Heidi Hautala was appointed as the Minister for International Development to the Finnish government in June 2011. She deals with the ministry’s development cooperation affairs and the government’s ownership steering within the Prime Minister’s Office.
Hautala has been referred as the Grand Lady of Finnish Human Rights politics. She is a former member of the European Parliament and the chairwoman of the parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. She was in charge of European Parliament’s human rights policy in external relations. She believes in furthering human rights, transparency, environmental responsibility and global justice. During the past years Heidi Hautala has been known as a versatile, active and fearless politician internationally and in Finland, where she has been a household name for two decades.
Back to Brussels in 2009
After six years back in Finnish parliament, in the summer of 2009, Heidi was re-elected to the European Parliament. In the beginning of the parliamentary term she was appointed as the chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights. After decades of hard work on various playing fields, she now has a unique opportunity to influence and improve the human rights situation all around the world.
MP in Finland 1991-1995, 2003-2009
Before the latest European elections, Heidi worked closely with EU affairs in the Finnish parliament as a deputy member of the Grand Committee. In addition, she was the chair of the Committee of Legal Affairs. Heidi also chairs the Council for Gender Equality in Finland. Heidi Hautala used to be a national MP also in 1991-1995 and a member of the Helsinki city council in 1985-1994. Before tackling politics she has founded a vegetarian restaurant, graduated as a Master of Science (horticulture), and edited a few alternative cultural papers.
Heidi Hautala has experience of chairing various groups and organizations. In 1988 she became the young chair of the Finnish Green League (1988-91). In 1998 she was elected as Chair of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities. In 1999 Heidi’s experience as a parliamentarian and in international green politics led her to chair the Greens/EFA Group in the European parliament. Heidi has enjoyed wide popularity: in the European parliament elections, in 1999, she received the largest number of votes by a wide margin. In the 2009 European elections she received the fifth most votes in Finland, despite a very modest campaign financially.
Influence and hard work
During her first tenure in the European Parliament (1995-2003), Heidi Hautala was involved in many things. She discovered that possibilities to be influential in the EU are more to do with personal expertise and activity rather than the size of the political party one represents. In order to be successful you have to be prepared to co-operate across party boundaries, to work with civil society organizations and stakeholders from the private sector.
In 1998 Heidi got the opportunity to be in charge of an important legislative report on fuel quality for transport. The stakes were high: air pollution was going to be taken seriously or not. A great majority of the parliament voted in favour of her report, but the representatives of EU national governments were more adamant, and so was the oil industry. The end result was a historic directive, which has reduced air pollution in the whole European Union.
Demanding stricter control over the use of MEPs’ monetary allowances was one of the most publicized themes in Heidi Hautala’s work during her first spell in the European parliament. Now, after returning to the corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg, she can note with satisfaction that the reforms which she started to promote more than ten years ago, are finally becoming reality.
Seeking openness and justice in the EU, Heidi has even taken the Council of Ministers to court, as the council denied her access to a document on arms export rules. Heidi took the Council to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and won the case against the odds. The ECJ ruled in her favour in 2001. The so called “Hautala case” became an important precedent in European case-law for access to documents and is widely quoted in academic studies.
Playing many fields
Heidi Hautala’s actions have gained attention in many areas. In 2000 and in 2006 she stood for Finnish presidential elections as a candidate for the Green League. Heidi was an important challenger for candidates of the bigger parties and raised many important issues for discussion.
Experience in politics has not only convinced Heidi Hautala of the importance of openness in decision-making but also of direct democracy at all levels of decision-making. She is an active member of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe (IRIE) which was kick-started in 2001.
In 2007 Heidi became a founding member and honorary vice-president of EU-Russia Centre, based in Brussels. In 2008 she was called to become Chair of Green European Foundation, which is closely affiliated with the European Green Party.
Horticulture and the Vegetarian restaurant
Heidi Hautala has studied horticulture at the University of Helsinki. Through her studies and hobbies she became familiar with the grim reality of intensive agricultural practices. During her studies Heidi translated books on world famine into Finnish, and became convinced of the unfairness of the poor population of the planet having neither soil to cultivate nor money for food. Later she was able to get deeper into development policy as the Chair of the Finnish Service Centre for Development Cooperation, KEPA, in 2002-2007.
During her time at the university, together with like-minded people, Heidi Hautala started a study circle on organic agriculture. Many of her university friends now either research or develop organic farming practices. This background brought her to her current position as Chair of the marketing strategy of organic products.
Heidi was also involved in founding the legendary vegetarian restaurant Kasvis, which operated for more than 25 years in Helsinki. The restaurant was not really a business operation. It was established to offer an alternative lifestyle and to create jobs: an alternative to the harsh competition in our society.
Environmental protection in a wider sense started to interest Heidi Hautala in the 80s, inspired by the European green movement. She became interested in journalism and she worked first in the editorial of the magazine Uuden Ajan Aura and later in Suomi.
Heidi Hautala is persistent with the issues she defends. Nevertheless, she says that she is always prepared to modify her views if someone else is able to better justify another opinion.