Exclusive Interview with Alexander Stubb – Speak Global
Health-work balance, social media’s role in politics, and the defense of the European and Western ideal. Alexander Stubb is frank and flamboyant, a polyglot, a progressive thinker and one of Europe’s most accessible and fittest politicians.
In June 2016, Alexander Stubb stepped down as Finland’s minister of finance (2015-16) and leader of the National Coalition Party (2014-16). During his distinguished, eight-year career in government, he served as prime minister (2014-15) and held two other key cabinet positions: minister for foreign affairs (2008-11) and minister for European affairs and foreign trade (2011-14).
A former MEP, Alexander Stubb is outspokenly pro-Europe, an avid supporter of deepening European integration and a vocal defender of multiculturalism, democracy and globalization. One of the most active Twitter users among European politicians, he is renowned for being social media savvy. Alongside his political career, he is an avid sportsman and Ironman World Champion triathlete.
What role has staying fit and healthy played in your life as a politician?
Taking exercise has been a respite from day to day pressures and has helped me to have enough energy to get through tough and stressful situations. My mantra is – one hour of exercise, gives you two hours more energy per day. In a lot of high-pressure jobs, if you want to perform at your best, you need to take care of yourself. For me, that entails three things: sleep, nutrition and exercise. The key is just to do something every day and to have a few targets and goals, which can help you to stay on track. However, I am the first to enjoy a cigar, a glass of wine or a good meal. I believe in balance.
As an avid Twitter user, what role do you feel social media plays in politics today? Do you see any potential pitfalls in this sort of accessibility?
Social media is obviously an extremely important part of politics, or anything we do today. I have always believed in transparency and I was one of the first politicians to write a blog and to open it up for public comment. One of the big problems with European politics is that it has always been behind closed doors. The upside of social media for politicians is that you can give a direct message to the public and lose the middleman - the journalist who may misinterpret or distort your message. The downside is that sometimes you can make very public mistakes. You have to learn your lessons along the way.
In the face of the intense debate that has erupted about the fate of the EU, do you believe the European dream is at risk?
There needs to be a stronger defense of the European ideal and the Western ideals upon which our success has been built – democracy, globalization and the market economy. Europe has to defend itself every day against anti-European and nationalistic forces, anti-democratic and authoritarian forces, anti-market and protectionist forces, and anti-globalization forces. However, I have not lost all hope in European integration, because the pendulum swings both ways. In the early 1990s, we lived in an era of hope. The Cold War had ended, and democracy and the market economy had defeated authoritarian regimes and communism hands down. Twenty-five years later, we see a reverse trend. There is a sense of despair and a focus upon looking inward, which has resulted in, for example, Brexit. The key is to stand up and defend the values that we believe in. In the end, I think that common sense will prevail. It is very difficult for me to see why we should be building barriers, in an era of information technology and globalization.
What do you think will happen with Brexit?
It is hard to say. In an ideal situation, the British people will be given a choice in 2019 – between sticking to old membership and approving a new relationship between the EU and the UK.
Earlier this year, you turned down the role of minister of foreign trade. What are your plans for the future?
I feel very privileged and thankful that I have been able to serve my country. Right now, I am content being a member of parliament and enjoying life in a different kind of way. As for what is next? I am a fatalist. So, we’ll see where life takes me.