27 Mar 2012

Finland accepts apology over NZ minister's comments

5:28 pm on 27 March 2012

The Finnish embassy says a row with New Zealand is over after Prime Minister John Key apologised over comments made by a senior minister.

Gerry Brownlee on Tuesday apologised for any offence he may have caused from comments he made about the Nordic country, saying the remarks made in Parliament were meant to be humorous.


In the general debate last Wednesday, the Cabinet minister began by attacking the Labour Party's admiration for Finland, but his monologue ended with him attacking Finland itself.

Mr Brownlee, who holds several posts including Leader of the House, said Finland had higher unemployment, lower growth and worse crime than New Zealand. He added that Finland can hardly feed its people and has little respect for women.

The comments have been reported heavily in the Finnish media and a page on the social networking site Facebook has been set up calling for him to travel to Finland to learn some facts.

The row has also prompted Finnish comedians to lampoon Mr Brownlee.

On Tuesday, Gerry Brownlee said the remarks were made in good humour.

"I apologise for them taking offence, but it was meant to be humorous. I'm sure New Zealanders have been on the butt of all sorts of jokes at various times and not taken offence at such a thing."

Mr Brownlee says the comments were pointing out that the Labour Party wants New Zealand to be more like Finland, but opposes policies that would do that.

"People have got to see it for what it was. It's a five-minute debate; this was 20 seconds or so in the debate. It wasn't intended to be offensive to Finland. It was pointing out that the sort of strange approach that we have from the Labour party, saying let's be more like them but then opposing the very policies that have got them into those positions that they like."

The Finnish embassy in Australia is accredited to New Zealand and on Monday sought an explanation from New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over the matter.

However, Juha Parikka, the deputy head of mission, told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday afternoon that the matter is now at an end.

"Prime Minister Key has presented his regrets to the Finnish president, whom he met yesterday in Seoul at the nuclear conference. He said that he's sorry for the comments."

Earlier, Mr Parikka said he had not spoken directly with Gerry Brownlee, but would like to invite the minister to Finland so he can see what the Nordic country is really like.