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Seppo Kääriäinen: Near the pinnacle of power

In its 40 years of existence, Sitra has worked close to the top of Finland’s political leadership. It has done so independently, on its own terms.


In its 40 years of existence, Sitra has worked close to the top of Finland’s political leadership. It has done so independently, on its own terms.

Tuomo Särkikoski’s history of Sitra, Sitra –Tulevaisuus tehtävänä (Future as a mission) focuses strongly on this idea.


Sitra was created in a time when Finland was undergoing a transition; when describing the first few years, the book relates Klaus Waris’ contact with such leading political figures as Presidents Urho Kekkonen and Mauno Koivisto. The book ends with a description of the government negotiations in the House of Estates in April 2007, where Sitra was present: an historical first at such an event. Sitra’s President Esko Aho participated, together with Erkki Liikanen, the Governor of the Bank of Finland, and Raimo Sailas, Permanent Secretary of State, in the talks that created the foundation for the outlines of the new Government Programme.  

The strength of Särkikoski’s book lies in the insight it provides on the events and choices within Sitra and how these have been affected by the dramatic social and political changes in Finland and the world at large. Globalisation has been on Sitra’s agenda, both implicitly and explicitly; the national and international points of view have both been integral to Sitra’s activities. That is how futures are built.  

Särkikoski regards the events of 1967 as the “starting point for modern Finland”. The post-war period in Finnish politics was drawing to a close, and it was time to shift to a new period of industry, technology, and social policies. The Social Democrats stepped into power for the next 25 years. The seventh devaluation of the markka in Finland’s history, a dramatic move, and the related readjustment in economic policy, the establishment of Sitra, Klaus Waris being appointed as the President of Sitra, the appointment of Mauno Koivisto as the Governor of the Bank of Finland, and the construction of Finland’s social policies largely on the basis of academic and politician Pekka Kuusi’s seminal work 60-luvun sosiaalipolitiikka (Social policy in the ’60s) set the path to the end of the millennium. It was the golden age of the planned economy, which also meant the gradual construction of the welfare society, following the Swedish model. Today, we are at pains to revise that welfare society so that its valuable and noble core ideas could be salvaged. Sitra plays a part in that, too.  

In addition, Särkikoski successfully sheds light on Sitra’s position in Finnish society in relation to other actors and government organisations. In 1991, according to new legislation, Sitra was transferred from supervision by the Bank of Finland to an independent public foundation under the auspices of the Finnish Parliament. The section of law outlining the purpose of Sitra is interesting. Quantitative and qualitative economic growth, as well as international cooperation, have become major issues on Sitra’s agenda. In the 1991 Sitra Act, the purpose of Sitra was further defined as the promotion of stability and balanced development in Finnish society. Särkikoski does not discuss the essence and background of this definition. Sitra has acted according to the legacy of Klaus Waris as a pioneer and risk-taker. Waris was also aware of the importance of environmental protection and the use of natural resources. He would even talk about the need for reorganising the administration of environmental protection. at the beginning of his term as Prime Minister, Mauno Koivisto had already touched upon the interdependency of pollution and economic growth. Energy and environmental matters have remained on Sitra’s agenda ever since.  

Sitra found itself in the middle of heated ideological debate in 1970 when it published the work Valinnan yhteiskunta (Society of choice), by Klaus Waris, Osmo A. Wiio (a communications researcher), and Erik Allardt (a sociologist). It was an open defence on behalf of a market economy and freedom of choice. The book caused a political uproar. For example, Antti Eskola, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Tampere, attacked the book and called Allardt “a right-wing information militant”. Promoting the market economy has been Sitra’s guiding light, although without any specific announcement to that effect. The important Social Democratic Party meeting at Korpilampi in the 1970s and the ensuing handshake between the party and representatives of business and industry sowed the seeds for political consensus on the outlines of economic policy; on the whole, a market economy was accepted across the board. Sitra contributed to the debate by providing leadership courses in favour of a market economy. Särkikoski analyses this stage in Sitra’s history with a gripping and accurate account.  

Sitra’s economic policy training courses ended in 2005. They had been started in 1978. The then Prime Minister Kalevi Sorsa gave a talk at the opening of the first of the courses. The list of other participants is a veritable pantheon of Finnish leaders and politicians: Christoffer Taxell, Olavi J. Mattila, Jan-Magnus Jansson, Paavo Aitio, Heikki Haavisto, Jorma Reini, Mika Tiivola and Stig H. Hästö. The courses were eventually discontinued due to diminished interest and prestige. On the other hand, the national defence courses organised by the Finnish Defence Forces are still going from strength to strength. What does that mean?  

Särkikoski’s history of Sitra is a book of high merit. The illustrations are excellent. The first photographs and the very last picture make for a striking analogy of the vastness of change that we have witnessed in 40 years: from the hayfields of rural Finland to the Botnia pulp factory dispute on the Argentina–Uruguay border.  

Seppo Kääriäinen
Chairman of Sitra’s Supervisory Board