Prime Minister’s announcement on the Government’s policies and the most important proposals to be submitted to Parliament in 2022
Speech delivered by Prime Minister Sanna Marin at the opening debate of the parliamentary session on 8 February 2022. Speech to be checked against delivery.
We are now beginning the parliamentary work for 2022 after Finland’s first ever county election. The health and social services reform, which has been deliberated on by several governments, was brought to completion during this government term, and the first county election has now been successfully held.
The newly elected county councillors will soon begin their work in the wellbeing services counties. The task of the first county councils will be to create practices and structures for transferring healthcare, social welfare and rescue services to the wellbeing services counties in 2023. This is about providing and organising basic services that are essential for people’s everyday lives.
The health and social services reform adopted last summer is one of the most significant reforms of the current decade. The Government is working actively to support the establishment of the wellbeing services counties and, through this, the implementation of the health and social services reform. I wish the new county councillors the best of success and wisdom in this important work.
Over the past three years, in addition to supporting the health and social services reform, the Government has made a determined effort to advance the projects and reforms agreed on in the Government Programme. We have carried out several future-oriented reforms that seek to promote wellbeing, equality, employment and sustainable economic growth.
The Government has made significant investments in knowledge and education at all levels, from early childhood education and care to higher education. We have extended compulsory education so that every young person who graduates from comprehensive school will have access to at least upper secondary education. The reform aims to respond to the growing need for skilled labour and to improve employment opportunities for young people. Extending compulsory education also plays a key role in ensuring equality, as it makes secondary education genuinely free of charge for all young people. The Government has increased the number of student places available in higher education institutions throughout Finland, and higher education institutions have been given new educational responsibilities.
We have reintroduced the subjective right to early childhood education and care for every child, lowered early childhood education fees and reduced group sizes. These reforms will make it possible for more families to access high-quality early childhood education and care, while also boosting employment.
The long-awaited family leave reform has also been completed and will come into effect in August 2022. The reform will increase equality in working life and parenthood and will take better account of the needs of different types of families. With the reform, the number of parental leave days will increase and there will be more flexibility for parents to take leave.
Every older person deserves dignified care. The Government has set a binding minimum staffing level for nurses working in 24-hour care in order to improve the quality of services for older people. This is a long-awaited, necessary reform. Last week, the Government presented the second part of the Act on Care Services for Older Persons, which lays down supplementary provisions on individual care for older persons, especially with regard to services delivered at home. These reforms will ensure that older people receive high-quality care and will improve the working conditions of caregivers.
The Government wants to make sure that everyone can age safely and with dignity. Last autumn, the Government approved an act establishing the position of Ombudsperson on Older People’s Rights, and the first Ombudsperson began their work in January. The Ombudsperson on Older People’s Rights monitors the realisation of the rights of older people, highlights shortcomings and assesses the impact of legislation and decisions on older people.
The Nordic welfare state is a success story. It has created security for people at different stages of their lives and in different situations in society. Through the reforms carried out by the Government, we have strengthened the Finnish welfare state and thus worked to improve the wellbeing of ordinary people.
The Finnish economy has recovered rapidly from the downturn in 2020. We have seen brisk economic growth, employment is at a record level, and investment has grown rapidly. At the end of last year, the number of employed people grew by more than 70,000 compared to the beginning of the parliamentary term, despite the historic economic crisis we experienced in between.
The surprisingly good developments in the economy and employment are partly due to the strong upswing in the global economy. Successful economic policy has also played a key role. By providing adequate support to people and businesses and by introducing targeted recovery measures, we have managed to soften the blows to our economy and boost our ability to recover from them.
At the same time, we must recognise the great deal of risks and uncertainty still associated with the development of the pandemic. With this in mind, we also need to make sure our economic policies can react as the situation requires, and we must not abandon growth-oriented policies prematurely. The Government has already submitted its first supplementary budget proposal of the year, which focuses on addressing the need for support caused by the restrictions imposed due to the Omicron variant.
While the economy is growing rapidly at the moment, the outlook for the future has not changed. Climate change and biodiversity loss call for rapid action, the Finnish population is ageing and economic growth is expected to slow down in the next few years. This means that now is the time to strengthen the conditions for sustainable economic growth and a just green transition. Strong, long-term and sustainable growth also plays an important role in strengthening public finances.
In an economy like Finland’s, economic growth is mainly based on skills, innovation and investments. The Parliamentary RDI Working Group completed its work in December. In connection with this work, the parties in parliament made a joint commitment to the target of increasing Finland’s research and development expenditure to four per cent of GDP by 2030. The stable, long-term implementation of the working group’s proposal will be at the heart of Finland’s economic policy in the years to come. It also requires us to prioritise these investments.
The Government has accelerated the transition towards a more climate-sustainable society by lowering the electricity tax paid by industry to the minimum rate allowed by the EU. To support growth and investments, the Government is extending the temporary double depreciation rules for machinery and equipment. In addition, the Government has launched a two-year pilot in which the domestic help credit will be increased for household work and for care and nursing work.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has not yet left the political agenda. That said, the situation now looks brighter than we thought it would just a short while ago. The Omicron variant has been spreading extensively, but it has not caused serious illness to the same extent as earlier virus variants. Due to the large number of cases, however, the burden on the healthcare system is still significant.
