Since I moved to Edinburgh for my studies three years ago, I’ve returned to my native Finland for a few weeks of summer holidays each year. It’s a refreshing experience to see old friends and to go to the sauna. The Fazer chocolate is excellent – I’m munching on it as I speak.
Yet there is another, more abstract thing I appreciate about Finland: the political culture.
A peaceful, normal European country
They say that a frog placed in a pot full of cool water won’t jump out as the water is gradually heated, but instead it will stay in the water until it gets boiled to death. British politics has become heated over the past three years – watching news reports of cool and calm Finnish politics is a stark reminder of that.
In Finland, an MP doesn’t get murdered. One of the country’s best-known activists doesn’t get beaten on the street. There is no need to fear a shortage of food and medicines. It would be unimaginable for a leading tabloid to run a headline describing judges as “Kansan viholliset”.
Most importantly: though Finnish politicians engage in vigorous debate, you never need to doubt that they have the national interest at heart. They are transparent about their respective visions for how the country should be run. In Finland, you rarely get the feeling that politicians are trying to hide their true intentions. For Finnish politicians, cooperating with colleagues from other parties is perfectly natural.
In other words, Finland is a peaceful, normal European country. The UK could be like this, too. All that Britain needs to do is be its own best self.
Ask yourself how to improve Europe
It’s rather bewildering indeed that the UK government feels oppressed by the EU, while virtually all the other 27 member states feel comfortable in their skin as European countries. (You may keep hearing about the troublemakers, but there aren’t many of them. If you can name three or four, there’s still 23 or 24 other countries where things are fine.)
Finnish people have heard the narrative about the EU menacing the country’s national sovereignty, but they’ve rejected it. Talk about “Brussels bureaucrats” is about as cool and edgy as smoking cigarettes is. For Finland, like for so many other European countries, the EU is an opportunity. We feel like being part of a club makes us safer and stronger.
For the UK’s neighbours, the ‘European question’ isn’t “to be or not to be”, but “how to make Europe work better”. Leaders across Europe are discussing new ideas for developing the EU, and they’re doing it with an open mind. Some ideas are good, others are bad, but at least they are trying.
The UK can have its say, too: in the 1980s, when it wanted a Single Market, the others agreed it was a good idea. Since then, has the UK put forward any other good ideas?
The UK can do better
This is not meant to be a discouraging story, but an encouraging and inspiring one. The UK may be a depressing place at this moment, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is another way of doing politics, and another way of discussing Europe.
The alternative is in plain sight. The UK has traditionally been the stable democracy other countries can look up to. Now that Britain is struggling itself, it can look around for positive examples from other countries around it.
If the UK is serious about becoming “the greatest place on Earth”, like the Prime Minister says, it should remember that some of the world’s most successful societies are proudly European.