Maria Ohisalo Interview: Dishing on Borders, Feminism, and Finland’s Badass Green Recovery Game Plan

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A little over a year since she became Green party leader and interior minister, Maria Ohisalo talks about the most pressing issues on her desk at the moment.

Maria Ohisalo interview: Borders, feminism and Finland’s green recovery plan

It’s been a memorably hectic first year in office for Maria Ohisalo.

The Helsinki MP became leader of the Greens just weeks after her party gained five seats at the 2019 general election, and then endured a baptism of fire as interior minister when Finland took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Council a few weeks after that.

Although the big set-piece Helsinki events of the presidency were over within the first three months, there was still a non-stop grind of European travel; the small matter of a collapsing government and change of prime minister at home; and her own wedding to plan.

“And then suddenly we all fell into this corona crisis” says Ohisalo, summing up 2020 so far in less than a dozen words.

“Now we’re finally starting to get out of it, but the whole of society has to change and we really need to rebuild society again after the crisis” she tells News Now Finland.

On top of her inbox this week is the issue of opening Finland’s borders again, or not. It’s a subject that forces the minister to be part public health official, part gatekeeper, part diplomat.

“The most important and the leading idea of course is to save the health and life of the people living in this country” says Ohisalo.

At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, as Ohisalo tells it, countries did pretty much their own thing when it came to border closures, and there was a lack of European-wide coordination about this issue.

Now however, there is more cohesion and the EU has come up with a list of countries whose residents will be allowed in without restrictions – although individual member states can set their own rules.

Finland has already decided it will open up to countries who meet a minimum virus threshold by the middle of July, but it’s controversially unclear yet whether Finland’s closest neighbour Sweden will make the cut.

“I think everybody understands that all the countries do their own decisions and what I’ve said many times is that Nordic cooperation is really important for Finland, and Sweden is a really good neighbour which together we have really good relationships. This is why for example we have said we are ready to offer help, whatever they need. If they Swedes need testing capacity and we have that, we would probably give that.”

Sweden is still reporting more than 1,300 new cases of coronavirus every day, with more than 5,370 confirmed Covid-19 deaths. By comparison, Finland had another 22 cases of coronavirus reported over the three day weekend period, but no new deaths.

Maria Ohisalo interview: Borders, feminism and Finland’s green recovery plan

Setting Finland on a path for green recovery 

As border restrictions start to ease, and the country tries to grow economically out the other side of the pandemic – with hope, and planning, to avoid a second wave of infections – there’s constant talk of a ‘green’ recovery effort.

“Even before we got into this crisis the Green party launched this programme of a fair transition, the idea is not totally new but it has been part of our elections programmes for a long time. It sort of binds together all the measures we need to take in order to build our society better to face the future crisis and realities” Ohisalo says.

As the government introduces measures to stimulate the economy, ministers are thinking more carefully about where to put that cash, and Ohisalo says the stimulus packages have “green foundations.”

“We decided to invest a billion euros in public transportation, railways, walking and cycling. This is building our infrastructure, bringing more jobs to people and at the same time getting rid of carbon emissions.”

For some people – and not just critics – the Greens haven’t done enough to leverage their position in government to force through bigger, bolder changes.

Finnair, which is partly owned by the state, is one of Europe’s fastest-growing polluter airlines. Neste, also partly owned by the state, has a poor track record of supply chain integrity and biodiversity loss near palm oil mills in Indonesia – and continues to market biofuel in Finland that would be illegal in other European countries. And this government remains intransigent too on stamping out peat as a fuel source.

So is Maria Ohisalo’s Green party green enough? There’s only so much her party can do she says, when state-owned companies have a broad degree of autonomy to operate as a business.

“At a strategic level we have said that all the state-owned companies should also follow the climate goals, and goals on biodiversity. And obviously the world is not ready. The Greens have been in politics for 30 years and since the 1990s we have said we should make a green tax, and still we are not there” she says.

Maria Ohisalo interview: Borders, feminism and Finland’s green recovery plan

Dropping the F-bomb in politics 

This week another policy idea central to Maria Ohisalo’s personal political beliefs has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy online and in the media: intersectional feminism.

“The idea is that a human being is more than just a gender, a human is also their age, background, ethnicity, and when we work in order to get more equality in society we need to take into account all these factors. And, it’s not a new idea” Ohisalo explains.

The recent announcement from the Greens that intersectional feminism was a core component of the government’s plans drew sharp – sometimes abusive – responses from the political right.

