Could you explain to our readers when you decided to become a politician?
In 1982 I was asked to be a presidential elector candidate for Mauno Koivisto in the presidential elections. When I gave my commitment, it was then natural to stand for a seat in the next parliamentary elections.

Did you have strong political beliefs during your youth?
As part of my upbringing, I had an interest in politics, though it was more focused on reading political history than on practical participation.

Was the choice of becoming a “full time politician” difficult to make? Why?
Not at all difficult. It was a new challenge, and I’ve always liked challenges.

How could you present the Finnish Social Democratic Party to our readers who don’t know it?
SDP is building a just society and world founded on freedom, equality and solidarity. Within such a society, everyone, according to one’s capabilities, contributes to the advancement of one’s own well-being and to the furtherance of the common welfare. According to opinion sur-veys, SDP is once again Finland’s largest party, though in this year’s parliamentary elections, the party came in second by a narrow margin. In Finland, SDP also has traditions going back over a hundred years.

If you had to describe this party in 5 words…
The party that stands for justice, equality, collective responsibility, democracy and people’s freedom and joint accountability.

As the Minister of Finance, what will be your priorities for the near future?
The most important task is to strengthen the vitality of the Finnish welfare society. This calls for, among other things, raising the degree of employment and lowering unemployment in order to improve the dependency ratio compared with the present level. The work will require structural changes, notably, within working life and taxation.

What are the positive and negative aspects of being a politician?
The best part is the broad variety of the work. At least you can’t say that a workday in politics is dull. The problem is that there’s certainly more to be done than one person can manage to do.

Do you consider it as a profession or is it more than that?
This isn’t exactly a profession, but it does call for a professional kind of know-how. You might say that it’s a kind of fixed-term alliance with Beelzebub, but according to rules that the Crea-tor approves.

If you had the possibility to totally change your profession. What would you choose?
If I could get a whole pile of mathematical ability – just like that – I’d take up being a re-searcher in the area of astronomy and cosmology.

Why do you think that in Europe people are becoming less and less interested in
politics?
For many citizens, the European Union is a large and vague entity. The EU should be brought closer to ordinary people – as much as this can be done. In addition, through their own actions, politicians should be worthy of people’s trust. There should be improved trans-parency about how political decisions affect people’s daily lives.

How do you explain the results of Mr Tony Halme during the last parliamentary elections? Do you think that he was elected for his ideas or for other reasons?
Halme’s election result tells that people are becoming somewhat fed up with traditional politi-cians – or with the conventional way of engaging in politics, “politicking.” Regardless of the party they belong to, politicians often have to take decisions that part of the citizens don’t like. This means that in an election battle, candidates that take populistic stands now and then get over the threshold for election to parliament.

What images do you have of France and French people?
Back when I was a top athlete in the international sports world, my French competitors were the toughest of all. In politics, it seems to be the same way. The French are brilliant, self-reliant professionals who stand up for their country and their Gallic heritage in a way that can only be admired. I’ve nevertheless avoided saying this to them directly.

Is there a French town or region that you particularly appreciate? Why?
I’ve visited the Kourou space centre in French Guiana. In its own league, for me it’s up there with Paris.

If you had to choose one French person that could, to your point of view, well represent the image you have of France and French people… who would it be?
Here, it’s probably safest to take a look far enough back into history. In that case my choice is certainly Armand Jean du Plessis (Cardinal Richelieu) who was France’s prime minister from 1624 to 1642. For me, this founder of the modern system of government (unless this title is to be given to Sweden’s Gustav Vasa, who lived a hundred years earlier) still epitomises the essence of being French: the best interests of the French State above all, but adapting this in the best way to the realities of the rest of the world. Richelieu’s life and “Frenchness” were aptly described back in the time of Pope Urban VIII, who said “If there is a God, Riche-lieu will have much to answer for. If there is not, he has done very well.

What are your professional or personal projects for the future?
To act in accordance with Richelieu’s French doctrines on behalf of my own country.