Jacob Christensen

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Archive for the ‘Iceland’ tag

Halonen, Urpilainen, Kiviniemi

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I must admit that, despite having lived in Umeå with Va(a)sa just across the Bay of Botnia, Finnish politics is not my specialist area. Still, in political terms Finland is not quite what Finland used to be, which this weekend’s selection of Mari Kiviniemi as chairman of the Finnish Centre Party is another indication of. Just to put the prejudices in place – Finnish political culture is generally seen as rural and – for want of a better English word – gubbig. Imagine old-boys’ network with quite an element of laddism thrown in for good measure and you’re there.

As it is, Kiviniemi is not the first female party leader in Finland, nor even the first female leader of the Centre Party and prime minister: That honour goes to Anneli Jäättenmäki who served as party leader between 2002-2003 and as prime minister for a few months in 2003 before being forced to retire in a scandal relating to Finland’s position in the process leading up to the second Iraq War. Jäättenmäki was later cleared of any legal wrongdoing so the question is if she had been exposing her inexperience at the international level or if (male?) forces within her own party were conspiring against her. In any event Matti Vanhanen took over as party leader and prime minister and continued in those functions until he was brought down over a scandal relating to covert campaign contributions.1

The 41-year old Kiviniemi faced Mauri Pekkarinen, a candidate which fitted better with the image of a typical Finnish politician from the Centre Party: Male, old, rural. Even Paavo Väyrynen, unsuccessfully, attempted a comeback. Kiviniemi is far from unexperienced, though: She has been an MP for 15 years, minister for trade and development and later minister for local government. The interesting point is that in 2007 Kiviniemi changed constituency so that she now represents Helsinki instead of Vaasa in the Finnish parliament. Considering that the Centre Party very much has been a party of the Finnish periphery, the selection of Kiviniemi may also point to a change in political strategies.

The local government portfolio may hold a nasty problem in store for Kiviniemi as she takes over as prime minister in a week’s time: If I understand Finnish (Swedish-language) media correctly, she is involved in a battle over Karleby/Kokkola’s administrative position – which again has something to do with the role of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. It’s not quite BHV but it is potentially politically troublesome.2 She will also be facing a conflict over the teaching of Swedish in Finnish schools.

Finland will be holding elections next year, so who will Kiviniemi’s opponents be? Well, the other main contenders for the prime minister’s office will be the National Coalition Party’s Jyrki Katainen (born in 1971) and Social Democrat leader Jutta Urpilainen (born in 1975). Just as in the Netherlands, government formation is a bit of a three-party affair with the Centre, the National Coalition and Social Democrats in varying constellations with one or more of the smaller parties joining, so there is a 2/3 probability of the next election yielding a female prime minister. The only thing which is 100% certain is that the Swedish People’s Party will be in the government after the 2011 elections.

If we look at the male/female set-up in the run-up to 2011, the Centre Party, the Social Democrats, the Green League and the Christian Democrats have women as leaders while the National Coalition, the Left Alliance, the Swedish People’s Party and the True Finns have male leaders. The face of Finnish politics is indeed slowly changing.

In the other Nordic countries, female party leaders are far from unknown these days. In Norway, all parties represented in Stortinget either have or have had a woman as leader3, in Sweden only the Moderates and Christian Democrats have not had a female leader (even if the Liberals’ Maria Leissner did not stay in office for very long for both political and personal reasons)4, and in Denmark five out of eight parties in parliament are at present led by women.5 Iceland has a female Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, who is also the leader of the Social Democratic Alliance.

Oh and by the way: Kiviniemi has prepared for her new status – the fringe is gone and replaced by a more serious hairstyle.

Just in case you have missed it: (Tarja) Halonen is Finland’s (female) president since 2000.

  1. The first female party leader in Finland was Heidi Hautala of the Green League []
  2. “Kiviniemi giggles at the Constitutional Council’s recommendation”. Charming, no? []
  3. The Christian People’s Party still has not had a female parliamentary leader []
  4. I here count the Green Party’s dual male-female leadership as a case with female leaders. At present no-one would question Maria Wetterstrand’s role as the Greens’ most profiled politician []
  5. Here I count the Red-Green Alliance’s Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen as the party’s political leader even if the party formally has a collective leadership. []

Written by Jacob Christensen

June 13th, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Head of …

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Politiken has a few problems with assigning incoming Icelandic PM Johanna Sigurardottir (apologies for not getting all of the apostrophes right) her correct role.

Ms. Sigurardottir will be head of government. The Icelandic head of state is Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.

I also learnt something: The Icelandic word for “political science” is stjrnmlafri. Well… (And in case any Danish journalist reads this – the correct Danish translation of “political science” is “statskundskab”, not “politisk videnskab”!)

Written by Jacob Christensen

January 30th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

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Leave aside that Iceland will be calling new elections, just how likely is it that the two leading politicians in a country are struck with cancer at the same time and while the country is hit by a massive economic crisis?

