Interview with Anna Mikkola, Finnish Left Alliance candidate for European Parliament

Friday, May 29, 2009 File:Anna Mikkola.jpg

Anna Mikkola
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Anna Mikkola is running for European Parliament in Finland as a member of the eco-socialist Left Alliance party. At the age of 28 she's the youngest member of the 14 candidates on the Left Alliance's list for the multi-national body. She spoke to Wikinews during a break in campaigning. Finland votes in the European Parliament election on June 7.


Thanks for joining us, Anna.

((Anna Mikkola)) Thanks for asking. I had a convenient break in the campaign this afternoon.

((WN)) You're the youngest member of your party's list in the Euro elections; but you've also had an extensive career in politics already. How did you first get involved in political activity?

((Anna Mikkola)) I believe I was 16 or 17 at the time, and I just stopped by at the local party office and asked if there was something I could do. There had just been a general election in Finland and the conservatives widely spoke of things I could not accept. Like [how] public financing for culture and sports is unnecessary. One politician even suggested young people could spend their time climbing trees and not expect society to provide them with facilities.

((WN)) So from there you went straight into the Left Youth. How did you choose that party? Did you explore others?

((Anna Mikkola)) It was between the Green party and the Left Alliance. The Greens I felt concentrated too much on individual life style choices as a method of doing politics, so I chose the Left Alliance. I have always been the sort of person who likes to think of structures and their effects, the big picture in a social sense if you may.

((WN)) So what's it like campaigning for a nationally-elected office? Is it like organizing youth locally or does it feel basically different?

((Anna Mikkola)) Basically different. The whole country is one constituency, which means more traveling than most people do in a year. It's also expensive as in our election system candidates have to buy their way into public knowledge. Luckily I have both an extensive election team covering the whole country and also some financial support from the Left Youth movement.

((WN)) You mentioned last night waiting for a bus and seeing three with pictures of you on the side pass by...

((Anna Mikkola)) It's kind of absurd. I have ads in public transport in the 6 biggest cities in Finland. You are definetely more conscious of yourself when you're traveling on a bus or tram that has your face on it.

((WN)) Now, Finland's role in the world has fundamentally changed in your lifetime: from a neutral state with closer ties to the Soviet Union than many others in democratic Europe, to EU member and now potentially to NATO member. Do you think your youth makes it easier for you to adapt to the changes going on?

I think the new political generation are going to change political discourse substantially.

((Anna Mikkola)) Well, it makes my relationship with Finland's EU membership definetely easier and less emotional maybe than for many older people. Finland has been in the EU my whole adulthood, so for me membership is not the question. I am more interested in looking at the content. I think the new political generation of around 30 year olds, who are making their breakthrough, are going to change political discourse substantially.

((WN)) Do you see green & socialist politics as being the key to this younger generation? In your view can you have environmentalism without socialism?

((Anna Mikkola)) We have an interesting Green party in Finland, who have accepted the necessity of additional nuclear power and support market mechanisms as a part of their climate policy without any questions or caveats. So yes, there is an attempt to create a green capitalist system. The youth as well are divided on this issue. Many people however do see the problems of turning the environment or climate action into products you can buy or sell and speculate with. In that sense I feel environmentalism cannot be separated from socialism, which has a fundamentally different logic.

((WN)) The other end, though, to the importance of the youth vote is voter apathy; how do you deal with the situation of "celebrity" candidates, in particular far-right candidates like Timo Soini?

((Anna Mikkola)) In European elections the problem is apathy in general, not just youth apathy. But maybe you can separate between two types: many older people do not vote in these elections because they don't like the EU and/or because they feel they cannot change anything by voting since the EU is too big and too far way. These are choices, often resulting from considering the options. Many young people do not vote in elections in general, because they do not really even notice them. Their apathy is not a result of a decision, but genuinely a product of being out of the whle political process. This is something Timo Soini cannot change I think. His candidacy is a big risk for him in any case, since his party is a one man show to a great extent. If he buries himself in Brussels it might well be the end of that party.

((WN)) You've been working in Brussels yourself for over a year now; how did you stay in touch with the situation in Finland before the campaign began?

((Anna Mikkola)) Mostly by visiting Finland often. It's been two years that I have worked in the European parliament now. Working as a parliamentary assistant to a Finnish MEP kind of means you need to be aware of what is happening in Finland and what the papers are saying about it.

((WN)) Now let's talk policy; on your website you mention numerous issues with the Lisbon treaty but also say that EU membership isn't an either-or consideration. If you could re-write Lisbon, what would you take out, what would you put in?

((Anna Mikkola)) Simply put I would take out all the militarisation stuff, and remove the neoliberal economic thinking of no rules for the financial markets, and maybe remove some of the new policy areas. I would put in a social progress clause that would ensure rights (especially worker's rights) inside the EU and add a recognition for e.g. cross border strikes.

