Prime Minister Juha Sipilä
Prime Minister’s announcement concerning the Government’s policies in 2018 and the key proposals to be submitted to Parliament
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The success of Finland’s centenary celebrations last year exceeded expectations. What’s more, the centenary was something that we truly celebrated together!
This year, 2018, is a year of remembrance in which we commemorate the centenary of the Finnish Civil War, which tore at the nation’s very fabric. This, too, we are commemorating together. At the commemoration event held in Parliament, the Parliamentary party leaders duly gave a joint address. We emphasized reconciliation, democracy, social equality and the importance of unity.
At Nivala church on 5 May 1918, only a few weeks after the end of the Civil War, member of the Senate Kyösti Kallio presided over the birth of this reconciliation policy, with the following words:
“We must build a Finland in which there are not Reds or Whites, but only Finns who love their native country – citizens of the Republic of Finland who all feel themselves to be members of society and are pleased to live here.”
A hundred years ago, there was a line of demarcation separating Reds and Whites. Today, we must be sure to prevent new cracks opening up.
The Government began its term from a disadvantageous position, as the Finnish economy had long been in the doldrums. It really was a lost decade.
The Government Programme we assembled is a programme for change. It is a strategic programme with its goals sharply focused, but the means can vary and changes can be made as necessary.
The Government set about bridging the EUR 10 billion sustainability gap. The aim was to achieve this through EUR 4 billion of savings, EUR 4 billion in major reforms and the rest with GDP growth and the Competitiveness Pact.
The decisions on savings have been made. The last piece of the health, social services and regional government reform, namely freedom of choice, will come before Parliament in March. The aim is that Parliament will approve this, the greatest package of reforms in the post-war era, during its spring session. The EUR 1 billion from the municipalities side has been extended to cover the activities and productivity of the entire public sector. The final decisions on the full reform package will be taken in the budget framework session in the spring.
The economy and employment are on a favourable growth track, with GDP growth placing Finland at the head among the euro countries. According to preliminary data, growth in the Finnish economy in the final quarter of last year was almost four per cent. The Competitiveness Pact and other measures have together had a positive impact on the willingness of businesses to invest.
The five biggest economic policy goals of the Government Programme have either been achieved already or are on the way to being met:
- The debt-to-GDP ratio will level off by the end of the electoral term: this has already occurred.
- The reliance on debt will end in 2021: we are on the right track towards achieving this.
- The total tax burden will not rise: it has already started to fall.
- The employment rate will rise to 72 per cent: if the trend continues at the present rate, the goal will be achieved earlier than planned; the most pleasing aspect of this is that the rise in employment is visible and being felt across the country.
- The four-year goal was an additional 110,000 people in employment: over the two years from December 2015 to December 2017, the number of people employed has risen by 74,000; we are, therefore, on track to achieve this goal, too.
The Government has implemented its strategic goals through its key projects.
We have allocated EUR 600 million towards growth funding for businesses as part of an entrepreneurship package.
Legislation is being streamlined to improve convenience in people’s lives, and bureaucracy is being reduced.
A National Incomes Register will be introduced in 2019.
The Government aims to raise further the levels of education and skills among Finns, helping to make Finland a model country for skills, education and training, and the latest in learning. This Government is engaging in a reform of the entire education system from early childhood education and care to higher education institutions.
The Government’s Energy and Climate Strategy established ambitious goals for the use of renewable energy and for moving towards a carbon-neutral society. We are preparing legislation for abandoning coal and we will halve our use of imported fossil-based oil. We will increase the proportion of renewables in energy production to more than 50 per cent, and we will also halve emissions from transport. With the climate continuing to grow warmer and the seas polluted with plastic waste, Finnish bioeconomy expertise will be needed more than ever.
The backlog of repairs in the transport network is no longer growing. Infrastructure investment projects of key importance for the regions and for business have been started around the country. These projects will improve traffic safety and reduce congestion.
We are also looking at how the transport network should be developed and funded in the future. I’m expecting some ambitious results from the parliamentary group.
State ownership policy has gained momentum. Thanks to the active ownership steering policy and growth in the economy, the value of state holdings in listed companies has grown by about EUR 5 billion.
I must also mention an individual rescue operation: Terrafame. Thanks to its mining operations, there are about 1,500 more jobs in Kainuu than there would have been without our determined efforts in a difficult situation.
In the spring session, the Government will submit to Parliament more than 100 proposals and five government reports.
The package of legislation on intelligence has already been submitted. I would like to thank the parliamentary monitoring group for the cooperative spirit it has shown and I hope that this will continue when the proposal is debated.
Turning to the reform of regional government, health and social services, the Government submitted its proposal last spring. The act on freedom of choice will be submitted at the start of March. During the spring, the Government will also be submitting other reform proposals. Among these are proposals concerning the highways act and legislation on regional development and growth services.
The counties will begin their operations in earnest on 1 January 2020, but before this they will have to set out their key policies. This is why the Government has decided that the county elections will be held in October this year, and the decision-makers can then start their work at the beginning of 2019.
