Will the New World Bank Board Member Practice what Finland Preaches?

Finnish Minister of Finance has finally picked the Nordic and Baltic countries’ representative for the World Bank board. Most things I have heard about her personality and capabilities until now are positive. This has also been confirmed by my brief discussions with her after her election.

The key question I suggest to be followed is whether she will open new possibilities for openness and support for democratic governance in the World Bank. This means that in these two issues she should endorse what Finland preaches rather than what Finland has mostly practiced.

There are beautiful official declarations about Finnish support for the empowerment of the poor in international financial institutions. My fear is that these words are seldom made concrete. As it is realized that giving more power to the poor countries of the south can actually mean less power to the rich countries of the north, Finnish representatives tend to shy away from making any proposals to significantly democratize these institutions.

The attitude I have often found when talking with Finnish politicians and bureacucrats tends to be: “Of course in principle we support the empowerment of the poor, but because Finland can play such an important role in these things, we should not support any initiatives that mean less votes for us”. Within these limits, Finland has been supporting some initiatives that would give more power to small countries, both among the groups of richer countries and the groups of poorer countries in the World Bank.

These initiatives could be seen as a step toward a slightly more equal voting system between countries from a perspective in which the key inequality is between small and big countries rather than the rich and the poor. As the main antidemocratic feature of the World Bank is its wealth-based system of rule, I find it difficult to move toward real democratization by focusing mostly on the differences between juridisctions that are bigger and those that are smaller. Such emphasis may of course seem suitable for the national interests of a small and rich country like Finland.

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