((WN)) On the subject of militarization, what would be the best alternative to the European Defence Agency? What's the right path, if any, for collective European defense?

((Anna Mikkola)) Defense is a word that is understood very differently in different European countries. The Finnish tend to understand this term as passive defense, but many — especially old colonial countries — understand it in a more active sense, as including pre-emptive and aggressive operations outside EU borders. I believe the right path to be a firm concentration on non-aggressive peacekeeping. As for a common European defense, I am against the idea because of the abovementioned reasons. The European Defence Agency is basically an arms trading operation, when its role would maybe be better in co-ordination of crisis management and peacekeeping.

((WN)) So in the long run should the other countries in Europe leave NATO as well?

((Anna Mikkola)) That is for them to decide. However any European defence organisation would be based on NATO, and would not respect the status of non-allied countries. I believe the European Union should respect it.

((WN)) With regard to workers' rights, a number of parties on the left have raised objections to the Posted Workers Directive and the European Court of Justice's positions on the rights of workers from one EU country working in another. Finland both receives foreign workers and sends workers elsewhere; how could the Posted Workers Directive be best fixed, in your view?

((Anna Mikkola)) There is no point in fixing the directive. The ECJ's decisions have been based on the Treaties, and override the directive, which itself is actually not too bad. This is why European trade organisations too have been demanding a social progress clause I mentioned earlier to be put in the Lisbon Treaty, which would be the only way to fix the situation. So that the rights of workers could not be overriden by for example the free movement of services, which has happened in most of the ECJ decisions.

((WN)) And what are the practical chances that such a clause would be put in?

the Lisbon Treaty most probably will not be the last Treaty in the EU

((Anna Mikkola)) Close to zero at this point. However the Lisbon Treaty most probably will not be the last Treaty in the EU. And of course the Irish will still vote on it for a second time. Should the result be a no this time too, the chances would increase. What is not widely being talked of is that were are now in a situation where the EU is doing its best to get into effect a Treaty that was negotiated years ago and is founded on an economic logic that has clearly failed. This does not seem to bother most people.

((WN)) But given that this process has taken so long, do you think the will for a new Treaty would be present — especially with the current Treaty having passed most national parliaments by solid majorities only a year ago?

((Anna Mikkola)) Solid majorities...The Finnish parliament started its proceedings with it before a translation was available. Then they ratified without any public discussion. I think there would be will, but it is clearly not appropriate to talk about it, since the Lisbon Treaty is presented as the only option. Besides, tax payers pay the politicians to do their job. With that money one would assume they would not say they don't have the energy for a new Treaty.

((WN)) What place does the organized left have in a post-Lisbon Europe? Would they have to make an uncomfortable alliance with the anti-European right?

((Anna Mikkola)) I think such an alliance would be impossible in post-Lisbon EU too. The anti-European right tends to combine their act to anti-immigration as well in many cases, and very aggressively. I think with the current economic crisis there is an increased risk that the political right, even neofascism, could gain as people look for some way to express their frustration.

((WN)) So to wrap up, then: what's the best thing the next European Parliament can do, and what's the best thing you could do in the next European Parliament?

((Anna Mikkola)) I think the best thing would be to recognise different opinions. The Parliament is very keen to restrict other voices and likes to pretend were are all one happy family. That is not politics at all.

What I could do and want to do is to speak and try to fix problems with rights; they have not been properly dealt with in the EU, whether they are workers' rights or for example net users' rights. The fundamental problem with for example the telecoms package is that its staring point is not users' rights, defining them and then going into other stuff. Instead, the starting point is the interests of industry, and the limiting of users via different methods in order to protect certain copyright interpretations. The result then for the user is a collection of random and often illogical "rights". The net is something most politicians seem to be unable to handle as a normal and social part of life for millions and millions of people.

((WN)) So where should net rights come from — from free speech rights, from privacy rights, from practical considerations of restricting the movement of information?

((Anna Mikkola)) From all of those. Mostly you tend to be in a situation, where you have to explain it to politicians that you cannot cut someone's connection (to for example bank services and other daily things) without a court order in copyright cases.

((WN)) How do you feel about movements like Sweden's Pirate Party, which is a single-issue group pursuing radical copyright reform?

((Anna Mikkola)) Very neutral.

((WN)) Anything else you'd like to tell the readers?

((Anna Mikkola)) It's been a pleasure. This is actually my second interview online, sort of. The first was earlier this week when I spent two hours on an anti-immigration forum answering questions. I must say you have been very friendly in your questions compared to that.

((WN)) Well, thanks for that. It's been a pleasure and thank you for taking the time out for this.

((Anna Mikkola)) Thank you, and now I have to run to my next event!


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.