The aim of the act on early childhood education and care is to focus on quality, raise the educational and training levels of staff and clarify the titles of the various positions.
The new upper secondary schools act focuses on a strong general education. While retaining the present distribution of subjects, more flexible cross-curricular cooperation will be possible. Cooperation with higher education institutions will be enhanced. Attention will be given to the wellbeing of upper secondary school students by bringing special-needs education and more personalised guidance to upper secondary schools.
The working hours act will be brought up to date to meet the needs of working life today. This proposal will be submitted in the early summer. It will increase the opportunities for flexible working time arrangements and promote company-level agreements.
To secure the funding for Finland’s welfare society we have set the interim goal of a 72 per cent employment rate. The goal for the next government term should be an employment rate of 75 per cent.
Reconciling work and social security will be a major area of reform for the next parliamentary term. The Government has set up a working group to consider a complete reform of basic security. The opposition is also involved in this.
The Government will take a closer look at the structure of unemployment. We will examine the situation of the long-term unemployed. Specifically, why many have a reduced capacity for work and what means can be deployed to get people back in the job market.
Globalisation and major advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence, will change our understanding of work and the labour market. Many people require additions and updates to their knowledge and skills. A particularly great challenge is represented by the more than 620,000 individuals with only a basic education, among whom the employment rate is only around 40 per cent. A high-quality comprehensive education provides a solid foundation to get through this challenge.
The Government has provided significant funding for conversion training programmes. In collaboration with higher education institutions, new models are being created for boosting open learning and lifelong learning in universities and universities of applied sciences. Proposals for these will be submitted in the autumn.
We also allow unemployed jobseekers to engage in self-motivated studies for six months without means testing.
The Government will this year arrange a discussion tour on the future of the European Union. It is important to get people involved more closely in the EU debate.
The big issues for the EU in the coming years all deal with the subject of security in one way or another. A thriving European economy not only means jobs and security for Finns but is also a foundation for security in general. The development of the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union will be crucial to this.
Reforms are needed, and Finland is actively involved in seeking these. The most urgent of these are to finalise the banking union, strengthen market discipline, enable true sovereign debt restructuring and see national structural changes completed.
In addition, it must be possible to resolve, in concrete terms, how the responsibility of Member States for economic policy can be balanced with the reduction and sharing of risks.
The EU’s foreign and security policy is being developed and Finland is contributing to this process. The Government will continue its active and determined efforts to deepen EU defence cooperation. The EU countries are important partners for us also in combating radicalisation and cyber threats.
EU-NATO cooperation is moving forward. The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, which has been set up in Finland on our initiative, is a good example of cooperation that is beneficial to all.
Our security is also affected by the challenges of climate policy and immigration. In these, too, we are operating together more than we are alone. The European Union must strengthen its leadership role in climate policy.
The financial framework negotiations will be difficult on account of the gap in the budget that will be left by the United Kingdom. We do not believe that this shortfall should be met. But neither are we part of the so-called one per cent group, the net contributors holding the toughest line. We do have some scope for flexibility and we will have a say over the package as a whole.
EU funding should continue to support economic growth, employment and skills. It must better reflect current needs, such as migration and defence cooperation. In relative terms, the funding for research, development and innovation must be increased.
Finland wants to ensure that Europe’s agricultural sector is robust and viable everywhere and to see that regional and structural policies continue in Finland as well.
In just over a year from now Finland will assume the EU Presidency. We shall use our Presidency effectively and turn the spotlight on themes that are of importance to Finland. As agreed, I am inviting the parliamentary parties to join in the preparations for the Presidency. I shall hold the first round table discussion on the preparations on 14 March. The opposition is participating in the preparations, but the final decisions on Finland's programme will be taken by the next government.
The emphasis in foreign and security policy cooperation is on the importance of stability in our neighbouring areas. The ways in which we pursue this include purposefully continuing our cooperation with Sweden. The further development of Nordic cooperation will continue to be important.
Stability in our neighbouring areas is affected by the situation in Ukraine, where no relief is in sight. Finland stands firmly by the EU’s common policy on Russia. At the same time we feel it is important to manage bilateral relations with Russia.
We will also continue our cooperation with NATO in accordance with the policy decisions of the Government Report on Security and Defence Policy.
In these circumstances the importance of the Arctic Council as a cooperation forum is very much evident. During Finland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we have emphasised the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. We have also brought our Arctic expertise to wider attention.
The subject of terrorism remains on the international policy agenda, even though the extremist organisation ISIL has almost been defeated. It is nevertheless still a threat to the internal security of countries.
A key strength of Finnish society is its cohesion. As many of us as possible should genuinely feel that we are part of this society.
A working group led by Professor Juho Saari has sought to identify new means for rooting out inequality. In December’s parliamentary debate I promised the parliamentary parties that I would invite them to discuss with the working group the outcome of its work in March. The invitation is on its way.
The task of this chamber is to establish and build the framework within which the unity of society can be preserved. Let this unity be preserved with crystal clarity in the minds of all of us, not least in this remembrance year.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day!