[lg policy] Finland: Defence Minister under increasing fire over decisions on Swedish-language garrison

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 20 14:32:54 UTC 2012

Defence Minister under increasing fire over decisions on
Swedish-language garrison
Language policy considerations said to sway Wallin on Dragsvik issue

Minister of Defence Stefan Wallin (Swed. People’s Party) has come
under fire from opposition politicians over military spending cutbacks
– specifically the future of the Dragsvik garrison, which houses the
Uusimaa Brigade, the only Swedish-language military unit in Finland.

      Swedish is Finland’s second official language, and under Finnish
language legislation, at least one military unit in Finland must
operate in Swedish. Dragsvik had been under consideration for closure
in connection with ongoing cutbacks in spending. If this had happened,
the Swedish language unit would have been moved to Upinniemi.

When Dragsvik was spared the chopping block in early February,
suspicions were voiced within the opposition Finns Party and Centre
Party, that the move was prompted primarily by language policy
considerations, rather than the interests of national defence.

      Defence Minister Wallin and Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen (Nat.
Coalition Party) have both denied the accusations, insisting that the
decisions were made with the help of experts of the Defence Staff, and
were based on the needs of national defence.

On Thursday the Chancellor of Justice issued a ruling based on a
complaint by Finns Party MP Pentti Oinonen, who suggested that Wallin
might have had a conflict of interest in the matter because of his
connection with an organisation supporting the Uusimaa Brigade.

      The Chancellor of Justice found no conflict of interest.
However, in that connection a statement sent to the Chancellor of
Justice by Chief of Defence Ari Puheloinen came to light, in which
Puheloinen reveals that Wallin steered the Defence Forces in the
direction of preserving Dragsvik.

      This was seen by some as an indication that the decision to
preserve Dragsvik was not guided exclusively by defence
considerations. Centre Party chairwoman Mari Kiviniemi said on
Saturday that the decisions on cutting defence costs have been made in
secret. She noted that the not even the government’s foreign and
defence policy committee seems to have been aware of the language
policy steering that was taking place.

      Timo Soini, chairman of the Finns Party, said that Wallin had
lost his credibility. In an interview with the Finnish Broadcasting
Company (YLE) on Saturday Soini said that his party plans “at the very
minimum” to put forward a parliamentary motion of no confidence in

      Soini also suggested that the matter might be investigated by
Parliament’s constitutional law committee. Pentti Oinonen went a step
further, calling for the convening of a court of impeachment.

On Sunday opposition critics of Wallin were joined by figures in the
Social Democratic Party, which is one of the main government parties.

      Party secretary Mikael Jungner told Helsingin Sanomat that a
mistake had clearly been made in decision-making, and that it needs to
be fixed. In an interview with the newspaper Ilkka on Sunday, Jungner
accused Wallin of misleading Members of Parliament.

Social Democratic MP Tuula Väätäinen, who is deals with issues related
to the Parliamentary Defence Committee in the SDP’s parliamentary
group, feels that it would be in Wallin’s own interest to examine the
decision again.
      “All the time it was said that the Defence Forces have made
their cost-cutting decisions on the basis of national defence. Not
even in connection with committee hearings was it said that the
minister would have interfered with the decisions”, Väätäinen says.
      “I wouldn’t speak of deception, but I would say that not
everything was told”, Tuula Väätäinen commented.


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