been one of the initial voices advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza amidst Israel’s attack in the strip. Notably outspoken on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the region, he envisions the two-state resolution as a viable path towards resolving the conflict.

As a presidential initiative, he envisions establishing a climate group of heads of state, with the potential inclusion of nations like India, small island states, and Nordic countries. Haavisto believes that such a group could serve as a platform for heads of state to strengthen their commitment to addressing climate issues on a global scale.

He acknowledges the need for a multipolar world, discusses ‘decoupling’ and ‘de-risking’ in relations with China, and addresses the shift from globalization to regionalization accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The presidential hopeful has also emphasized the need for Finland to combat hate speech against minorities, aiming for national unity against external threats.

Politics and persona

Pekka Haavisto’s legacy extends beyond his individual achievements, symbolizing a transformation in Finnish politics and challenging conventional party norms.

Haavisto’s public appearances and television presence have resonated well with Finnish audiences, characterized by his quick-witted and calm demeanor. Despite aligning with Green ideals, Haavisto’s campaign avoids rigid adherence to single issues. His broad knowledge of world politics, displayed modestly, has impressed many, although some have wished for more charm and vigor.

With his environmental background, he has highlighted the heightened importance of climate and nature issues in international politics. Haavisto sees the integration of values and interests in foreign policy, particularly highlighting human rights as a means to defend a world order that allows for maneuverability and supports peace, stability, and prosperity.

Haavisto stresses the importance of growing in tolerance to bolster national security, as divisive topics may be exploited by external actors. He presents a vision of unity to withstand external pressures and addressing issues of racism within the country.

He also encourages investment in education and easier access to employment-based immigration, linking it to the potential boost in jobs in Finland. Haavisto emphasizes the need for flexibility in working hours, suggesting shorter workweeks or more telecommuting options for parents with children.

Challenges

The al-Hol controversy unfolded at the end of 2019 arising from Haavisto’s push for swift repatriation of Finnish family members of ISIS fighters from the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, which faced legal and political challenges. The next year,  the Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee found that Haavisto had broken Finnish law by attempting to replace a foreign ministry official who opposed the repatriation plan.

He was also embroiled in the controversy over the evacuation of Finnish citizens and embassy staff from Afghanistan in 2021, when locally sub-contracted security guards were initially excluded from the evacuation list. Despite eventual evacuation, the incident highlighting disparities with the evacuation strategies of other Western nations.

In June 2021, Haavisto claimed that Ethiopia’s leaders had conveyed in closed-door talks that they intended to “wipe out the Tigrayans for 100 years.” This revelation sparked strong condemnation from the Ethiopian government, as it dismissed Haavisto's comments as "ludicrous" and suggested they might be a "hallucination or a lapse in memory."

Haavisto faced a criminal investigation for an alleged Highway Code violation in December 2020. The investigation stemmed from a video recording showing Haavisto allegedly not stopping for two pedestrian crossings. The prosecutor ultimately decided not to press charges, citing construction work that had disabled the first crossing and created an unclear situation for the other.

Interesting quotes

“My approach is that actually hate speech has very little to do with freedom of speech because its purpose is to silence people and make them scared of expressing their opinions and views. And we still have this phenomenon, unfortunately, in Finland.”

“Last time our trial to become a member of the UN security council well knowingly fell apart. There’s going to be an important showcase for us and our thoughts about the renewal of the UN in 2028, when the members for the years 2029–2030 are voted on. Finland will be a candidate.”

“Permanent ceasefire definitely is still needed in Gaza and I think we should have a balance to the situation. It was the Hamas attack against Israel that triggered the whole nightmare but targeting civilians and killing so many civilians including children in Gaza is not right and it’s important that we react also to that.”

“Values and interests can also be merged in foreign policy, and this is how I feel about human rights. We defend a world order where we have room for manoeuvre and where it is possible for us to maintain peace, stability and prosperity.”

“This is the EU’s common position. The issue of Navalny’s poisoning must be investigated and it’s considered that he has been unfairly treated. The victim of a crime has been put in the position of a defendant…the meeting will absolutely demand the freeing of Navalny.”

“If this does not continue and there is tension between NATO and the United States or further withdrawal of the United States from areas that are considered important in NATO, the bilateral DCA agreement will bring Finland a stern board.”

HT

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