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Is the Finnish government in disarray?

October 28, 2015
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(Long time, no hear, but I am here – just really busy!)

… At least the media makes it sound that way. I’m still not sure what to think. Disclaimer: This is my analysis and my opinion only, any errors that are here are solely mine alone.

If you want to explore what has been reported, you’ll be doing a lot of clicking this post.

Awhile ago I was thinking this, “Well, it is certainly a nice wake-up call from previous four years. I might not like what the current government is doing or that it is essentially an old boys club that does not have my interests as a woman or a parent at heart, but at least there is something going on.

After years of lolly gagging and inaction by Finland’s previous coalition government, we now have one that is making headlines on an almost daily basis – and not always for the right reasons.

It feels like we’re descending into politics that are bordering on lunacy. The threats and the flip-flopping… It is only a three-party coalition (Centre, National Coalition and Finns), but they cannot even seem to decide on what or how to do things. What on earth is going to be accomplished if the current government doesn’t take things under advisement from other people and authorities who (do) know better?

There appears to a break in the ranks of the upper echelons of the (True) Finns Party (aka “Persut”), with several members disagreeing with the way the party has proceeded in the current government. The deputy leader, Sebastian Tynkkynen was just suspended from the party a few days ago. Background here.

If the poll numbers are correct, it would appear that Persut supporters are very unhappy with how their elected MPs have functioned thus far. Mr. Soini has made some unpopular decisions, doing a complete 180 on some of the campaign promises he made prior to the election. If I supported his party, I’d be pissed too…

<pause>

We are being asked to make sacrifices, yet the government will not do the same.

Here are a few headlines from the last few weeks, and I am doing my best to make sense of all of this!

One of the first proposals in early September was to move a couple of public holidays to Saturdays and cut sick leave pay for the first day.

On September 10 it was reported that with the proposed changes to sick leave pay, MPs in the Finnish parliament would be exempt from that measure; except they failed to report that when they were outlining the proposals for changes. This pisses me off. If we are all going to be subject to austerity measures in this country then MPs in the parliament should be sucking up the same cuts. NO PAID SICK LEAVE FOR MPs!

If this goes through, what will happen is that the people who can least afford to be away from work will indeed go to work when they are sick.

A lot of the populace was so pissed off about the proposed cuts that that there was a huge nation-wide protest on September 18. That day actually turned out okay for me even though no public transit was operating. The Little Miss’ school was open and staff were present, I rode my bike to work and the Mr. said that the highway to work was virtually empty, so I think a lot of people found another way to work or stayed at home and worked remotely if they were not part of the protests.

Another consideration that came to light was reducing the number of days a person is eligible for unemployment benefits. A number of different proposals have been tabled, but it seems that cutting unemployment benefits by 100 days, which means unemployed people would still be eligible for 400 days of benefits, has the most support. The legislation supporting this move may not be drawn up until next spring.

With all of the news regarding cuts and proposals, experts from the outside started chiming in.  American economist and Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, who happened to be in Finland during the austerity protests said: “Stop obsessing about government debt and focus more on how to stimulate economic growth.”

That call fell on deaf ears and a few days later the government then said that the unions were not making enough concessions and threatened to move ahead anyways.

And then a few days later the media reported that the government had reneged on some of the proposals that were made. I was beginning to feel rather bewildered at this point.

Union bosses started chiming in that the government had little idea where it was headed and that proposed changes in fact go against the current legislation related to worker’s contracts. The head of the Metalworker’s union, Riku Aalto called the cuts “amateurish” and said that the proposals were all very confusing.

The saga continues. The media then reported internal strife among the governing parties on how to proceed.

The hullabaloo over proposed cuts appears to have died down in the face of the on-going refugee crisis that has been playing out all over Europe in recent weeks. Let’s see if the government gets down to some real and beneficial business in the coming weeks.

In other issues…

The Finnish government has stepped on the toes of the indigenous Sami people whose homeland is in the far north of Finland (and Sweden, Norway and Russia). Why just a month or so ago, the Supreme Administrative Court interfered in Finnish Sami affairs and granted voting status as a Sami to 93 people who had been previously refused by the Sami Parliament.

Even the United Nations stepped in and asked the Sami Parliament elections to be suspended. The former head of the Sami Parliament in Finland, Klementti Näkkäläjärvi resigned from the Sami voting register as a protest. I am unsure of how many followed his lead. One thing is for sure – the Twittersphere erupted with the angry voices of the Sami. Talk about colonialism! (I agree with Sami academic Rauna Kaukkonen on that call.)

In early October, Hanna Mäntylä, the Social Affairs and Health Minister said that foreigners on benefits in Finland be subject to some kind of supervision and reward system. There are certainly more ethnic Finns on benefits in this country, surely, so why won’t they be subject to the same system!? I kid you not, here’s the headline: “Daily: Finns Party minister wants rewards, sanctions for foreign residents receiving social benefits”

And the PM has the gall to say that Finland is not a racist country?

