SDP's presidential candidate Jutta Urpilainen. LEHTIKUVA

Politics
Tools
Typography

Presidential campaign slogan – So that no one is left behind

Jutta Urpilainen is the European Commissioner of International Partnerships and former Finance Minister of Finland. The former chief of Social Democratic Party was born on August 4, 1975. Rooted in Lapua, she developed a penchant for social issues, setting the stage for her future in politics.

Although she announced her presidential candidacy late in November 2023 as compared to her peers, due to her commitments in the European Commission, she has subsequently garnered media attention and citizen’s support because of her visionary outlook of a stronger and united Europe and her emphasis on traditional social democratic values.

Early Life

Initially pursuing a career in education, Jutta Urpilainen worked as a teacher in Helsinki and Kokkola, before venturing into the world of politics. Urpilainen holds a master's degree in educational science from the University of Jyväskylä. During her student years, she participated in the Erasmus exchange program in Vienna, Austria. A dedicated advocate for civil society and democracy, Urpilainen is known to have been a passionate European since her youth and chaired various NGOs, including the UN Association of Finland.

Beyond her professional endeavours, Urpilainen nurtured a passion for music, even dedicating time to studying the art, culminating in the release of her album, "Christmas Thoughts," in 2002.

Jutta Urpilainen also served as a member and the first female chairperson of the Kokkola city council from January 2015 to August 2016.

Political journey

Although Urpilainen played a significant role in SDP's youth and student organizations, she entered Parliament for the first time in the 2003 elections. In 2008, Jutta Urpilainen made history as the first woman and the youngest chairman to lead SDP. Her impactful political career continued from 2011 to 2014, when she held the positions of Finland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

The former Finance Minister had a tumultuous period marked by the Euro crisis. Her tenure saw Finland taking a strict line, demanding guarantees from Greece for subsidized loans. Urpilainen emphasized this approach as safeguarding Finland's economic interests amidst the broader Eurozone crisis.

One significant setback for Urpilainen was the decision to rapidly reduce corporate taxation during the Katainen government in March 2013. This move sparked internal criticism within the SDP, particularly from the left-wing factions and trade union leaders, who accused her of leaning too far to the right in economic policy.

According to Urpilainen, her subsequent loss in the party elections in 2014 has been the darkest moment of her political career. At the Seinäjoki party meeting, she narrowly lost the chairmanship of the Social Democratic Party to Antti Rinne. This defeat not only led to her relinquishing the party leadership but also resulted in stepping down from the position of Finance Minister.

During her tenure, she actively engaged in crucial development matters, assuming roles in the Development Committee of the World Bank Group and IMF. Additionally, she chaired the Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development. Urpilainen also served on Parliament’s Committee for Foreign Affairs from 2015 to 2019. 

Urpilainen's political journey took an international turn when she assumed the role of EU Commissioner for International Partnership in 2019. Tasked with overseeing the EU Commission's largest directorate, she manages 3,800 subordinates, with a focus on 120 countries worldwide, particularly emphasizing Africa.

Presidential elections

Entering the presidential race as an underdog, Urpilainen faced challenges earlier, as her support was at just four percent during initial polls. This is also partly due to the delayed start of her campaign in December 2023, due to the constraints posed by her role as EU commissioner, which permitted only a two-month hiatus without pay. This prompted her party members to campaign using a cardboard replica of Urpilainen, a cardboard version of Urpilainen, playfully dubbed "cardboard Jutta”.

In her presidential campaign, Urpilainen stated that she aims to represent the working class. She advocates for negotiations between employers and employees to address concerns about labour struggles. Her dedication to 'values' shines through in her campaigns, where she consistently emphasizes the importance of values in her approach to foreign policy. She directs her attention to addressing people's worries about economic hardships and the gradual breakdown of collaborative traditions.

As SDP's presidential candidate, Urpilainen confronted Green candidate Pekka Haavisto, emphasizing social democratic values and underscoring Haavisto's earlier departure from the red-green bloc.

She also criticized those prioritizing personal gain over societal welfare.

Urpilainen does not see relations with Russia improving amid the country’s aggression in Ukraine and has expressed her support for the new government's decision to close Finland’s eastern border along Russia. She has also asserted President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen's backing for Finland's stance on closing border crossings to Russia.

Additionally, Urpilainen showcases her strength in EU affairs and advocates for reinforcing the European pillar within NATO. However, she has maintained a firm stance on nuclear weapons, emphasizing that Finland has no reason to allow the importation or transit of nuclear weapons on its territory. Even during her candidacy, Urpilainen consistently emphasized adherence to international agreements with regards to the situation at the eastern border. Commentators feel that her stance on the reinterpretation of international agreements regarding asylum seekers aligns with a multilateral approach, reflecting her readiness to engage in discussions at the European level if in the position of president.

