Consensus and concessions as new government programme unveiled

Incoming administration will have 19 ministers, as jobs are re-jigged and re-branded. Next, party leaders will tour the country to explain their new policy goals.

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The leaders of 5 parties that make up Finland's new coalition government / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen, VNK

The incoming Finnish government launched its policy agenda on Monday, engaging directly with members of the public, the media and non-governmental organisations on its programme for the next four years.

The event took place at Oodi Central Library as Social Democrat chairman Antti Rinne, the country’s next prime minister, set out some of the five-party coalition’s main goals and ministry responsibilities.

Ministries divided up 

The new government will have 19 ministers, an increase from the last government as portfolios are re-jigged, divided or re-branded. The Ministry of Environment for example adds “and Climate Change” to its title.

The Social Democrats get seven ministries including the prime minister’s job and European Affairs, Local Government, Foreign Trade, Social Services, Transport and Employment.

The Centre Party, currently lead by Juha Sipilä, will get five ministries including Finance, Science and Culture, Economic Affairs, Defence, and Agriculture and Forestry. Sipilä confirmed that he won’t become a minister in the new government, nor will he become Speaker of Parliament as he steps down from his role as party chair in the autumn and goes to the back benches.

The Greens are widely expected to give their outgoing chair, former UN envoy and two time presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto the role of Foreign Minister; and in addition they get the ministries of Environment and Climate Change, and Interior. One of those jobs is likely earmarked for the incoming Green party leader Maria Ohisalo.

The Left Alliance gets Education, and Social Affairs and Health; while the Swedish People’s Party get the ministries of Justice, and Nordic Cooperation and Equality – another re-branded role. SFP/RKP chair Anna-Maja Henriksson has previously been Minister of Justice and is a likely shoe-in for the role again.

Copy of the new government’s policy programme / Credit: Jussi Toivanen, VNK

Giving concessions, achieving consensus 

The formation of the new government comes after four weeks of negotiations at the House of the Estates involving party chairs and officials, policy experts and politicians where they hashed out the issues to find common ground.

It’s classic Nordic consensus politics.

“I’d say it’s better than we expected, we had ten goals in the negotiations and we achieved them all in the programme” says Antti Kaikkonen, Chair of the Centre Party Parliamentary Group.

The big concession for the Centre is watching their so-called active model for employment being dismantled by the new government. The policy was introduced to strikes and union opposition in early 2018, and deducts benefits from unemployed people if they don’t apply for jobs, do some work, or take courses within a certain period of time. It had been described as “punishment” for unemployed people and the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Alliance had all campaigned stridently against it.

However Kaikkonen tells News Now Finland he’s happy with the five ministries his party received, describing them as a “good ground to work for the better future of Finland”, although he wouldn’t be drawn on his own possible plans to run for party chair and succeed Juha Sipilä.

File picture of Joonas Leppänen, Left Alliance Party Secretary, 3rd June 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

The Left Alliance went into the negotiations with their own red lines, and says that there are no real losers in the new government after the month-long negotiating period.

“Obviously everything we would have wanted to see won’t happen and obviously it’s compromises” says Left Alliance Party Secretary Joonas Leppänen.

“At the moment there’s quite a consensus that the programme of the government is one that everyone can commit to, and you can understand where everyone has made their compromises, but still it’s a good programme and a step forward” he explains, adding that that the biggest thing for his party is a sea change in the government’s direction.

“From our point of view this government is changing its view to the future and not just cutting back on services” Leppänen adds.

File picture of Silja Borgasdóttir Sandelin, SFP/RKP Vice Chair, 3rd June 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Swedish People’s Party make gains

Apart from the last four years spent in opposition, the Swedish People’s Party have been a fixture in Finnish coalition governments for the past three decades.

This time they’re back with a stronger position and two ministerial portfolios.

“There’s a lot of good things in the government programme now, and we’re happy about that. We have two ministers now with good positions, Nordic Cooperation and Justice” says Silja Borgasdóttir Sandelin, Vice Chair of the party.

SFP/RKP also secured two major policy concessions during the negotiations to keep Vaasa central hospital’s emergency department safe from closure, which now guarantees treatment in Swedish for patients; and to make it compulsory for Finnish-speaking students to pass an exam in Swedish before they can graduate high school (and for Swedish-speaking students to do the same in Finnish). The language requirement is something that was previously in place but was shelved back in 2005.

“We’ve seen a lot of problems with not having [compulsory Swedish exams] any more, for example for a person who wants to study at university and still has to be able to handle Swedish. It’s also an issue for Swedish-speakers who don’t write Finnish. It goes both ways” Borgasdóttir Sandelin tells News Now Finland.

Coalition party leaders travel by tram to Oodi Central Library in Helsinki, 3rd June 2019 / Credit: Jussi Toivanen, VNK

Main policy goals for the new government 

Among the main policy goals for the new government are a commitment to fund social security spending, including a pension rise, by increasing taxes by €730 million each year. The government has committed to not raising personal income tax, but they’ll raise money through higher taxes on fuel, tobacco and alcohol.

There’s a budget boost for arts and culture, with a pledge to spend 1% of Finland’s GDP on this sector.

The new government has also committed to fully funding the Hornet replacement programme with an announcement expected on which company will get the multi-billion euro contract in 2021.

Green party chair Pekka Haavisto described the government’s plans to tackle climate change as “the most ambitious climate plan globally” with a goal for Finland to be carbon neutral by 2035.

There has predictably been both praise and criticism for the new programme, even with the ink barely dry on the policy documents.

Mikael Pentikäinen, CEO of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises says the new government’s programme could generate up to 15,000 jobs for the Finnish economy. In an interview with Uusi Suomi newspaper, Pentikäinen says the incoming Rinne government might do better at job creation than the previous Sipilä government.

However, critics from the National Coalition Party in particular have been quick to go on the attack.

“This is a strongly leftist government, and confirms the journey back to the 1970s and 1980s” writes Tuomas Tikkanen, an NCP staffer.

“A Green Interior Minister is an interesting choice. Last year, the Greens criticised tightening of provisions on immigrations and aliens legislation. The situation has not changed in this respect, which is why reforms need to be continued. How will the Greens react to this?” writes Helsinki City Councillor Otto Meri (NCP).

Party leaders and new ministers intend to take their show on the road to 60 libraries around the country to explain their new government programme, and discuss it with members of the public.

Members of the public join media to hear the new government programme, Oodi Central Library, 3rd June 2019 / Credit: Jussi Toivanen, VNK