When Salla Saastamoinen was studying at the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki, at the turn of the 1990s, Finland had just initiated its accession negotiations with the European Union.
“I was very interested in the EU. I believed and continue to believe in the European ideology: doing things together promotes not only trade and prosperity but also peace and the preservation of good relations between member states,” Saastamoinen says.
Saastamoinen became interested in European law, relocating all the way to Germany to study it. She returned to Helsinki to write her licentiate thesis, but Finland’s EU membership in 1995 swept the junior legal scholar away.
Saastamoinen has now worked for 20 years for the European Commission in Brussels. Currently she is director for civil and commercial justice under the Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers.
“We are promoting legal collaboration in dispute resolution when the parties – be they companies or private individuals – come from different member states,” Saastamoinen explains.
“In other words, EU regulations decree the court of jurisdiction, the country whose legislation applies to the matter at hand and the execution of the decision in the member country.”
Saastamoinen’s department is also responsible for policies concerning the EU’s consumer agreements and company law, or how companies can operate in another member state or relocate from one member state to another.
Donations for science
In her student years, Saastamoinen was active in the Student Union and the student nation for students from Central Finland.
“For me personally, the University of Helsinki is a meaningful place for a number of reasons. Then again, universities in general have two important missions, the first of which is the production of new research-based knowledge.”
“People are good at coming up also with positive innovations, and for this the scientific method is the perfect tool. We have this spectacular ability to think comprehensively, to look forward and outside ourselves! This is what science is to me.”
Another important feature of the Finnish university system is the provision of an equal opportunity for education of a high standard.
“With the help of education, you can get somewhere in life, regardless of your financial starting point. I think this is one of the best aspects of the welfare society.”
To support these goals, Saastamoinen has made donations to the University, for example, for the acquisition of course books and to the anniversary funds of her friends.
“When I reached round numbers myself, I considered what I would like to receive as a gift. Engendering new knowledge seemed just the ticket, so I donated funds for research and teaching in European law through the Fund for Law. These days, you no longer have to go and study this field somewhere else,” Saastamoinen enthuses.
In Brussels also, Saastamoinen is fostering the spirit of the University.
“We have established an alumni club of our own here. It helps us keep in touch with the University, while the University is able, through us, to keep up to date with EU affairs related to science and research.”
“I’m also a member of the student nation’s senior association, I read the excellent Yliopisto magazine, and one of my two sons just left Brussels to go abroad – to the University of Helsinki – to study medicine. I had no hesitation recommending it as a place of study!”