Ari Vatanen, a living legend of rally started racing in 1971. World champion in 1981 as well as the winner of the 1997 rally raid, Ari Vatanen stopped competing in 1999 as he was elected to the European Parliament.
Véronique Anger: Finland has the most efficient European mobile phones network. Most Finns have been connected to the Internet for many years. How do you explain the lightning success of new technologies in Northern countries, and especially in your country?
Ari Vatanen:There is no monopoly of telecommunication networks in Finland. Except for long-distance calls, all the other telecommunications services can be provided by private companies. From the 60s-70s onwards, this situation has encouraged small companies to tool up to face domestic but also foreign competition.
How did Nokia, for instance, become the leading telecommunications company in the global market? In order to compete with Ericsson, Siemens or Alcatel, …the only viable solution was to invest and innovate. The passion for new technologies of the Finns, and especially for the Internet is an outcome of these necessities.
As you probably know, Finland lost its Russian markets overnight. So new markets and new outlets had to be found. For a small country such as ours, being competitive meant: being able to adapt quickly into new situations.
Achieving our "e-transformation" is a new challenge. The Internet Age has the effect of erasing frontiers and giving birth to a "global village". Our country must react quickly to the new challenges in information technology. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts that Nokia and other telecommunications companies have undertaken during many years, Finland has successfully seized the opportunity.
VA: You are one of the most renowned rally drivers in the world. Since 1999, you decided to give up competition in order to devote your professional career to politics. How has your experience as a rally champion helped you to carry out your duties as an MEP?
AV:In motor racing just like in politics, you have to drive at the top speed … and I am always in a rush! Of course, people could blame me for not having won some of the races because I have sometimes put the breaks on too late … I am still convinced that through defeats you can learn something. They have made of me the man I am today and, thanks to them, I've learnt a lot. I have the same approach to politics. In politics also, I've went off the track. What is the right track? Is it being "politically correct"? If so, yes, I've got away from being "politically correct" which, from my point of view, is being "morally totally incorrect"…
I consider myself independent as an MEP, as if I was in the office for the last, and at the same time for the first term. I don't have to cheat with my conscience or to be subjected to any kind of pressure since I have no political ambition (meaning here political career). Indeed, I do not want to become a Minister in my country nor President of such and such a Committee. "Commit yourself and see what happens", said Napoleon Bonaparte.
Politicians believe they are immortal … As I came within a hair's breadth of dying during a very serious rally accident/crash in Argentina in 1985, I have become more humble as regards the future. Nobody knows for how long they will live. Since understanding this ordeal, I consider life as a gift and I believe every one of us is unique.
"Every one" is not limited to family or to fellow citizens. "Every one" is also a little boy from Timbuktu or a man living in Kosovo.
As an MEP, I work for the Finns, of course. I feel that I am an "ambassador" of my country, without necessarily underestimating or belittling the position of the Greek or the Malagasies.
I try, when possible, to have a general view of problems. The European Parliament is a first step, but it is not enough. A global Parliament would be needed to really have a close look at each question on a world scale.
VA: The World Economic Forum took place in New York; opponents to globalisation will meet in Porto Alegre. What is your point of view on globalisation? Do you think that the players of a new global economic order will succeed in building a fairer world?
AV: I think that all these things are linked: trade, human rights and humanitarian actions. Personally, I agree with fair, civilized globalisation.
I think that the opponents of globalisation have understood nothing. Above all, they try to protect their small privileges by playing the right nostalgia card. Do they really care about Africa, Madagascar or Morocco, countries that are trying to get their products accepted in the European market? I don't think so…How else can we help Algeria, Afghanistan, Iran, …to improve their living standards, than by boosting their economies and by enabling them to educate people, and especially women?
The building of a new, fair economic order on a global scale implies greater cooperation between human beings and fairer distribution of global wealth without frontiers.
Should the debts of the poor countries be cancelled? Why not, if we require a better respect of human rights and democracy.
Should the sovereignty of the nation states be reappraised to preserve and to promote democracy? The international and the European communities must ensure that potential Milosevics could not be able to act with complete immunity.
VA: New technologies (and especially the "cyberspace") have erased frontiers and radically changed usual forms of expression. People, who at first were unlikely to meet (due to geographical and cultural distances), can exchange their opinions on global, common matters of concern (i.e. environment, globalisation, labour, human cloning, …), by creating global associations, …Do you think it is possible to create "global consciousness" in this online society?
AV:We always go back to the notion of a global village or a "global family". Frontiers are becoming invisible, artificial. Globalisation and a loss of identity must not be confused.
If a man remains isolated all his life, he will know only his family, his neighbours, his culture and his language. Clear consciousness is the fundamental condition for one to achieve a better understanding of the world. If one is open to the rest of the world, he can compare himself to the others and better understand foreign cultures. His own differences are keys that will enable him to better define his own identity. How can people, or an individual, make his or her voice heard? This can be done more and more with the help of free information exchanges, particularly the Net. Of course Internet does not prevent "forgotten wars". But it remains a tremendous source of information, a tool for raising consciousness and awareness, mobilizing economies throughout the world.
VA: You took a stand on the Perruche ruling (in an article issued in Le Figaro). Why did you wish to give your opinion on this subject?
AV:For me, this ruling represents a symbolic moral point of departure. It gives life an absolute value. Why would a little boy be less protected than an animal just because he has not been born yet? This idea has shocked me deeply. Without being a fundamentalist I am convinced that life must be respected. To me, life begins with fertilization, and its importance does not depend on its length or on any physical features. I know families where disabled children or adults are living, and I can ensure you there was at least as much, if not even more, love and compassion within those families. Is that when one becomes handicapped that makes us to appreciate life, to realise its value? The right to life is essential. Should our obsession with perfection have prevented Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest physicists of his generation from being born? Who has the right to judge? Diversity makes us tolerant and raises compassion. Why should we all look alike? In the medley of life, there will never be too many colours…