Social movement presidential candidate Olli Rehn. LEHTIKUVA

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Olli Rehn, born on 31 March, 1962 is the esteemed governor of the Bank of Finland, boasting a distinguished career in diverse EU portfolios. A dedicated member of the Centre Party, Rehn’s centrist principles shine through his political journey, encompassing roles like MEP, economic policy adviser, and Minister of Economic Affairs.

Early life

Olli Rehn’s early life before politics was shaped by his upbringing in Mikkeli, Finland. Raised in a family with a car parts business, he started working at age 12.

Olli Rehn, has a passion for football, having played professionally in his late teens. Despite his military conscription diverting him from a professional football path, Rehn continues to play on two teams.

A multilingual scholar, Rehn pursued studies in economics, international relations, and journalism at Macalester College and holds a master’s degree in political science and a D.Phil. from Oxford, exploring industrial competitiveness.

Political journey

Beginning in youth politics, he quickly ascended to the presidency of the Finnish Centre Youth in 1987. He was elected as a Helsinki city councillor in 1988.

Notably, Rehn’s trajectory led him to serve as vice president of the Centre Party from 1988 to 1994, culminating in his election to the Finnish Parliament in 1991. His duties extended to representing Finland in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and advising Prime Minister Esko Aho. A pivotal European shift occurred as he became an MEP, aligning with the liberal group.

Despite a brief academic hiatus, Rehn’s political journey persisted with an appointment as an economic policy adviser to the prime minister in 2003. As a member of the Prodi Commission, he played a crucial role in the EU’s enlargement, overseeing Bulgaria and Romania’s accession in 2007, all while navigating controversies surrounding Turkish membership.

Rehn’s tenure coincided with the European sovereign debt crisis, where he staunchly advocated for fiscal austerity. This stance drew criticism, while some viewed Rehn’s predictions disastrous. Despite facing opposition, Rehn continued to assert the necessity of fiscal discipline to navigate the crisis. Rehn’s expertise in handling the challenges of the euro crisis and Greece’s financial difficulties made him a prominent figure during his tenure as EU Commissioner.

Returning to Finnish politics in 2015, Rehn’s election to the Finnish Parliament and subsequent appointment as Minister of Economic Affairs marked a pivotal chapter. His role in steering Finland out of a recession through tax and spending cuts showcased his pragmatic approach. Following this, Rehn assumed a significant position as governor of the Bank of Finland in 2018, overseeing monetary policy and digitalization efforts. In 2023, Rehn raised concerns about the entries on central banks in the government program by the new government asserting that they may challenge the principle of central bank independence.

Despite a brief consideration for the IMF managing director role in 2019, Rehn withdrew his candidacy. In a surprising turn, he announced his independent candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, with support from Voters Association and Centre Party.

Presidential Elections

Known for his experience as the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and economic chief, Rehn intertwines the themes of security and a robust economy in his speeches. He has exuded team-oriented approach to nation building promoting the importance of wage earners.

Rehn’s economic views take center stage, with an emphasis on mediation solutions for working life disputes. One notable aspect is Rehn’s focus on social justice, intending to appeal to voters who may not distinguish between candidates solely based on foreign policy. This is a strategic move, especially as he enjoys the freedom to criticize the government more openly as an opposition party candidate, on the government’s budget cuts, particularly highlighting their impact on young people, students, single parents, and housing benefit recipients.

Rehn’s criticism peaks when he questions the government’s dedication to ensuring the security of Finland’s eastern border during the Christmas holidays. He contends that valuable time has been wasted by not preparing an expedited processing law for returning asylum seekers without grounds to Russia.

Olli Rehn emphasizes the importance of the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Forces having a value for military service. Rehn stresses the need for the commander-in-chief to appreciate military service and actively participate in discussions about conscription development.

On the NATO front, Rehn stated that if Finland were to become a member of NATO, it should be willing to participate in conflicts covered by NATO’s security guarantees. However, he emphasized that Finland decides independently which forces to deploy. He also expressed concern that European member states aren’t allocating enough resources for their own defense.

Rehn backs Finland’s decision to support Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion in the country. Drawing on his EU commissioner experience, Rehn proposes a model for supporting Ukraine. In case the EU’s financial support faces obstacles, he suggests adjusting the European stability mechanism and utilizing Russia’s frozen foreign funds for Ukraine’s support and reconstruction. He also favours the  European arms industry, expressing a desire for more contribution from Germany.

