Prime Minister's announcement on the Government's policies in 2021 and on the main proposals to be submitted to Parliament
Prime Minister Sanna Marin's speech at the opening session of Parliament on 9 February 2021. Check against delivery.
Honourable Members of Parliament,
We are beginning our parliamentary work for 2021 after an exceptional year. A year ago, we did not yet know all the ways in which a global pandemic would change the operating environment and everyday life as we know it, bringing uncertainty in its place.
The COVID-19 pandemic also changed our policy agenda. Last year, we met nine times for parliamentary info sessions on the COVID-19 situation. With the support of all parliamentary groups, we adopted the Emergency Powers Act. All in all, 86 government proposals and 7 supplementary budgets related to managing the acute crisis were submitted to Parliament for consideration.
We are still living in the midst of crisis. Our Government’s goal has been and continues to be to prevent the spread of the virus, to safeguard the capacity of the healthcare system and to protect people, especially those who are most at risk. At the same time, we have worked to safeguard people’s livelihoods, secure the survival of businesses and preserve jobs. We will continue on this path during the spring as well. During this parliamentary session, the Government will present proposals to Parliament on the continuation of cost support for businesses and labour market support for entrepreneurs, the increased exempt amount of the unemployment benefit and other exceptional changes made to unemployment security.
Although this period has been exceptionally dark, we are already seeing the light ahead of us. Vaccinations have begun and we are moving towards the summer. That said, each and every one of us still needs to be vigilant, observe the restrictions and take into account the health and safety of ourselves and our fellow citizens. Together, we can get through this.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we have continued our determined efforts to promote the reforms jointly agreed in the Government Programme. During the spring session, the Government will submit 147 proposals to Parliament. The preliminary plan for the autumn includes 94 proposals. We will also submit 18 reports to Parliament. All of these represent steps towards a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable welfare society. We are still in the middle of our journey, but we are on the right track.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the state has supported people and businesses in a number of different ways. We have also introduced exceptional tools. The measures have been necessary. Without them, employment and people’s livelihoods would have fared much worse than they have, and it would be more difficult for us to achieve growth following the crisis. It would be a mistake to put an end to fiscal policy that supports people, growth and employment too soon. We must also be prepared to utilise exceptional measures for as long as the epidemiological and economic situations so require.
The future development of the Finnish economy is largely determined by how businesses are able to cope with the crisis and what state they are in when the world emerges from the pandemic. Viable and competitive businesses are also a prerequisite for a high employment rate. With this in mind, we now need to do everything we can to ensure that our production capacity is ready to go as soon as demand resumes. This means, above all, investments in human capital, the green transition, research and innovation, and digital and transport infrastructure.
In order to drive investment and the creation of new jobs, the Government is committed to securing a stable, encouraging and predictable business environment and to safeguarding the operating conditions for businesses and the predictability of taxation.
The long-term challenges facing general government finances have not disappeared amidst the crisis. We need solutions to deal with the changing age structure and an employment rate that is too low in relation to it. To date, the Government has already decided on structural measures to increase employment by more than 30,000 jobs in line with the Government Programme.
This year, the Government will bring to Parliament a number of legislative proposals to strengthen employment as agreed upon earlier. These include proposals for a Nordic labour market service model, reform of wage subsidies and a recruitment subsidy trial, along with measures to boost immigration by foreign experts. This spring, we will also decide on new employment-boosting measures. In this respect, the Government will not exclude from consideration any measures that may improve employment.
In its mid-term policy review session, the Government will decide on the General Government Fiscal Plan for 2022−2025 and make further specifications to the roadmap for strengthening the sustainability of public finances. Since 2020, we have returned to the central government spending limits system, which will guide our preparations for the upcoming spending limits session. The better we succeed in strengthening growth and implementing active industrial policy and structural reforms, the less need there will be for adjustment measures. Therefore, the main focus of economic policy must now be on creating the conditions for sustainable growth throughout the country, improving productivity, implementing active industrial policy and boosting employment.
Countries around the world are exploring how we can rebuild our societies to be more climate-friendly and environmentally sustainable after the pandemic. The EU recovery instrument offers Europe an opportunity to renew our societies and economic structures and to make them more sustainable. We must use this opportunity to its full potential. The resources made available under the instrument must be invested effectively, above all in targets that will speed up the green transition and create new and more climate-friendly production and technological solutions on a permanent basis. Strong financial frameworks also provide security for agriculture and rural development.
The more private investment we can mobilise through the instrument, the greater and more permanent its impact will be. With this in mind, the Sustainable Growth Programme for Finland is being implemented in genuine partnership between the state and the business community. Finnish businesses have the world’s best expertise when it comes to creating climate solutions. Strong competence and leadership are the keys to Finland’s competitiveness.