<pause>

Let’s talk about money and some of things that are facing cuts and IMHO the foolish decisions that have arisen in recent weeks.

By the end of the current parliamentary term some EUR 3 BILLION will apparently be cut from education and I found it really ironic that the minister responsible, Sanni Grahn-Laassonen (who is completely out of touch with the reality on the ground) said, “It’s an inspiring task to be able to make reforms in education.” Cutting EUR 3 billion from education is inspiring?? Science education is one thing that will take a big hit, and this worries me.

The Helsinki Times had a bit more of a detailed breakdown of the changes.

Taxes that have provided craploads of revenue are being scrapped (the sugar tax is to be phased out in 2017). This does not bode well to focusing on the health of the population. You can cry nanny state or whatever, but the sugar tax (although not very well-thought out when it was reintroduced awhile back) is one tax that should remain!  Yet, it seems that another proposal will be tabled.

The government is sinking millions and millions of taxpayer money into the failed mining venture at Talvivaara. While the environmental crimes case against former CEO Pekka Perä and others is still before the courts, the company has been rebranded. This will not help: same polluting shit, different name and everyone will remember Talvivaara until time immemorial.

Don’t even get me started on immigration policy, which at this moment is in disarray with no concrete strategy (or budget, even though the government has asked for EUR 94 million as a start) on how to deal with the many hundreds of people that are making their way to Finland. Yet, on the other hand, we’re in unfamiliar territory, since the migration crisis Europe is currently has not been seen on this scale since WWII. We’ll all have to learn from this, and yes, make mistakes and sacrifices.

We have thousands of asylum seekers arriving in Finland and there are calls to get them integrated and fast. The construction industry is hopeful they’ll have a new pool of workers to choose from. (How about the thousands of unemployed Finns and foreigners who already live here who would also be easy to train and retrain?)

One MP from the SDP made a practical suggestion: Get people integrated into Finland instead of focusing on benefits cuts. Get them integrated and working so they don’t need the benefits in the first place.

Since everyone is so worried about money – let’s get our new arrivals on track NOW in order to make them productive members of society. The sooner they can start working at something, the sooner they can add to the tax base! Let’s get the people who already live here back on the payroll. I think that also means an adjustment in attitude (that I alluded to in a previous post) – all work is valuable, so we might have to suck it up and do things we don’t especially like doing to get a foot back in the door.

It was reported (on October 26) that the unemployment rate will increase as more and more people are laid off from their jobs. Ironic, since the Finance Minister (Alexander Stubb), said that making cuts would stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs. I just don’t believe that will happen. I just read a Letter to the Editor in the free paper Länsiväylä the other day from a 50-something woman who has been unemployed for quite some time already. Since being laid off she has applied for hundreds of jobs and had four interviews in that time with no success.  She lamented how she wants to work, but no one will hire her. This is a scary trend – plenty of 40-and-50 somethings being laid off and unable to find work… I am afraid there will not be an ending to this any time soon. I am afraid for my age-cohorts.

In a televised address to the nation in September, Prime Minister Sipilä told the nation that we needed to make some sacrifices… I appreciate that he made an effort to address all of us, but he better start listening to the experts on the ground  and stop ignoring the proposals coming from the people who know more than his government ministers do.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sonia permalink
    November 1, 2015 11:04 pm

    I have been expecting that earlier or later this government will fall apart. It’s only a matter of time.

    How on earth they can find a common line? Except of squeezing more and more money out of us to drive our purchasing power down.

    Not really surprised that the measures don’t affect “them”. This is how politics works. The only difference is that until lately, Finns were the only ones still believing that it only works this way “elsewhere”. Which was in fact pretty refreshing. Now surface crumbling.

  2. anonymous permalink
    November 2, 2015 3:37 pm

    Do you know Voima? This is worth a read.

    • November 3, 2015 8:20 am

      I’ve seen it around, I’ll have to grab a copy when i go to the library the next time.

  3. April 23, 2016 4:05 pm

    Eh, it’s easy to complain when you don’t have to do anything yourself. And why the measures would have to affect the government officials too? Seems stupid and naive to me. They are the one making decisions, therefore it is only wise that they are in the best of shape as possible. Of course it’s noble to lead by example but that does not make you effective leader.

    I feel like that people in democratic countries are selfish and ignorant and only care about themselves. “We want less taxes and more services. We don’t care who pays for them as long as it’s not ourselves.” And “lets vote even though we don’t know anything about the thing we are voting about”… I just don’t like democracy in general. Seems to be goverment form of ignorancy serving the ignorant people.

    • April 25, 2016 9:19 am

      As a citizen who took the time to actually vote, I think I have the right to complain. If I am subject to austerity measures that will affect my household, then I will have to do my best to adjust – period.

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