© Juli 2001
Heidi Hautala1. Heidi, how did you first get involved in European politics?
Well, in 1989 I was nominated as the informal chairperson of the European Green parties. Then in 1991 I was elected to the Finnish Parliament. At that time we were discussing entry to the European Union and I came to Brussels as the Green Party's observer to the European Parliament. When Finland eventually joined the EU in 1995 I was elected to the European Parliament.
However, my political career really began at grassroots level in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time I was interested in food policy and in 1974 I co-founded a vegetarian restaurant. I then worked for several years as a reporter on a magazine, which had an alternative philosophy reflected in topics such as cookery, poetry, anti-nuclear activities, etc. In 1985 I was formally elected to the Helsinki City Council and two years later I also became chairperson of the Green League Council, providing national co-ordination of the Green parties.
2. Have there been any breaks in your political career since your first involvement in the 70s?
No, I haven't really had a break. But, of course, I studied for my Masters degree and I gave birth to my son.
3. Didn't having a child interrupt your career?
No, in my country the childcare is good so I could continue.
4. Which are your main areas of political interest?
From the earliest days I have been interested in food and energy policies. Women's anti-nuclear activities led me to become interested in women's issues generally, as well as European environmental issues. Recently I have also become very involved in transparency in the decision-making process.
5. So your interests have evolved over time. Are these reflected in your membership of Parliamentary committees?
Yes. Membership of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market very much links in with my concern for transparency in the decision-making process. I was the President of the Women's Rights Committee, and currently I am the Committee's rapporteur on the revision of the Equal Treatment Directive. I am also the substitute for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Policy.
6. Does the Green party have an Equal Opportunities Policy?
Well, it does but, unlike other political parties, women are clearly over-represented at the moment. When other parties are struggling to get more women involved, we have to make sure that men, especially young men, are not under-represented.
7. How do you ensure a balanced representation?
We have a 40/60 quota rule for all appointed positions. We also make sure we have balanced electoral lists but the final results of course reflect voters' preferences. The Green Party prioritises issues that are very much women's issues so we get a lot of female votes.
8. You talk about transparency in the decision-making process, have you noticed any discrimination in European policy-making procedures?
There is a strong male culture. You just have to look at the composition of the Council and the Commission to see that. Even though the representation of women in the Parliament is over 30 per cent, the prestigious posts, for example in the Bureau, are occupied by men. There is only one woman Bureau member, apart from the President who is a woman of course. Gender mainstreaming has not been easy - and we still have a long way to go.
9. Is European policy having an impact in Finland? I am interested to know how is it affecting women as they were far more anxious about joining the European Union?
I think it is having an impact on the overall welfare framework, and the issue of single mothers is a difficult one in Finland. Of course, in Finland we are very aware of the economic and political contribution of women so incorporating equal opportunities in all policies is now obvious. As we re-write the European Equal Treatment Directive it is clear that we need to ensure that all economic policies recognise the impact of women and that greater attention is paid to the reconciliation of family and professional life.
10. So it is more the case that Finnish national policy is influencing European policy?
Yes, I think that is the case. At the moment I am trying to convince Parliament, and hopefully the Council, about adopting an Equality plan, but the Council is quite cautious about its obligations, so it is not easy.
11. What do you see as obstacles to women entering European politics?
The absence of Equal Opportunities policies. For example, childcare and elder care are a problem, particularly as we have to spend 40 weeks a year in Brussels and Strasbourg. My son was 14 when I first came to Brussels so life was fairly complicated. I think it would help if we could make more use of information technology, so we did not have to travel so much.
I also see the male thinking patterns as an obstacle. It is like a brotherhood, and the issues that they are interested in are not the same as the ones that interest women. I am really conscious of this, especially as issues like the environment are taken very seriously in my country.
12. How is political work different at a European level?
I think the work is more innovative and the signals more obvious. We need to react to global pressures. The European Parliament is still a very new institution but I feel it has an active and growing role with regard to international competition, etc. There is still much to be done at the local level, but I find it really interesting working on issues at a European level. To be effective, though, we have to be aware of and overcome our national perspectives.
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