Yesterday ministers Sipilä and Orpo announced that due to the changed circumstances, the other government parties will not continue their cooperation with the Finns Party. The current government crisis was caused by the Finns Party’s party conference, which was held last weekend, where the previous party leadership was replaced with individuals with much more radical anti-immigration views, who want to take Finland out of the EU and who have published openly racist and misogynistic statements. This forced the government parties to discuss whether they can find a sufficient number of shared values with the new party leadership in order to enable future government cooperation.
SYL also published a short statement supporting the decision of the leaders of the National Coalition Party and the Centre Party, and stating that we do not believe that these sorts of values belong in government. Supporting the European community, multiculturalism and feminism are the values of our organisation, and we agreed that it was right to defend these values in a situation where they are being opposed so close to the heart of our country’s politics.
Our statement did, however, raise many questions and critical comments. Why is SYL getting involved in party politics? How can the organisation support values that some of its members do not stand by? Why don’t we just focus on issues related to the students’ situation? How can an organisation based on automatic membership use its voice in this way? Many were also worried that SYL had become politicised and that it had left the path of promoting students’ interests and instead started pursuing the political agenda of its active members. There is no cause for concern, however. Our job is to carry out political lobbying to achieve a better future for students, and we will continue to do this going forward.
In order to supervise students’ interests, we also have to exert our influence in politics, because decisions affecting the lives of students are born through the political process. The Finnish Government has a lot of influence in these matters as they have a majority in parliament, at least for the moment. That is why the values of the government really influence the way in which we can carry out our advocacy work going forward. Protecting students’ interest is, therefore, political influencing, but it should not be confused with party politics: we still remain an organisation with no party-political ties.
Just like those of the Finnish state, the decisions of SYL are also the result of a democratic process. The principles, values and goals outlined in our policy paper are decided at the annual General Assembly, and the delegates taking part in the GA are elected representatives for the student unions. This means that indirectly every student can influence the decisions and guidelines that direct the work of our union. Therefore equality, feminism and anti-racism are not simply whims of those who are active within our organisation; they are the views of the majority of our members.
SYL’s latest policy paper continues to focus on matters that influence students’ lives directly, such as education and income, but it also covers other issues that divide opinions in society, such as early childhood education and immigration. This is because students do not live in a vacuum; they are part of a society where decisions are influenced by other decisions: the balance within fields of study affects the structures of working life, changes to social security affect each other, and family policy affects educational equity. SYL is often asked to give statements on legislative amendments which are only loosely linked to education. Therefore, working on these issues does not take us away from our primary task; it actually supports our ability to represent the studying generation in a credible way.
Looking after students’ interests forces us to make political choices and to work with political processes. Changes to the financial aid for students is always a political decision, so defending the financial aid is no less of a political act than defending other matters. Democratic decision-making and discussion are also part of politics, and that is why we would like to invite everyone to take part in a civilised discussion and to make decisions on our future lobbying goals together. The best way to achieve this is through your own student union and our General Assembly.