Journey through Europe

The EU needs to go back to its future

The European Union is about bringing people together – whether we are talking about people’s relationships and thoughts, their freedom of movement, about democracy or peace. This bringing together is sorely needed today, because Europe is under threat.

I was fortunate to grow up in a continent of peace. I was two years old when the Berlin wall collapsed. I was still a child, when the internal borders opened. I was allowed to grow up without fear, in an atmosphere of undisturbed optimism. We put our faith in progress, development and a brighter future.

As a politician and as the father of young children, I want my children’s and their children’s generation to grow up in a better Europe than I did. Progress doesn’t just happen – it requires political courage, determination and imagination. The EU can face the 2030s only as a defender of the rule of law, human rights and western democracy. That is why I am putting forward my skill and experience to be judged by all European voters in Finland. Europe needs to go back to its future – and that is why I am running for the European Parliament.

At the end of this essay, you will find my election platform condensed to bullet points. You can skip to them past my essay, but to know my thoughts, you may wish to join me over a few pages on my road trip through Europe. En route, I hope to open up my thinking on where Europe is headed and what kind of European Union I want to build as an MEP.

Journey through Europe

I remember vividly the start of my first journey across Europe in 2000. I was in the back seat of my family’s Rover 416Si in the port of Tallinn and our goal was in Hungary, the summer home of family friends. This was my first touch of the wider world.

Many things felt different and exciting. Road traffic was different. Even the houses looked different. Plenty of white brick, which made it look like someone forgot to paint the walls. Time itself seemed to have stopped.

We were stopped at the Latvian border, and for longer at the Lithuanian/Polish frontier, but we finally reached Hungary. A country that I liked a lot: the year before, my music class had been twinned with one from Budapest, and during their stay in Espoo, I learned some words of Hungarian. Words that we spoke between singing and rehearsals.

Hungary was warm, the ice cream was plentiful and cheap and the green grass was perfect for football. On the market in Balassagyarmat, I found for a small sum a shirt with the number 10 and Zidane inscribed on the back. It wasn’t genuine, but the feeling was.

My strongest memory from the trip was a flash-like moment from the journey itself. We were driving through a small Slovak mountain village. For the first time in my life, I saw little children, barefoot, on the road, begging for money. The children belong to a European minority group, whose fundamental rights are still not respected. There was silence and moist eyes in our car as we passed this scene.

It was not a political thought – I was only twelve at the time – but in my mind, I kept repeating, “why”?

A common continent in sight

Our family made three more summer trips to Hungary. During these childhood summers, I observed from the back seat that something was changing.

The white brick houses that seemed to be from a past era, got painted. The roads improved and the potholes were fewer. There was a new flag at the borders. A flag I knew from home. Border formalities seemed at least a little easier.

I only realised later what had happened. It took longer to realise that the same had happened years before with my twinned Hungarian school class. Then, we were united by age, football and music.

Now, it was countries that had something in common. A common language expressed in treaties meant to guarantee peace and foster growth, justice and a better future.  The construction of a common continent that had learnt the lessons of its horrific past. A continent, where minorities need neither fear, nor beg for sustenance or acceptance.

The story of this journey is worth telling, both my personal journey and the continent’s. It was meant to be a success story and a triumphal march. It didn’t quite turn out that way – at least, not as intended. Europe is into its second lost decade.

First, there was the financial crisis. Common folk had to pay the bill for a party that 99 percent hadn’t even been invited to. Mass unemployment and massive youth unemployment followed. When the waves settled after the financial crisis, we had Covid. And then war.

Throughout all this, power was held by right wing conservatives, who used to jeer at the “Social Europe” put forth by the responsible and moderate Social Democratic movement. They rolled their eyes when we called for something more that an economic pillar. Something of value above and beyond a price tag.

A Nordic Social Democrat in a divided world

Times are changing. Thus it is time for change.

The EP election is about grand designs. About European policy choices that will affect all of the EU and all its people. I want to help shape these designs. I want to play a role as the man and the politician I have become during my journey: A Nordic Social Democrat who believes in the Nordic welfare state. I believe that it is Nordic Social Democracy that has built the world’s best social model. It is the social model that the movies call “the American dream”, but actually it is what we have right here in our “four rooms and a kitchen”, the Nordic countries.