Urpilainen has also expressed concern about populist tones in the Finnish presidential election debate, particularly regarding dual citizenship among Finnish Russians. Urpilainen emphasized the impracticality and unfairness of a collective penalty against Finnish Russians, highlighting that they have chosen to reside in Finland for its democratic principles and freedoms. Additionally, she notes that the spread of Kremlin propaganda is not limited to Russians alone but has also been observed among ethnic Finns.

On the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, Jutta Urpilainen condemned the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, calling the former a terrorist organization. Urpilainen emphasizes that while Israel has the right to defend itself, it must do so in a manner consistent with international law, respecting the rules even in times of war. She advocates for clear communication with Israel, stressing the importance of upholding international law and protecting Palestinian civilians during military actions.

Politics and persona

As a professed Christian, Urpilainen believes politicians should guarantee religious freedom without intertwining politics and religion in parliamentary discussions. Despite the potential risks, she openly discusses her Christian values and has been an exception in a country where discussing religion is often considered challenging.

Elevating values as a cornerstone, Urpilainen believes that there should be a space for discussing values in both the economic and political spheres. She critiques the current economic system, stating that it aims for maximum profits and relies on unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. She calls for a necessary discussion about what is reasonable in economic practices and advocates for a more sustainable approach. She also advocates for the Nordic welfare state, grounded in the idea of caring for others.

Urpilainen advocates for a more proactive role for Finland in EU decision-making. Instead of merely commenting on existing proposals, she calls for the country to actively present new ideas to the Commission, believing it to be the most effective way to make a meaningful impact.

In the euro group of finance ministers, Urpilainen is remembered for her linguistic skills and familiarity with issues, along with her friendly and collaborative spirit with European colleagues. Ursula von der Leyen views Jutta Urpilainen positively, citing her experience as a finance minister, involvement in Parliament's foreign affairs committee, and special peace envoy.

Jutta Urpilainen has underscored the importance of addressing complex historical issues, citing the Black Lives Matter protests and statue defacement in Belgium as global examples. Despite Finland's lack of colonial history, she stresses the significance of open discussions to strengthen national integrity.

Challenges

Urpilainen's political journey has not been devoid of controversies. In 2008–2009, Urpilainen became a subject of discussion due to her appearance in photos wearing fishnet stockings, deemed by some as inappropriate for a party chairman. In her book "Rouva sähää" published in 2011, Urpilainen acknowledged the mistake, revealing the magazine's plan for her New Year's party attire. Despite not agreeing to wear the most revealing dress, the fishnet stockings remained part of the outfit. Since then, she has expressed resentment at the media's focus on her appearance, including nails, clothes, and her competence as a young female politician.

During the euro crisis, Urpilainen’s firm stance and insistence on guarantees from Greece led to her earning a reputation, which she jokingly referred to as "Tati Tiuka". This controversy raised concerns about the enforceability of guarantees in situations where Greece failed to fully repay its official debts and highlighted the vulnerability of the arrangement to debt restructuring.

In 2012, Jutta Urpilainen, despite stating that ministers attend Bilderberg meetings as individuals, attended the U.S. meeting, with the Ministry of Finance covering expenses. This contradicted her previous stance, that ministers attend Bilderberg group meetings as individuals, and the Ministry of Finance cannot restrict their participation in such meetings or any similar group. Former MP Vesa-Matti Saarakkala criticized the inconsistency, highlighting transparency concerns.

Interesting quotes

“I am an optimist and I believe that politics can change things and a democratic parliamentary system is the best way to manage and manage things.”

“A woman as president is not an exception and now would be the time for a woman.”

“The development of democracy has suffered setbacks. Terrorism and humanitarian crises have become worse, the war between Hamas and Israel is the latest sad example of this.”

“How could we step up our EU lobbying so that instead of settling for commenting on Government communications or reports on EU matters when they are brought to the Finnish Parliament, we would be one of the countries to present new ideas to the Commission?”

“As a former teacher, I am deeply convinced of the powerful role that education has to play in tackling global challenges and transforming the world we live in.”

“I don’t like the fact that politics and religion would be mixed so that, for example, some religious texts would be quoted in the parliament.”

“In foreign policy, it has been seen that they want to make Finland a NATO-Finland, which would change the value base of its foreign policy in line with the assumed expectations. This has become visible, for example, in the politics of the Middle East, where Finland voted in the UN on a different front than our comparison country, Norway.”

“Finland needs work-based immigration and as a society we must be an attractive, equal and interesting country to come to work, study and try.”

HT

Partners