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Does anyone need a drifting Finland?

Sitra's East Asia expert views the doom and gloom in Finland from a Hong Kong perspective...



Just a few years ago, Finland was talked about globally as the next “super model”. This has now changed, writes Teppo Turkki.

One Monday recently, at around noon, I was standing on a street corner in Wan Chai, Hong Kong. I watched the endless flow of people hurrying to lunch, the Asian drive forward. All weekend, I had fearfully been following Finland’s current development trend, which is serious and, from the Asian perspective, even absurd. Here, in the East, the world is progressing fast and always forward. Competition here is hyper-competition, but the atmosphere is hard-working, with an attitude of getting things done.

I recalled the discussion I had during the weekend with a colleague about an article by The Guardian’s art essayist Jonathan Jones in July, in which he laconically noted that it is not that hard to imagine a Europe without Finland. On the other hand, Jones writes, Europe without Greece would not be Europe at all. Through its cultural heritage, Greece is a living symbol of Europe. Europe needs all that the Greek heritage represents in values and ideals (The Guardian, 13 July 2015).

How has Finland ended up in its current deadlock? Viewed from afar, Finland appears to be drifting, even fading away further into the shadowy north and northeast. This is the Finland that just two and a half years ago was dubbed the world’s next “super model”, along with the other Nordic countries by The Economist. A country that world politicians on both the right and left should have taken lessons from (The Economist, 2 February 2013). After all, the Nordic countries had overcome the recession of the 1990s and served as models for the reform of the public sector and how to make a state more efficient and agile.

A quick review of the international media late at night at my hotel draws an apathetic picture of Finland of late: four years of recession, Anders Borg’s report (“Finland is in very, very deep trouble”, the Financial Times,11 March 2015; pay-for content), breadlines, competitiveness issues, the silent streets of Salo, the former heart of Nokia and now a city of unemployment, the retirement of the post-war generation, the drop in Standard & Poor’s credit rating, populist politics – all our recent news images have been carefully registered by the international media.

If the British essayist Jones could easily imagine a Europe without Finland, does anyone elsewhere in the world need Finland? In Asia? In the East, people’s being, doing, happiness, living, work and future somehow structurally incorporate the economy, money and trade. In Asia, entrepreneurship and the economy are like the air that we breathe. Without a functioning economy and forward progress, there would be no future in places such as Hong Kong, and, without resources, there would be no success or life. Competition, trade and economic achievement drive these quick-footed people dashing to lunch in Wan Chai. Everything is on fast forward; entrepreneurship is in the DNA of Asians.

What would the East and Asia need Finland for? Probably nothing. Not unless we Finns build and write our story for the world ourselves, not unless we actively come East, for example, to be a part of the drive and narrative of the Asian economy and imprint our Finnish know-how on the future of these Wan Chai residents.

Weekly notes is a series of blogs offering insights into the topical issues being discussed each week by Sitra’s research and strategy team. Our Weekly Notes are gathered together here.

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