A great change has happened in Europe. As a small boy in the back seat of the car, I grew up in a Europe of optimism. Now, we politicians need to ask, where did the optimism go? If there is no optimism, what are the policies we need to create hope and faith in the future?

A second great change is related to how we believed that globalisation – for all its inequities – would take care of the rest. Now, however, the world has drifted from globalisation to polarisation.

Or, did it really “drift”? The change didn’t happen by itself. It was the conscious choice by autocratic leaders, the result of contempt for democracy, of populism and of flirting with extremists. It is bad news for us Finns that the globalised world became a polarised one. It is bad news for the Nordics, and for Europe, too.

Those of us who believe in universal values, in the rule of law and democracy, human rights and liberty, were horrified in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected President of the USA. We had been accustomed to Europe and the USA sharing the same democratic principles. I won’t claim that the transatlantic relationship was always easy. But 2016 created a whole new situation.
Even though we looked at the same ocean, we saw different horizons. The West experienced a lack of leadership. Better light was needed in the dusk. Europe and the EU should have provided illumination. The EU should have done better.

A stronger EU

The more unified we are, the stronger is the EU. This remains true. Now is the time to recognise that “more unified” also implies “more EU”. In case any True Finn or other anti-European populist stumbles on this text, I want to underline that, no, the EU should not stop us from chopping wood for our saunas any more than it does today.

A stronger EU does not mean an EU that decides everything. A stronger EU means one that provides its citizens with greater everyday safety, as to the products they buy or the digital and other services they need. A stronger EU means more safety in the sense of security of supply, of medicines, transportation, telecoms or of the masses of data held by the tech giants. All this calls for unity of purpose and of rules. Common mechanisms are tools to achieve joint goals. That is, more EU.

The challenges and problems of today know no borders. Because globalisation has been replaced by polarisation, the EU and Europe are being left outside the rest of the world. The contest between the USA and China is a risk for Europe, and one that has in part become reality. This means that, unless we are active, unless Europe can grasp the initiative, it will be the USA and China making the rules together. That would be a grim perspective for Europe. I don’t and we Social Democrats don’t want this to happen.

The EU simply cannot afford to be left outside. If this were to happen, the hardest blows would fall on the smaller Member States, like the Nordics, on countries that believe in the rules-based global order. We also cannot afford passively to wait for investments to drop on Europe. They won’t, because the investment climate is the product of political decisions. We need a commitment to European skills, research, and infrastructure. Investments reinforce Europe’s right of self-determination.

Talking of rules – they apply to the EU itself. The economy needs clear rules, but up-to-date rules. The rules of the financial crisis era led to unacceptable consequences for too many people. Many lost their futures, as well as their jobs. We can’t afford a repetition.

The EU should, for example, define investments in a way that is more supportive of skills, training and research. The level of skills is Europe’s number one competitiveness factor. We can’t compete on cheap prices or low labour standards. We can and must compete on skills. We need to invest in people. We must have the means to do so.

Sustainable development in the EU is more than just climate policy

We need to talk about the climate crisis and climate policy in this election. I must confess that I am disappointed with the lack of ambition. There is much that is good and progressive, too. At the same time, too many compromises are being made on issues that simply don’t have room for compromise; the future of the globe, the environment and humanity.

I remember how Prime Minister Antti Rinne visited different EU countries during Finland's most recent EU Presidency. I had the honour to participate in his visits to the European capitals. It was frustrating but educational to argue about things that I thought were obvious; that the future was already at the door, and that urgent action was needed to avert a catastrophe. That it is better to create a responsible climate policy on our own terms now than to have policy dictated to us by crises and disasters later.

Even if these meetings were frustrating, they taught me something important: there will be no progress on climate policy, unless the politicians get citizens on board. Unless politicians can explain to citizens why change is safer than no change, the populists will win the day. The result will be the destruction of the conditions for life.

I am proud to be a Social Democrat, because my party’s programme is based on scientific evidence. We if anyone should be better at explaining to citizens that climate action does not mean lower living standards. Quite the opposite.

Let us look, for instance, at new investment. What the right used to mock as “tree hugging” has already become increasingly good business. I participated in the negotiations when we wrote into the Rinne Government’s programme that a sustainable economy is possible only in a society that is socially and ecologically sustainable.

A continent of democracy

We live in Europe, which should be a continent of humanism. After two world wars, we built cooperation based on the rule of law.

