It’s been a rough few weeks for Olli Rehn, the European commissioner in charge of economic affairs.
Last month, a Belgian minister lashed out at him for demanding the new government cut up to €2bn from its 2012 budget. Then he was forced to spend all of Monday night and Tuesday morning locked in a 14-hour session with eurozone finance ministers negotiating Greece’s bail-out. And today he had the unenviable task of announcing the eurozone would likely return to recession this year.
But if you really want to make the mild-mannered Finn angry, it appears you have to go another route: compare him Nicolay Bobrikov, the Russian general who ruled Finland in the early 20th century, before it gained independence.
A full-blown political row has erupted in Finland after Timo Soini, head of the eurosceptic True Finns party, said in an interview with state broadcaster YLE that Rehn resembled Bobrikov because they both were attempting to rule foreign provinces with iron fists from the centre.
Although Rehn has been given new powers to bring wayward budget deficits under control in profligate peripheral eurozone countries, the comparison is a bit hyperbolic, to say the least.
Bobrikov was appointed by Tsar Nicholas II to implement the so-called “February Manifesto”, which declared that Russian laws took precedence over those in the Grand Dutchy of Finland. Eurosceptics appear to be attempting to use that history to claim Bobrikov and Rehn have similarities.
It’s a bit of a reach, especially since Bobrikov also forced all official communication to be conducted in Russian and disbanded the Finnish military, forcing soldiers to serve the tsar’s army instead. In 1904, he was assassinated by Finnish nationalists.
On Thursday, Rehn called on Soini to apologise. “This is not only offensive to patriotic man like me, but it is also dangerous hate speech being likened to an assassinated man,” Rehn said in a written statement sent to Finnish media. “I consider this analogy inappropriate, and I expect Soini to apologize for this repugnant remark.”
So far, Soini isn’t budging. Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, reported that Soini took to the floor of the Finnish parliament and refused to take back his words.
“Rehn’s request is complete nonsense,” Soini said, arguing the commission has pushed unpopular policies onto Greece. “If this can not be criticized with metaphors, something really strange is going through in Europe.”