The Social Democratic Party’s presidential nominee hopefuls – Maarit Feldt-Ranta, Tuula Haatainen and Sirpa Paatero – have distanced themselves from the asylum policy position of President Sauli Niinistö.
SDP’s presidential hopefuls question Niinistö’s stance on asylum policy
The candidates went head-to-head in the first presidential debate of the SDP in Helsinki on Thursday.
The debate demonstrated that the candidates agree on most major issues, including their disapproval of the migrant and asylum seeker-related statements of the man they hope to succeed in January, 2018.
Haatainen estimated that the president was guilty of scaremongering in his speech at the opening ceremony of the parliamentary session in February, 2016 .
“President Niinistö’s way to address the asylum issue confused many of us. I commented at the time that he could’ve chosen his words better. I think a president’s poise and leadership are put to test especially at a time of crisis, as citizens are growing concerned and fears are being whipped up. That’s when leaders must stay calm and call attention to other points of view, find a balance instead of joining in [on the scaremongering],” she said.
“I demand that all political leaders tackle this issue responsibly also in the upcoming presidential elections.”
President Niinistö: “Anyone who knows the word ‘asylum’ can enter Europe and Finland” (04 February, 2016)
Niinistö warned in his speech that Europe may not be able to withstand uncontrolled migration for much longer and estimated that currently “anyone who knows how to pronounce the word ‘asylum’ can enter Europe and Finland”.
Haatainen reminded that Finland has an obligation to help those in need but acknowledged that the country has recently also attracted people who are not in need of international protection.
“That’s what we’re wrestling with: who should be returned and who shouldn’t. But Finland has pursued a relatively dreary and strict policy, and I personally would’ve hoped for a different approach,” she stated.
Paatero similarly took issue with the statements of President Niinistö. Niinistö, she argued, should have in his speech drawn more attention to the international treaties, the obligations arising from them and their significance for Finland.
“I would’ve hoped that the president had stated more explicitly that Finland will carry out and continue to stand by these commitments, instead of – as he did in the speech – indulging in an assessment of whether the treaties will be relevant in the future or should be reconsidered” she lamented.
Paatero also said she is reluctant to use the word ‘migrant crisis’ to describe the situation in Finland.
“I doubt that Finland found itself in a crisis following the arrival of 32,500 people, most of whom have already returned. There’s certainly room for temporary visitors among the five million people in Finland,” told Paatero.
Feldt-Ranta, in turn, said she would have hoped for a different approach totwo issues: President Niinistö should have expressed his opposition to the cuts in spending on development assistance and international co-operation, and chosen his words more carefully in speaking about the “two extremes”.
“He possibly and unintentionally also branded those who want to help asylum seekers as one of the extremes,” she analysed. “It wasn’t a successful statement.”
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