Our goal is to make Finland carbon neutral by 2035. In our mid-term policy review session, we will examine our progress on the carbon neutrality objective and we are committed to making decisions on possible additional measures. During this parliamentary session, we will bring a proposal to Parliament on reforming the Climate Change Act, and we will submit reports to Parliament on our climate and energy strategy and on our climate plan for the land use sector. Alongside climate change, we must turn our attention to the protection of biodiversity. To this end, we are bringing a proposal to Parliament on reforming the Nature Conservation Act.
The Government aims to reduce inequalities in health and wellbeing, ensure equal and high-quality healthcare and social welfare services and improve the availability and accessibility of services. At the end of last year, the Government submitted a proposal to Parliament on healthcare and social welfare services reform. The reform package will require a great deal of work from Parliament, and it will also give rise to a wide range of needs for technical amendments to other legislation. Proposals related to the reform will be submitted to Parliament during the spring.
We want to build a society in which everyone can have a good and safe life. The strength of the Nordic welfare society is the support and security it provides at different stages of human life. This is something we will hold on to.
We will work to improve the availability of multiprofessional services, mental health services for children and young people, and substance abuse services for minors both before and during substitute care. We will introduce a statutory minimum staffing level for child welfare social work. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on children and young people. We must make sure that this period does not leave deep and permanent dents in their wellbeing.
We will amend the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care so that the activities of private ECEC providers will be subject to a permit. The goal of the proposal is to improve the standards for early childhood education and care and to better protect the right to safe early childhood education and care in line with the Act on the Rights of the Child. A second legislative amendment aims to improve the rights of children to receive the necessary pedagogical support in early childhood education and care as early as possible.
The Government wants to address concerns about the lack of resources and unequal access to psychologists and school social workers in student welfare services. With these needs in mind, we are proposing a statutory minimum staffing level for these services.
We will establish a post of Ombudsman for the Elderly with the aim of improving the status and rights of older people. We will also bring a proposal to Parliament aiming to support the functional capacity of the older population and amending the Act on Social and Health Services for Older Persons and the Social Welfare Act. We propose adding provisions to the Act on Care Services for Older Persons and the Social Welfare Act that would improve the availability and quality of services provided at home, ensure adequate home care personnel and provide a variety of housing options for older people.
As Minna Canth once said, “A woman's field of work in the future will be extensive and her mission important. The violation and negligence of the centuries and millennia, she will need to fix and heal.”
I believe that in our time, Minna Canth would be proud of the joint work that we are doing together, regardless of gender, to ensure that Finland, one of the world's most equal countries, can be even more equal and egalitarian in the future. A country where everyone, regardless of their gender, can feel safe and secure.
We will promote the realisation of human rights by enacting legislation on the recognition of gender that respects the individual’s right to self-determination. The Maternity and Paternity Acts will be merged into a Parenthood Act. We are also determined to advance the reform of family leave with the aim of supporting gender equality and the wellbeing of families. The Government will submit a report on gender equality policy by the end of the year.
We will also reform the Criminal Code. In this respect, our objectives include implementing an overall reform of the legislation on sexual offences that is based on personal integrity and sexual self-determination.
Madam Speaker, Ärade talman,
Language rights are fundamental rights.
This year, the Government will adopt the new national language strategy as a government resolution. The goal of the strategy is to safeguard language rights and to ensure the right of every person to receive services in Finnish and Swedish.
The year 2022 marks 100 years since Åland was granted autonomy. In connection with the centenary year, which will begin in June of this year, we will be highlighting Åland’s autonomy at the national level as an example of a successful solution for autonomous government.
The Government Report on EU Policy sets out the basic guidelines for the Government’s EU policy on key issues that are being or will be dealt with in the European Union. The report is based on the EU policy priorities of the Government Programme. Finland’s goal is a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable European Union.
The Government’s Defence Policy Report will be submitted to Parliament during the spring session. Like the Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, the Defence Policy Report is being prepared in consultation with a parliamentary monitoring group.
During the current year, the Government will decide on a procurement agreement that will fully replace the current Hornet fleet. The HX fighter project plays an important role in the overall performance of Finland’s defence system, the credibility of which is also linked to our crisis prevention capabilities.
The Government will also submit a proposal to Parliament on more stringent legislation on terrorist offences.
Although the COVID-19 crisis has inevitably left an imprint on the beginning of this decade, we must not allow it to define the entire decade. Although it will place its constraints on the coming years, we cannot let it shackle us. The COVID-19 crisis has not put the world on hold, although it may have felt that way from time to time. Similarly, we must not stop and look only close to ourselves; we as decision-makers must also be able to look far beyond. We need to come together and make this a decade of solutions so that we can have a good future in the coming decades as well.
In this hall, we do not always agree on the means, we do not always agree on the objectives, but I believe there is one thing that unites us all, both in the Government and in the opposition. We want Finland to be a better place tomorrow than it is today. We need to seek out opportunities for cooperation and work together wherever we can. And even where we do not see a path for cooperation, we must still respect one another and value each other’s work.