On the topic of China, Rehn took a cautious stance, emphasizing the need for Finland to reduce dependence on China. He referred to China’s long-term aspirations and labeled Russia, China, and Iran as an “axis of evil” during a previous exam. Rehn addressed the situation in Taiwan, recognizing it as a potential powder keg and emphasizing the importance of respecting the results of free elections in Taiwan.

Olli Rehn supported Finland’s previous decision to abstain from the Gaza resolution voted on in October at the UN General Assembly, stating that it lacked condemnation of Hamas’ terrorist acts. Rehn recognizes Israel’s full right to defend itself , but also advocates achieving a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and initiating negotiations based on a two-state model.

Politics and persona

Rehn’s positions reflect a blend of diplomatic caution, a commitment to human rights, and a proactive approach to national and international security challenges. He positions himself as significantly more liberal than the center of his party and highlights human dignity as his most central value, drawing inspiration from both the Christian and humanistic traditions.

He emphasizes the Importance of the Bible’s Golden Rule as his ethical guideline, advocating for treating others as one would like to be treated.

Olli Rehn has also emerged as a suitable candidate from a feminist perspective. His dication to women’s education, economic empowerment, and health rights, has garnered praises among the liberal section of Finland.

Rehn advocates for a strong national defense, grounded in universal conscription, is crucial for maintaining peace on Finland’s borders.

In terms of climate policy, Rehn acknowledged Finland’s role as an underperformer in climate diplomacy. He advocated for Finland to actively engage developing economies in climate talks, recognizing the global nature of the climate challenge.

Challenges

Rehn’s political career has often oscillated between NATO support and Russia criticism.

In 2015, Rehn faced challenges, as the Minister of Economy, over his involvement in the Fennovoima nuclear power plant. Despite his previous opposition, Rehn reversed his stance and played a pivotal role in convincing the state-owned energy company Fortum to invest in the project. This move saved the project from partnering with Rosatom, a Kremlin-controlled entity, in a last-minute rescue effort.

Critics argue that the project’s survival may have influenced Finland’s stance on NATO, considering Russia’s involvement in the nuclear endeavour. Later, Rehn emphasized that Fennovoima's nuclear power project should be scrutinized in the context of Rosatom, expressing concerns that the deal might lead to significant energy and industrial policy challenges for Finland.

Rehn faces challenges tied to his involvement in the 2016 competitiveness agreement. While this may earn him points from entrepreneurs, it raises concerns among groups, like municipal and government employees, who remember the holiday pay cuts associated with the agreement.

Rehn’s involvement in the Prodi Commission and his role in overseeing the enlargement of the European Union, particularly the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, generated controversy. His nuanced stance on Turkish membership, advocating for restrictions on free movement, stirred debates about the EU’s expansion policies and raised questions about the compatibility of such restrictions with the principles of the union.

Olli Rehn was also under fire for joke about being albino during a panel discussion. Despite not having albinism, Rehn equated having gray hair with a hereditary disease and claimed to be albino. The comment sparked criticism from the chair of the Finnish Albinism Association, calling it inappropriate, followed by Rehn’s apology later.

Interesting quotes

“There should be no illusions about what China's long-term aspirations are.”

“International agreements should be rewritten so that they recognize the pressure exerted by Russia.”

“The relations between Russia and the West have been strained in recent years as a result of Russia’s power politics, the occupation of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine. Even the segmented co-operation between Russia and the West is under these circumstances better than having no interaction and no lines of communication. Dialogue is crucial at least for preventing accidents and mistakes.”

“Discussions in Finland, both traditional ones and the ones on social media, currently reflect and represent very different views. They’re being amplified and polarized by social media algorithms. What we need are things that bring people together rather than louder megaphones.”

“The president must advocate for a healthy economy. If the public finances are in disarray, unemployment rises, and spirits darken, we become more vulnerable to hostile external influence. It’s about how we keep our country united and internally robust.”

“In the field of international politics, I am hooked on the analysis of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. I studied international politics back in the day and there we went through the missile crisis very thoroughly, when we were perhaps the closest to the outbreak of a nuclear war and the destruction of humanity, which has ever been experienced.”

“There are people who, according to research, are neither women nor men, or feel that their identity is not the identity of a woman or a man. I think there is a reason to find out the legal conditions of the third gender. The spectrum of humanity is wide, and they are also created by the creator just like the rest of us.”

“I lost it, that is, the parliament decided differently on Stubb’s government proposal and I had to follow and respect the will of the parliament. Yes, it was a sad place, because I had been on the other side before.”

HT

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