July 2001

Row over minister's Attac membership

Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja's membership of the Attac movement has led to a public row in the government. In an interview in the regional newspapers Etelä-Suomen Sanomat and Satakunnan Kansa (4 July 2001), the Foreign Trade Minister Kimmo Sasi criticised Tuomioja's membership of the movement which is critical of some aspects of globalisation. Sasi accused Tuomioja of contributing to the fact that citizens are losing interest in voting and politics.

In Sasi's view, Tuomioja should not be sitting on two chairs, being simultaneously a minister and a member of a citizens' movement like Attac.

"This sort of behaviour leads to what President Tarja Halonen has been worried about. People don't participate in elections when they don't quite understand the sense of the actions of political decision-makers.

"In a way, Tuomioja's choice creates an image that he doesn't want to accept responsibility for decisions made by the government. Sitting in this way on two chairs sends a confusing signal to citizens.

"The minister thus represents two views. This certainly weakens the credibility of political decision-makers. People lose their motivation to vote."

Sasi also pointed out that the Finnish government is already implementing some Attac demands but not the Tobin tax.

He doesn't demand Tuomioja's resignation from Attac but asks him to refrain from active participation while he is a member of government.

The social democratic newspaper Uutispäivä Demari (5 July 2001) defended Tuomioja — who is a social democrat, whilst Sasi is a member of the conservative Kokoomus — by accusing Sasi of confused argument. The paper complains that Sasi does not give one example of how Tuomioja might be avoiding his responsibility. Uutispäivä Demari says that ministers belong to their respective political parties, trade unions and other organisations which actively influence political decision-making.

Uutispäivä Demari finds incredible the claim that Tuomioja contributes to citizens' political passivity. The paper also reminds readers that before becoming the President, Halonen was extremely active in various organisations. The leading article concludes by saying that participation in citizens' activities promotes open interaction between politicians and voters.

"It is a better alternative than elitist isolation."

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