Welfare Status 7.5. – Government negotiations

Welfare Status 7.5. – Government negotiations


My name is Tatu Ahponen
and I’m here to give you the Welfare Status. It might be May
and the May Day might have just gone by,
but we have still been hit by what is generally
called “takatalvi”, backwinter – we thought that the snows
had gone permanently and that we have entered
the springtime, but no, the temperatures
have dropped temporarily and the ground is quite cold and hard. One could make climate change
jokes but really, this is no place and time for that. What this is a place and time for
is discussing the government formation process, which
is really the only important thing going on in Finland at the moment, or at least in
politics after all, without a government,
nothing’s happening, there’s no austerity or
positive developments in the welfare state process,
and the other political news are tempests in a teacup,
such as the True Finns being located from the centre
to the far right in the parliamentary seating arrangements and
raising up a storm about it, and other parties are
angry about some MPs who just got elected now
running again for Members of the European Parliament. However, the man at the centre
of attention is PM-in-waiting Antti Rinne, who will
have to make a decision on who to include in the
government. His Social Democrats would
work the best with the Greens and Left Alliance, as well as
the Swedish People’s Party, which is to the right
of these parties but also so committed to
advancing the interests of the Swedish-speaking
minority that it could fit in with just about any government
that preserved bilingual education and also, let’s say, puts a hospital in Vaasa which is in Swedish-speaking area. However, these parties don’t have a majority in the parliament, meaning that Rinne will have to include
one of the bigger parties clearly on the right –
Centre, National Coalition or True Finns – in the
government. Now, as I said last week,
True Finns getting in the government is quite unlikely. As it is a Finnish tradition
that basically all parties will have to cooperate
with each other, Rinne cannot just outright
say that True Finns are out, but this seems like the likeliest
option after the publication of the questions Rinne sent
to all parties to test their suitability for government
as well as the True Finns’ answers to these questions. Rinne’s top question concerned
whether the parties were willing to commit to a 1,5 degree climate target, and the True Finns announced they weren’t. There were also questions
on foreign aid and human rights where the True Finns’ answers
diverged wildly from the Social Democrats, and many
other parties as well. Thus, what’s important
is the choice between Centre and National Coalition. Both have set many conditions
for participating in the government though further study shows these conditions are mostly not as hard as they might seem. The National Coalition, though,
essentially wants the new government to stick to
a neoliberal line, and has announced that unless it gets this through,
it can stay in the opposition. This would greatly increase difficulties
for the Left Alliance to participate in such a government
and create an opening to the left of Social Democrats –
something Rinne wants to avoid, though of course Left Alliance
itself is not very keen in participating in a government
with National Coalition, and the feeling is mutual,
as numerous National Coalition politicians have announced
Left Alliance is unsuitable for government for its
“irresponsibility”, meaning willingness to
actually state that if you wish to make investments
to the welfare state it also means raising taxes. The Centre continues to insist
that since it crashed in the elections its most logical
place would be in the opposition, though far less insistently
than before. Still, its demands include
subsidies for entrepreneurs and particularly the forest industry,
which wants to build a new lumber product plant in Kemi,
in northern Finland, bringing jobs to the area
but also necessitating greater timber felling
than before. The Greens have a problem
with this, as they believe this might squander Finland’s
climate targets and cause issues regarding
natural resource sustainability. Nevertheless, the Greens
have such a hankering to participate in a government
that this is not expected to be a major hurdle,
should the Centre wish to go to the government
instead of opposition. The Social Democrats
have no problems with the new factory,
but they have been having problems of another kind –
their new MP, Hussein al-Taee, was revealed
to have written several racist and antisemitic screeds
on social media years before being elected. Now, racism on social media
for new MPs is not something that
could say to be a new issue, and several True Finns
MPs have gone with far less scrutiny
for some of their remarks, including one MP that
gave his support to people burning reception centres
and another one stating that he thanks God for
a reception centre burning down though the latter one later gave some unconvincing
explanations for his remarks. For al-Taee, though, the matter
is made worse by the fact that he lied blatantly when
exposed two weeks ago, though he has since
profusely apologized and recanted his remarks and other actions. Still, this issue continues
to be unlikely to cause further issues regarding Social Democrats or their plurality in the parliament, but still, there’s a whole lot of schadenfreude for the True Finns. What still remains to be seen
is what sort of an line Finland will take vis-à-vis
the welfare state. Both National Coalition
and Centre have set conditions that would make it
hard or even impossible to cut from subsidies to enterprises, and the National
Coalition is in general against raising tax rates –
expect for consumption taxes which would fall on the poorest. Likewise, the parties remain
scared of the debt levels increasing. This poses questions on
what would happen if and when there is an
economic crisis – what would be cut? And in what ways will
the new government’s program improve the welfare state? The Social Democrats seem
to be the most concerned with their promise to raise the lowest
pensions – no doubt an important matter, but one that also
leaves doubts on what the party will deliver to
people who aren’t yet pensioners. The education sector continues
to urgently need more money to replace the cuts by the previous
governments, and the social and health care reform
continues to await for a new government to take care
of itself. Indeed, what is one of the
primary differences between a “red-earth”
government including Social Democrats and the Centre, and others,
and a “blue-red”government including Social Democrats and National Coalition,
and others, would be how this reform would be finished,
with National Coalition continuing to advocate for its pro-outsourcing
“freedom of choice” model and Centre insisting on a regional
model of administration. But I guess we’ll see how this resolves
in the coming week. Meanwhile, for today,
good day, night or evening.

Daniel Yohans

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