Last month Finland formed a new government after three weeks of intense talks. We have a tradition of coalition governments, which means that we have to agree on fairly detailed government programmes.
I wrote my PhD on EU negotiations in the late 1990s. I remember reading lots of literature on the subject, everything from game theory to practical guides on how to achieve results. Some of the theoretical stuff is pretty far off. In practice negotiations are about human relations, not mathematical formulas. There is something that appeals to me about the process.
Most of the time it is about finding a solution between differing views and interests. Sometimes it is difficult to agree on small things. At other times, big differences are ironed out in no time.
We are actually involved in negotiations most of the time, often without realising it. As a father of two youngsters I am engaged in peace mediation or conflict management on a weekly basis.
At work I try accommodate different views every day. Small things, like office space, can cause big rows. Ideological differences lead to different kinds of practical solutions, which have to be taken into account.
German sociologist and economist Max Weber once said: “politics is the art of compromise.” How true. In the middle of that compromise is an issue, which has to be solved by people with different views and interests.
The human touch – or emotional intelligence – as psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman would put it, is the key to any solution. In that sense negotiations are more about psychology than political science.
Nevertheless negotiations often take place on many different levels. In international relations you always have to take into consideration that the final result must be approved at home.
Professor Robert Putnam calls this twolevel game theory. If I approve something in Brussels, it had better be cleared by our parliament first. The same goes for government negotiations. The final result has to be approved by your party and voters.
The end game of a negotiation is never easy. You end up defining a few key issues that are important for all participants. The moment when a deal is struck, you often feel a sense of relief.
This is followed by a period when you try to fully understand what was actually agreed upon. The end result is rarely as good as you thought, but usually much better than what you feared at some stage during process.
Once the deal is done, you should stick to it and defend it. This is when implementation becomes key. No one cares about a contract that is not implemented.
Oh, and by the way. The government negotiations went well. We ended up forming a three-party government. All the participants seemed happy. And now it is time get to work – which inevitably will involve some negotiation.