Roundup: Finland's new coalition gov't announces spending boost

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-03 22:50:42|Editor: yan
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HELSINKI, June 3 (Xinhua) -- The upcoming Finnish left-center coalition government led by the Social Democratic Party rolled out its policy program on Monday that underlines the idea of the "economy serving the people" in the Nordic welfare state.

The 190-page document created in three weeks of talks pledges to make Finland carbon neutral by 2035; underlines the need to reduce inequality; and promises more spending on education, pensions and social services.

The new government plans to increase permanent public expenditure by 1.2 billion euros (1.35 billion U.S. dollars).

Under the coalition agreement, the Social Democrats will have 7 portfolios, the Centre Party 5, the Greens 3, the Left Alliance 2 and the Swedish People's Party 2.

The names of the 19 ministers would be confirmed by the parties later this week. Besides the Social Democratic prime minister, the finance minister will come from the Centre Party, the foreign minister from the Greens, the education minister from the Left Alliance and the minister for justice from the Swedish People's Party.

Five party leaders met the media and citizens at Helsinki's Oodi Central Library on Monday.

Antti Rinne, leader of the Social Democratic Party who is expected to be the new prime minister, told the gathering that the plans are based on increasing the employment rate to 75 percent in the 15-64 age group by 2023.

He said that in the 2030s the employment level should reach 80 percent in Finland.

The government will invite the employers and the unions to submit plans for increasing the employment levels from the current 72 percent.

Rinne said that some of the additional spending depends on the success of the drive to increase employment levels. One additional billion euros could be spent if the world economy causes a recession in Finland or a temporary recession hits locally.

Green Party Chairman Pekka Haavisto said the program is probably the most ambitious in the world on climate issues. Finland aims at becoming carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative soon after that.

Center Party Chairman and outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipila noted that initially it was difficult for his party, which was the biggest loser in this May's European Parliament elections, to join the coalition talks, but that the party had attained its goals in the government program.

Sipila said he will continue as a backbencher in parliament and will not accept any leading roles in politics. The Centre Party will elect a new chairman in September.

The new government will cancel several measures introduced by the outgoing center-right cabinet, including the activation requirement for the unemployed, which has met with major resistance. Left Alliance Chairman Li Anderson said "a new page has been turned" after 10 years of public spending cutbacks.

In education, the government will raise the mandatory school age to 18 years. This means that secondary education will be totally free of charge.

Even though there have been no tuition fees so far, pupils have had to pay for their books at the secondary level. That cost will now disappear. Universities will have some of their deleted funding restored.

In a policy change, the use of the second national language, Swedish, will again be compulsory for Finnish speakers in the matriculation exams that end secondary school. Swedish had been made optional in 2005. Six percent of Finns are Swedish speakers.

A national health care reform will be carried out on the basis of 18 regions taking the responsibility that municipalities have so far had. Contrary to the plans of the previous government, private health care producers would only have auxiliary roles.

The government will invest in major infrastructure projects, especially railroads. The plans will be partially financed through the sale of government property.

In a gesture full of symbolism, representatives of the coalition parties and their parliamentary groups later gathered in a resort hotel in nearby Espoo.

The Hotel Korpilampi was the very place where tripartite (government, unions and employers) cooperation was reconfirmed in 1977, under the then Social Democratic Prime Minister Kalevi Sorsa.

NORDIC COOPERATION IN DEFENSE

The government program defines Finland's approach to defense and security as "an active policy of stability to prevent military threats."

It specifically states that the country would not allow the use of its territory for hostile purposes against other countries.

The program says that bilateral and regional defense cooperation with Sweden will be widened.

Pekka Haavisto, the likely future foreign minister, elaborated that the extent of this widening will, of course, depend also on Sweden. The program envisages the strengthening of defense cooperation with Norway and broader transatlantic cooperation.

Rinne said that the program means "no change in the relationship between Finland and NATO."

However, the wording about NATO was altered from the program of the previous government.

The new program notes that "national leeway and maintenance of options of choice" form the basis of Finland's security policy. The possibility of applying for NATO membership is maintained.

"Finland continues comprehensive cooperation with NATO based on companionship." A functioning cooperation between the EU and NATO is in line with Finland's interests, the program concludes.

The European Union is defined as "the main framework for Finland's external relations" and as "a security community". It is in the interest of Finland to strengthen the unity and external abilities of the EU, the program says.

Finland aims to maintain good and constructive relations with "China, Russia and the United States," and to act in such a way that the tensions seen in great power relations would not impair "rules-based multilateral cooperation and respect for international law," the text says.

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