You come from Kokkola on the Finnish west coast. It is one of the most industrial regions in Finland and a centre of export. How have these characteristics of your home region influenced you?
I’m proud of my home region. Being a member of the Finnish parliament for 17 years, I had the opportunity to get to know local companies and entrepreneurs. As a decision-maker it is clear to me that the success and internationalisation of companies is crucial for the development and vitality of the whole region. My home region has also taught me courage in co-operation, and the importance of finding collaboration partners. Bringing together different actors and finding joint interests often produces creative and open-minded solutions.
How would you describe the Ostrobothnian spirit?
The spirit in our region is supportive and growth-oriented. As Ostrobothnians we are unyielding and know how to think big when needed, which probably also explains the will and courage of our companies to internationalise.
Why should international companies invest in Finland?
Finland has a stable, predictable operational environment and a functioning society, which offers a good framework for entrepreneurship. We have advanced know-how and specialised knowledge clusters. A company settling in Finland also gains access to the EU internal mar- ket, which means 500 million consumers.
You are a teacher by training. The Finnish school system is internationally acclaimed. What makes Finnish schools so good?
At least some of “the secrets” behind the Finnish school system are the communal comprehensive school and having the best teachers in the world. In our comprehensive schools, entire age classes get the same high-quality basic education and are equally eligible for further studies. Teachers in Finland are academically trained, and their education gives them strong pedagogical skills, which prepares them to teach learners of different kinds.
In the Commission you oversee the international partnerships of the EU, and African relationships are an important part of the portfolio. In what direction do you wish to develop the relationships between EU and Africa? How could business between the EU and Africa be developed?
The relationships must be developed on equal terms, based on partnerships that benefit both parties. Africa is a continent of the future. Europe and Africa are also referred to as “twin continents”. They are connected by fate. By helping African countries to harness their potential, we also open entryways for European companies to growing markets, which already have a demand for, for instance, innovations in cleantech.
Jutta Urpilainen is a teacher by training, but has made her career in politics.