I understand the ratio of the EU as follows:

Peace, not war.
Legality, not arbitrariness.
Liberty, not subjection.
Freedom of information, not propaganda.
Open borders, not walls.


Progress has been amazing, but never something to take for granted. We are now in the position of having our fundamental values challenged, not just from outside, but from the inside, as well.

Ours should be a continent of democracy. But the EU contains as a double agent the country I visited as a child. Russia cheers whenever the extreme right advance in polls or elections.

In the case of the EU’s external relations, it is absurd and unsustainable that individual member states or their domestic interests can hold EU decision-making hostage. It is intolerable that some EU leader again and again can turn up sneering in Brussels, with extortion as his only goal, his arguments snippets from Moscow’s play book. It is high time that we introduce qualified majority voting on the EU’s external policies.

EU unity is not just about credibility and ability to act. It is also about the security of the Ukraine and the entire continent.

Social Democracy as a political counterforce in the EU

I started out by noting that these are dangerous years for the EU. I see two significant threats:

The external threat is a Russia that is indifferent to peace and to international law. The internal threat is a far right that is indifferent to democracy and human rights.

The best answer to both threats is to strengthen the rule of law. The bolder European politicians are in countering the far right, the stronger the EU is as a force countering Russia.

During the next five years, Europe will need policies to enhance domestic peace. By this I mean regulations to improve workers rights, the security of social media and consumer protection, decisions that enhance equality and human rights and policies against discrimination and climate change.

If and when you want to be a counterforce to the European Far Right, you must dare face off your national right-wing populists.

In Finland, and in our EU policies, we have to let go our fear of the True Finns. Of a fear that has led to nothing but negativity. It is neither consistent nor a policy to say “no” to everything. Just saying “no” does not affect outcomes. Every party should remember this:

The fear of populists is the gateway to stupidity. This is true of all politics, in the EU and elsewhere.

The Long Road to Europe

I opened with my childhood journey through Europe. There is another journey I am on as a Social Democrat and a European.

It is 2023. A small child is sitting in the back seat in Tallinn. Tired, upset and frightened.  Uncertain of what is to come. A long voyage is behind, even if only some cars are stopped at the borders. The flag has almost the same colour as in the country the child fled from. The houses look beautiful, newly repaired, but they don’t register, because the child is thinking of a house that is no more.

There is war in Europe. The war must end – with our help. With the help of a unified EU. As a Social Democrat, I am working ceaselessly for EU unity, so that populists no longer can use innocent people as pawns in their power games.

There is no giving up, lest we lose yet one more decade. We need policies that offer opportunities and the perspective of a secure future.

I want to make sure that, when that Ukrainian child again sits in a car in Tallinn, he or she is on the way home. To a free homeland. And I hope that that child will have good memories and all possible help and support from other EU countries.

After all, it will be an EU country that that child will rebuild. With our help.


•      European integration and cooperation: It is important to build peace, growth and justice, so that everybody has a brighter future. This will be achieved through enhanced European integration and cooperation.
•      Economic and social justice: To stave off economic inequality, unemployment and other challenges, our policy is to promote the just distribution of resources and opportunities among all citizens.
•      Climate change and environment policy: We support ambitious measures to combat climate change and protect the natural environment. We will act to shape attitudes and practices affecting climate change and biodiversity.
•      Leadership for values-based democracy: We stand up for democratic values, the rule of law and human rights both within the EU and globally. We stand against the growing influence of extreme right movements that threaten peace and stability.
•      European foreign policy and security: We work for a more cohesive and effective EU foreign policy, that can tackle global threats and ensures the EU’s unity and credibility abroad. International cooperation should be just and based on rules and treaties.
•      The desire for change and political activism: We want to create a better Europe and a brighter future for coming generations through a desire for change and through political activism. Change is to be led and powered by all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Most important for Finland

1.     It is Eastern Finland’s turn. Eastern Finland is strategically important for the entire EU. This has to be reflected in concrete financial and programme measures.
2.     The EU’s Baltic Sea strategy needs an update. The EU macro-regional strategy was first formulated in 2009. The world is completely different now – not least because Finland and Sweden have joined NATO and the Baltic’s security environment has been transformed by Russian aggression.
3.     Finland and Sweden need a more strategic approach to their EU-lobbying, particularly concerning infrastructure and rail links. The issue is vital for security of supply and competitiveness.