Everything stays the same, as Finland’s government resigns

Juha Sipilä and his ministers will continue with a caretaker government for the next five weeks until elections which were anyway scheduled for 14th April.

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Then-Prime Minister Juha Sipilä speaking to reporters in Helsinki after announcing the resignation of his government on Friday 8th March 2019 / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen, Valtioneuvoston kanslia

Despite the resignation of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) and his three-party coalition government today, very little changes in Finnish politics.

Sipilä continues as Caretaker Prime Minister for the next five weeks until the general election, which was anyway scheduled for 14th April. Ministers stay in the same roles as well, and the business of parliament continues as normal.

It’s a very ‘organised’ governmental collapse, managed in a tidy, Finnish way.

President Niinistö (L) shakes hands with Prime Minister Sipilä (R) as the latter hands in his letter of government resignation, Friday 8th March 2019 / Credit: TPK

How events unfolded

On Thursday evening, returning from a trip to the Baltic states and Poland, Sipilä talked with President Niinistö about his plans.

By Friday morning he talked with his coalition partners in the National Coalition Party and Blue Reform to let them know what was coming.

Then, at 10am Sipilä met with President Sauli Niinistö to tender the resignation of the government, and the President duly asked him and his government to stay on in a caretaker capacity.

After that, Sipilä gave a press conference where he told journalists that the inability to get his flagship social, health care and regional reform legislation through parliament was “a major disappointment” and something he took very personally.

“The impression I have got over the last few days in parliament has put me under an obligation to conclude whether the government was able to continue. There are no requirements for that any more, it is a major disappointment to me” he told reporters.

Journalists wait to hear Prime Minister Sipilä speak on Friday 8th March 2019 / Credit: Lauri Heikkinen, Valtioneuvoston kanslia

Reasons for resignation

The legislation to reform Finland’s social, health care and regions – known as sote in Finnish – has been bogged down in parliamentary committees for several years.

While most politicians can agree on some need for modernisation and reform, there are major differences of opinion on how it should happen.

The government coalition wants to reduce the number of Finnish regions to 19, so that health care services are managed on a larger, central scale, rather than at a smaller municipality level. Experts say there shouldn’t be any more than 12 regions but the government stuck with 19. It’s no coincidence that many of those new regions are would consolidate parts of the country where the Centre Party is strongest.

The government also want to introduce more options for patients which in practice means opening the market up to private operators. Fans of this proposal say similar moves have worked well in Sweden, introducing cost savings and welcome competition. Critics say that inevitably costs will rise for Finns and lead to more inequality.

The opposition has not only come from parliament, but from Finland’s largest cities lead by Helsinki mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP) who argues that the reforms to health care funding would place an unfair financial burden on bigger cities, compared with the current system.

Reaction to today’s events

The online reaction to today’s event has been very predictably drawn along party political lines.

Coalition partner Sampo Terho (Blue) writes that despite the events of today “the need for [sote] reform still exists. The current situation is untenable”.

Left Alliance chair Li Andersson wrote on Twitter “when health care is renewed during the next parliament, reform will be done by Finnish welfare, not by the health company’s gains. Our goal is that everyone can get medical advice promptly and free of charge”.

“The problems of the sote model have been known for a long time and have been warned in parliament. The reform is now crashing down [due to the] government’s inability to rectify the problems that have been identified many times” says Green Alliance chairman Pekka Haavisto.