Written by Jacob Christensen

January 23rd, 2009 at 2:54 pm

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And Yet More Iceland

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Tyler Cowen notes that not only is the money gone, the cod has gone away as well, and – given the future payments on recent loans – does not really want to think about how the endgame will look like.


The original “How to marry a German” post is here and I would like to note that a) it was humourous in nature and b) I have no personal experiences of being married to or romantically linked with any German women.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 30th, 2008 at 10:01 pm

I Hope They Received Their Payment in Advance…

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The latest VoxEU column by Willem Buiter and Anne Sibert on the rotten state of Iceland:

Early in 2008 we were asked by the Icelandic bank Landsbanki (now in receivership) to write a paper on the causes of the financial problems faced by Iceland and its banks, and on the available policy options for the banks and the Icelandic authorities.

The OUCH! part comes at the end:

Icelands circumstances were extreme, but there are other countries suffering from milder versions of the same fundamental inconsistent or at least vulnerable – quartet:

(1) A small country with (2) a large, internationally exposed banking sector, (3) its own currency and (4) limited fiscal spare capacity relative to the possible size of the banking sector solvency gap.

Countries that come to mind are:

* Switzerland,
* Denmark,
* Sweden

and even to some extent the UK, although it is significantly larger than the others and has a minor-league legacy reserve currency.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 29th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Denmark Goes Iceland

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Or something. Here is a snapshot of the queue outside of Merlin’s store on Vestergade in Odense yesterday. Needless to say, local media reported this as “chaos on the high street”. Today, Sterling Airways ceased operations.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 29th, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Posted in General,Politics

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Iceland Update

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It is always interesting to watch the effects of an international crisis close up. In my case, I had the opportunity to see the massive (well, 150 persons according to media) queue waiting outside of the Merlin branch on Vestergade here in Odense. Merlin – a consumer electronics chain owned by … you’ve guessed it … an Icelandic investment group – stopped its payments due to insolvency on Monday but was taken over by a Danish chain. So today saw a fire sale in the Merlin shops.

Meanwhile, Iceland is now being helped by the other Nordic countries in a working group led by Sweden.

PS: I have a picture of the queue but my internet connections are a bit erratic.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 28th, 2008 at 7:22 pm

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Objection: Iceland Is NOT Zimbabwe

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According to Politiken, economic analyst Carsten Valgreen has had the good taste to compare Iceland with Zimbabwe. That both countries are in a bit of a mess should be obvious, but even if Iceland may have mismanaged its financial sector during the last decade, there still is some distance between Iceland and Zimbabwe.

Just for starters, Transparency International lists Iceland as the 7th least corrupt country in the world. Zimbabwe is ranked as 166. Having a functioning and reliable state helps in the current mess.

Freedom House tells us that Iceland scores “1” on both political rights and civil liberties, while Zimbabwe is down to “7” and “6”, respectively.

The IMF had this to say about Zimbabwe:

On Zimbabwe, we have been of course watching as others and hoping for a solution that helps Zimbabwe to get beyond the significant crisis it has been in these many years and to make it possible for the international community to help Zimbabwe begin what will be a long-term effort at reform. The Zimbabweans are still in the process of trying to sort out their government, and we certainly have been preparing to help them. We are ready when they are, to begin the effort to try to clear Zimbabwe’s significant external arrears, to make it possible for financing to become available for Zimbabwe, to help Zimbabwe deal with the huge hyperinflation that it has, to help put in place a program that helps, start to address that. So we are in a waiting mode, getting ready to help. Zimbabwe is a huge challenge and will be for all of us, the international financial community. In the same way that it took creativity to find financing for Liberia’s debt relief, for example, it will take a lot of creativity to deal with the challenge of Zimbabwe, but we are ready, and we are waiting.

In July, the IMF was not happy about the state of Iceland:

The economy experienced an extraordinary foreign-funded boom in recent years, with output rising by over 25 percent during 2003-2007. This rapid expansion, however, left a legacy of large macroeconomic imbalances, overstretched private sector balance sheets, and high dependence on foreign financing. The financial sector assets expanded to over 1,000 percent of GDP, while gross external indebtedness reached 550 percent of GDP at end-2007, largely on account of the banking sector.

But still, the Fund tried to be positive about Iceland authorities’ initiatives. Who in their right minds would have anything even remotely positive to say about Robert Mugave?

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 14th, 2008 at 3:26 pm

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The Icelanders are hoarding food (yes: food!), according to SvT, after the stock exchange had suspended bank shares and the Icelandic Krona is in free fall. However, Toys ‘r’ Us and furniture store ILVA also saw many customers.

The Copenhagen stock exchange also experienced one of its worst days ever, following an agreement between the Danish government and banks guaranteeing savings.

One handy indicator for me is a savings scheme I opened back in 2002. Back then, I placed 75000 SEK on a special account. At its maximum, it had increased in value to somewhere around 90000 SEK but now it is down to 63000 SEK. Talk about rollercosters.

And no: I’m not selling any of my shares. And I have a rented apartment :-)

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 6th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Politics

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