Vaccines continue to be our most important tool in the fight against the virus. Our message to our citizens is this: Get your first, second and third doses of the vaccine. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
At the moment, it appears that the epidemiological situation has stabilised and is improving. This has allowed us to lift and ease certain restrictions and create an outlook for a more open, less restricted life. That said, we must remember that the virus is unpredictable and the situation can change rapidly. We must always be prepared to react to changes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we were not sufficiently prepared for these kinds of crises. We must reform our legislation and create adequate tools to address these needs before they arise. As part of this preparedness, we have launched a reform of the Emergency Powers Act that will have wide-ranging effects on nearly all administrative branches.
The Government is continuing its work to make society more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. We will take determined action to implement the Government Programme by submitting 166 proposals to Parliament during the spring session and 122 proposals in the autumn. We will also submit eight reports this spring and six in the autumn.
A key proposal to be submitted to Parliament in the spring concerns the seven-day cap on waiting times for access to care. Setting a cap on the waiting time for access to care will improve the availability of primary healthcare and social welfare services and speed up access to care, especially in non-urgent situations. The COVID-19 crisis has led to a great deal of backlog in care and treatment, and dismantling it will be of paramount importance in the next few years. Approximately EUR 400 million in funding will be allocated to address it through the Sustainable Growth Programme.
We will also submit a proposal to Parliament for a statutory transparency register (lobbyist register), which will make decision-making more transparent and democratic and improve public trust in various actors in society.
In addition, we will submit a proposal to Parliament on the reform of the Transgender Act. The legislation will be reformed in a way that strengthens human rights and the right to self-determination.
This year, the Government will also submit a proposal on the safety and protection of whistleblowers. We want to make sure that whistleblowers are given the protection they need and can report wrongdoing safely.
In the next few weeks, the Government intends to propose a comprehensive reform of the legislation governing sexual offences based on personal integrity and the right to sexual self-determination.
The Government will also submit a proposal to Parliament on pay transparency. The reform will promote equality, increase pay awareness and make it easier to intervene in cases of pay discrimination at workplaces.
In the spring, the Government will also submit a proposal that would implement the previously agreed amendments to increase the employment rate of people over 55 years of age.
As outlined in the Government programme, our goal is to ensure that Finland is carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative soon thereafter. We are committed to making decisions that will reduce Finland’s emissions while strengthening our carbon sinks.
The National Climate and Energy Strategy, the Medium-term Climate Change Policy Plan and the Climate Programme for the Land Use Sector to be submitted to Parliament in the spring are the Government’s most important policy guidelines for achieving the 2035 target. Finland is on the right track, and these guidelines will help us achieve our climate targets.
As part of the climate package, we will also be submitting a proposal to Parliament for a revised Climate Change Act. The reform will enshrine Finland’s target of carbon neutrality by 2035 in the Climate Change Act and will strengthen the role of the act as a guiding instrument.
In addition to climate measures, the Government will reform the Nature Conservation Act, the Water Act and the Animal Welfare Act. Along with climate sustainability, we will safeguard biodiversity and continue our efforts to halt biodiversity loss. The reform of the Land Use and Building Act and the drafting of the Act on Redemption of Immovable Property and Special Rights, which are of prime importance for the built environment, will also continue this year. In addition, the Government will submit a proposal on introducing an electrification subsidy for energy-intensive industry.
Around one year ago, the Government submitted to Parliament its Report on EU Policy, which outlines the Government’s views on key issues related to the European Union.
The Government will continue to pursue an active EU policy based on shared values. The goal is a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable European Union. The EU must be a strong global actor and a security community. At the same time, we must work actively to develop the Union and its activities.
Key EU policy areas to be addressed during the upcoming parliamentary session include the negotiations on the Fit for 55 climate package, the reform of the regulatory framework for fiscal policy and the Strategic Compass on security and defence cooperation in the Union. Issues related to strategic autonomy, preparedness for health crises and common migration policy will also be on the agenda.
Finland will work actively and in a timely manner to influence these and other EU policy issues, relying on positions formulated together with Parliament.
This session is beginning in a situation where Russia has called into question European security policy. Tensions in the vicinity of Ukraine have not decreased, and the situation is serious. Russia has not hidden its willingness to continue to exert pressure on Ukraine. The situation requires unity and determination from the European Union and the international community. If Russia takes new military action against Ukraine, the EU and the international community must be prepared to resort to extensive sanctions.
Russia bears the main responsibility for easing and resolving the situation. Solutions should be sought actively through dialogue and diplomacy.
It is still too early to say how the security situation in Europe will develop in the coming weeks and months. We must recognise that there is a gradual change taking place in the international operating environment, one that affects all of Europe.
The basic stance of Finland’s foreign and security policy is stable and clear to all. During this term, Parliament has discussed the Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy and the Report on Defence Policy, which define our principles and policies, including in this situation.
In times of tension, it is our duty to uphold the parliamentary foundation of our foreign policy. As the supreme decision-making body in Finland, Parliament plays an essential role in this. Foreign and security policy should be discussed openly both in Finnish society and in this hall. Later this month, the Government will issue a Prime Minister’s announcement on the foreign and security policy situation.
Throughout the history of Finland, many issues – including difficult and divisive ones – have been discussed in this plenary hall. Growing tensions in foreign and security policy, the global pandemic and climate change are issues of enormous importance that concern us all, and they also evoke many strong emotions.
As politicians, we bear a great responsibility for how we use our words. Part of democracy is having different opinions and expressing them, including through lively debate. That said, I hope that during the current session we can respect each other, discuss issues constructively and listen to each other better.