Dialogue with an Adventist member of the European Parliament
Hannu Takkula is a member of the European Parliament, the most powerful legislative institution of the European Union. The Union is comprised of 27 member states, and each of them has a representation in the Parliament. Takkula is one of the 13 members who represent Finland.
Takkula grew up in a traditional Christian home with a strong Christian upbringing. His family belonged to Laestadianism, a revivalist movement within the Lutheran Church. When he was 15 years old, the family was excommunicated from his church because he competed in sports and his father, as the headmaster, allowed TV to be watched at school. In addition, he and his siblings were studying classical music, something considered unsuitable by the Laestadians.
After this emotional shock and disappointment, Takkula pulled completely away from the Laestadians. Soon after, he established a rock'n'roll band and fully immersed himself in its activities, slowly drifting away from his family and its traditions. For the next two years he lived in this rock'n'roll dream. His parents were beginning to worry and were scared of the change in his life. His father wanted him to get back on track, and the first thing he wanted to do was to find a good Christian school for Hannu. He did his research and came up with a Seventh-day Adventist school in Toivonlinna. Although he knew very little about Adventists or the school, Hannu agreed to go to Toivonlinna because, as he says, “the school was located in southern Finland, far away from my family in the north. Secondly, I was thrilled that the school was accepting my previous credits and letting me continue my high school studies.” Eventually he became an Adventist, and today he is one of Finland’s leading citizens and a parliamentarian.
Hannu Takkula is married to Anne, a school teacher in Turku. The couple has two sons. The older son studies at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and is a musician, pianist, and singer. The younger son is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business at Avondale College in Australia. The family has two places of residence: one in Turku, Finland, and one in Brussels, Belgium.
Tell us briefly about your present responsibilities.
In the Europian Union Parliament, I serve as a member and coordinator of the Committee on Culture and Education. My responsibilities have to do mostly with educational and cultural issues. I am also a substitute member on the Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy, where I mostly concentrate on research and innovation issues. The European Parliament can be compared with the United States Congress. We, the MEPs, represent our home countries as the members of the House of Representatives represent their district/region. In the European Parliament, our decision-making influences the whole of Europe. Our parliamentary term is five years.
What kind of influence has a religious upbringing had on your life?
Naturally, school and religion have had a great impact on my life and still do. I believe that education enables a better life. I also think that a religious upbringing can give a profound meaning to life and help one to maintain a strength of character and purpose. When I look back, these two factors – education and Christian upbringing – have been the primary influences on my decisions and choices. All in all, I think that the Christian persuasion has led me to where I am now.
How did you become interested in politics?
Perhaps my early childhood and family had much to do with it. My father was actively involved in social and regional politics at the communal council. We often discussed social issues at home. Both my mother and father are teachers, and thus educational issues were discussed at home. So I could say that because of the environment I was raised in, I became interested in politics. During my studies, I took part in student union activities, which contributed to my later involvement in politics. To my surprise, I was elected to the Finnish Parliament from the Lapland electoral district in 1995.
When you think back, what have these years given you?
To be elected to the Finnish Parliament at the age of 31 is a life-changing experience. I felt serving in the Parliament was a religious vocation. During the 10 years in the Finnish Parliament, I was closely involved in drafting national legislation. I was the Finnish representative in the Council of Europe and in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In addition, I often attended the United Nations assemblies within the Finnish delegation. As a result, my worldview expanded. Of course, it was very motivating and satisfying to be part of national lawmaking. Moreover, I had a chance to be part of enacting legislation as a member of Finland’s ruling party.
Educational and cultural issues were under my political responsibility in the Finnish Parliament. My other responsibility was development co-operation, in which I was very active. In 2004 I was elected to the European Parliament. I resigned my seat at the Finnish Parliament, since, according to the Finnish legislation, it is not legal to have two parliamentary seats at the same time. Thus, I joined the European Parliament and have been working here for the last six years. Working here has been very interesting, and I have been able to meet world leaders in high-level positions. Furthermore, I have had a chance to develop Europe-wide legislation, especially in the fields of education and culture. Other policy domains are also important, and in the last few years, one of the top priorities has been human rights issues.
Overall, my time spent at the two Parliaments – national and European – has been rewarding. My current mandate lasts until 2014, when the new election will be held. I haven’t decided yet whether I will stand as a candidate.
Now you are in Brussels. How do you see the challenges for the Seventh-day Adventist Church?
In my opinion, the Adventist Church needs to adopt an open attitude toward political decision-making and try to have an active role, because politics is about taking care of mutual interests. It is also important that the views and opinions of the Church are known in the field of politics. From the European standpoint, the situation is such that the Catholic Church is very active, whereas the other free-church movements, such as the Adventist Church, have been withdrawn. It might be because the concentration has been on building the congregation, and thus the political aspect has not been the top priority. In my opinion, it would be important to be actively involved in society. This does not mean that the time spent on political and social activities should reduce the time spent on spiritual work. However, it would be important to inform legislators about the Adventist Church’s values and ideals.
Concerning current European policy, communication of the Church’s values is as essential as those of the Catholics, particularly as the Parliament members put forward initiatives on the Sunday law in Parliament. Parliament’s processing has not yet had any results because there has not been a majority of the deputies supporting the initiative. In fact, I do not know if they will ever get the majority. Nevertheless, the Catholics promote their faith and their values. I have been waiting to hear, for example, the Adventist and Jewish opinions on the Sabbath. Legislators should know whether different religious communities and their values are equally taken into consideration in law-making.
What do you bring to Brussels that you think matters?
This is a challenging question to answer. I wish to bring hope and a positive view into the political decision-making and law-making process. I think that during the last few years, we have been in the middle of a crisis, and politics has been only about controlling which direction we drift in. Decisive aims have, more or less, been lost. Perhaps this kind of liberalism that permits everything has become too powerful in politics.
I wish that I could bring to attention issues that really impact humanity and people. I want to defend people as human beings, especially humans who are disadvantaged and need special attention and security. One concrete issue that I have been part of implementing is a seminar on human trafficking. Two of the speakers in this seminar were Adventists – you, of course, from Finland and Pastor Wintley Phipps from the U.S.A. Pastor Janos Kovacs-Biro was also involved in the organization of the seminar. This seminar was the start of a series of seminars through which we hope to attract members of the Parliament and the media to discuss current issues. Right now I feel a strong pull toward issues that are connected with human rights and religious freedom. Now is the time to work for the disadvantaged so that they have an opportunity for security and human life. I believe this matters.
How does faith affect the work you do?
Faith serves as a base in all my decision-making. It also gives me an ethical background for issues, decisions, and policies that touch upon human life in general. All in all, faith influences my way of thinking — sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly.
What counsel would you have for a young person who seeks a political career?
It is important that different kinds of people are involved in decision-making. We need people of various ages, including young people, in politics. I also believe that we all need to carry on our civic responsibilities. Being part of politics and law-making is one way to develop society toward a value base in which Christian values are well presented. I want to encourage young people to participate in political decision-making and openly express their beliefs.
Kalervo Aromäki is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Finland. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.