Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen has served in several elected positions, ranging from youth organisations to domestic and European politics. The 37-year-old politician has also worked in the banking industry, at an American consulting company, as an industrial economist specialising on Russia and as a member of the Board of Directors at the Confederation of Finnish Industries. In addition, Mykkänen is a father of two and has completed studies in economics at the Faculty of Social Sciences.
“During my career, I’ve kept jumping into a new position, often in a new field, every few years – by chance but also due to my curious nature. I do not regret any of these jumps. It’s interesting to try to see the world from different angles,” Mykkänen says of his astounding career.
“After my studies, I deliberately wanted to see how business is done. About five years in those circles convinced me that a position with more social impact would better suit my character. That’s why I went into politics.”
Can a politician make a difference?
Mykkänen believes he can have an impact, at least concerning the issues he considers most important.
“I’ve tried to squeeze in increases to environmental taxes at every turn, and the matter has progressed a great deal during the past decade, in terms of both transportation and energy production.”
What is your impact as a minister?
“I’m not committed to a single ideology, which seems to make it easier to cooperate with a variety of people. I hope that I can draw on my experience to bring a more profit-driven and open-minded approach to guiding our nation's development.”
Mykkänen also has a system for coping with his stressful job.
“Above all, you must keep in mind that it’s enough to move the ball in the right direction, even in tiny nudges. Otherwise you’ll be overcome with anxiety over not being able to fix everything,” he muses.
“We Finns should help each other find our creativity and enthusiasm instead of wallowing in complaints and setting unnecessary restrictions.”
From Russia with love
Mykkänen has a reputation as an expert on Russia, and his interest in Finland's eastern neighbour arises from his childhood.
“I chose to take Russian in primary school largely because my grandmother was born in St Petersburg, so both the language and the culture of Russia were tangentially present in our home. At university, I studied economics, but I also wanted to continue learning about Russia. That’s why I became interested in the Finnish Master’s School in Russian and Eastern European Studies.”
According to Mykkänen, Finland today needs more institutions in all sectors of society which have both expertise in their own area and a sufficient understanding of what makes Russia special for Finland.
“There is too little interest towards Russia among people in my generation, particularly those who work in business. We should understand our powerful neighbour – both its positive and negative aspects.”
Mykkänen is troubled by the latest political developments in Russia.
“I was saddened to see that when the Ukrainian crisis erupted, Russia prioritised geopolitical interests over financial stability and western cooperation. This turn is of course linked to the stagnation of the Russian economy that had been ongoing for some time. In most countries, nationalistic attitudes become more prominent when the economy falters."
The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development has a surprising opinion of the development of Finnish-Russian relations.
“Our trade relations are closer to normal than people think. Nearly 95% of Finland's top exports to Russia are completely free from sanctions. Finnish businesses should go ahead and export to Russia if they can find a buyer! The reason for the 50% dip in exports is largely due to domestic problems in the Russian economy. In that sense, the next few years will be directly dependent on oil prices.”
In terms of political relations, Mykkänen hopes that tensions can be gradually alleviated and cooperation regained.
“However, this requires that the Minsk peace agreements be implemented in the Ukraine,” the Minister points out.
Recognition for the University’s Russian studies and education
Mykkänen has a close relationship with the University. He is a member of the Aleksanteri Institute’s Advisory Board which has enabled him to participate in interesting, open debate on the situation in Russia. He has also followed recent events at the University due to personal reasons.
“Many of my family and friends work at the University. That’s why I have also kept an eye on the cooperation negotiations and other changes. I hope that the right choices can be made, even when they are difficult to make for those in charge.”
Minister Mykkänen encourages everyone to get involved in Russian studies.
“Think about the fundamentals independently and trust your judgement. Even if your focus may be elsewhere, watch the economic situation and learn its main mechanisms in terms of Russia's cash flows which are driven by the primary sector. Changes in people’s wallets largely explain their actions,” he concludes.
Panel address by Kai Mykkänen at the Aleksanteri Institute 20th Anniversary Seminar on 28 April 2016 at the University of Helsinki
Multidisciplinary minor subjects and Master's programmes in Russian studies