Finns Party MEP Laura Huhtasaari had one of the more polite reactions when she said the Green left (sic) has created “a new caste system” in Finland, where “the white heterosexual is at the bottom” and that supporters of the Christian Democrats and Finns were “casteless.”

So if the words intersectional feminism are political red meat to the government’s opponents, why not just call it intersectional equality?

“Maybe the biggest problem is that the people who always say that yes I am in favour of equality then you ask what are you willing to do to reach more equality, then you don’t hear much. There is a silence. You don’t hear any measures” the minister says.

“For me, and the Green party, feminism is a way of having active measures to get into a world where we have more equality.”

You can hear the full interview with Maria Ohisalo on the new episode of our summer Podkäst, available Friday 3rd July on Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher and News Now Finland social media channels. 

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14 Comments
  1. MariaGreen2020 says

    As a Finnish citizen, I fully support Maria Ohisalo’s stance on the issue of opening Finland’s borders. The health and safety of our nation should always be the top priority, especially in these challenging times of the pandemic.

  2. AnneSmith says

    Do you think opening Finland’s borders should be a priority right now, considering the ongoing health crisis?

    1. Matt Thompson says

      As a journalist who has followed Maria Ohisalo’s leadership closely, I believe her main priority is indeed the health and safety of the citizens. Opening the borders right now needs to be approached cautiously, balancing the needs of public health with the necessity of international connections for Finland’s economy and society.

  3. Anna Smith says

    It’s been an eventful first year in office for Maria Ohisalo. As a leader, she has faced numerous challenges and responsibilities, from managing the European Council presidency to navigating through the corona crisis. Her approach to reopening borders reflects her commitment to prioritize the health and safety of the nation’s residents.

  4. Mario Santiago says

    It’s been a memorably hectic first year in office for Maria Ohisalo. The Helsinki MP became leader of the Greens just weeks after her party gained five seats at the 2019 general election, and then endured a baptism of fire as interior minister when Finland took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Council a few weeks after that. Although the big set-piece Helsinki events of the presidency were over within the first three months, there was still a non-stop grind of European travel; the small matter of a collapsing government and change of prime minister at home; and her own wedding to plan. “And then suddenly we all fell into this corona crisis” says Ohisalo, summing up 2020 so far in less than a dozen words. “Now we’re finally starting to get out of it, but the whole of society has to change and we really need to rebuild society again after the crisis” he tells News Now Finland. On top of his inbox this week is the issue of opening Finland’s borders again, or not. It’s a subject that forces the minister to be part public health official, part gatekeeper, part diplomat. “The most important and the leading idea of course is to save the health and life of the people living in this country” say.

  5. Matt Smith says

    “The most important and the leading idea of course is to save the health and life of the people living in this country,” says Maria Ohisalo.

  6. Melissa87 says

    Was Maria Ohisalo able to share any specific details on Finland’s plans for rebuilding society after the crisis mentioned in the article?

    1. EmmaSmith92 says

      Yes, Maria Ohisalo mentioned in the article that the whole of society needs to change and be rebuilt after the crisis. She emphasized the importance of saving the health and life of the people in Finland as the leading idea.

  7. Mara Smith says

    As a citizen, I commend Maria Ohisalo for her dedication and resilience in facing the challenges thrown her way. It’s inspiring to see a leader prioritize the well-being of the people above all else.

  8. EmmaSmith92 says

    It’s truly admirable how Maria Ohisalo has handled the multiple crises that came her way in her first year in office. She shows great strength and resilience in the face of challenges, and her dedication to the well-being of the people is evident in her words and actions.

  9. EmmaJohnson23 says

    As a citizen of Finland, I truly appreciate Maria Ohisalo’s dedication and hard work during such challenging times. It’s crucial that we prioritize the health and safety of our people above all else. I trust her to make the right decisions regarding opening Finland’s borders responsibly. Keep up the great work, Maria!

  10. Martin Green says

    It’s been a challenging year for Maria Ohisalo, but it’s impressive to see how she has handled everything with grace and resilience. Her focus on rebuilding society post-crisis is crucial, and her dedication to safeguarding the health and life of the people is commendable.

  11. EmilyJones says

    As a dedicated public servant, Maria Ohisalo has certainly faced numerous challenges in her role as Green party leader and interior minister. Her commitment to prioritizing the well-being of the citizens during these tumultuous times is truly commendable.

  12. Matt Smith says

    It’s been such a turbulent first year in office for Maria Ohisalo. She’s juggling so many challenges and responsibilities, from navigating European politics to dealing with the aftermath of the corona crisis. It’s truly impressive how she’s handling it all with grace and determination.

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