Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s New Year’s message, 31 December 2021
During the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced both light and darkness. A year ago we were able to start vaccinations, which have given us protection and security. That said, the virus is unpredictable, and the pandemic is unfortunately not over yet.
Over the past year, many people have felt concern and sadness. Many have lost loved ones, worried about the health of their family members or fallen ill themselves. Many have lost their jobs or have been unsure of how they or their loved ones would get by.
But amidst the grief, worry and uncertainty, there have also been brighter moments. Thanks to vaccinations, society has been able to open up again and we have been able to meet each other safely. People have lent a helping hand when friends or strangers have needed it. Many have found joy in simple, everyday things. A crisis like this inevitably puts things into perspective.
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone in Finland. You have shown flexibility and resilience, and have acted for the common good. You have been patient in the face of uncertainty. This year has not been an easy one. I hope that as the crisis continues, we can be kind and understanding towards ourselves and each other.
The COVID-19 situation in Finland is serious, and the Omicron variant is cause for great concern. The Government’s goal is to increase vaccination coverage and improve vaccine protection among the population. A great deal of work is being done throughout Finland to ensure that third boosters can be administered as soon as possible. Vaccines continue to be our most important tool in the global fight against the pandemic.
But as we work to ensure that we have enough vaccines and can deliver them fast enough, we must also do our part to increase vaccination coverage worldwide. No one is safe until everyone is safe.
If you have not yet been vaccinated, now is the time. Getting vaccinated is an act of responsibility and a way to protect yourself, your loved ones and all of society. By getting vaccinated, you can prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. It is a question of solidarity. We all need to do our part to get out of this pandemic.
So far, Finland has fared better in the pandemic than many of our peers when it comes to the effects of the epidemic on health and the economy. By providing timely and adequate support to people and businesses and by introducing recovery measures, we have managed to soften the blows to our economy and boost our ability to recover from them. That said, there are still major risks and uncertainties associated with how the pandemic will evolve. 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.
Managing the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a balancing act. We must be able to protect people’s health and avoid overburdening the healthcare system while also keeping society as open as possible. Decisions and restrictions must be expedient, proportionate and necessary. It is also clear that as the crisis drags on, society’s resilience will be put to the test.
Despite rapid economic recovery during the pandemic, growth is expected to slow down in the coming years. Now is the time to improve our conditions for economic growth in the longer term. In an economy like Finland’s, economic growth is mainly based on skills, innovation and investments. Given this fact, in autumn of this past year, we appointed a parliamentary working group to explore ways to strengthen research, development and innovation over the long term.
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. As part of its work, the working group drafted a proposal on the guiding principles for developing the RDI system and the measures needed to achieve the 2030 target. The measures proposed by the working group are significant, and implementing them will be essential for the success of Finland’s economy. The stable and predictable implementation of the working group’s proposal will be at the heart of Finland’s economic policy in the years to come.
Sustainable growth is also the most effective way to strengthen general government finances. Although performance both in general government finances and the debt-to-GDP ratio has been surprisingly favourable in recent months amidst rapid economic growth, our ageing population means that the longer-term outlook has not changed. Efforts to strengthen general government finances should continue and should focus above all on boosting growth and employment.
The backlogs in care, treatment and learning caused by the pandemic will require particular attention for a long time to come. The longer the crisis continues, the more important it is to ensure that the wellbeing backlog caused by COVID-19 does not become insurmountable. We must be able to address problems early on. If we fail to do so, we will pay a high human and economic price for it in the future.
In just over three weeks’ time, Finland will hold the first county elections in its history. In the county elections, people will decide on basic services that are important for their everyday lives. Until now, municipalities have been responsible for organising health, social and rescue services, but in future, this responsibility will be assumed by the wellbeing services counties.
There are many competent and motivated candidates running in the elections. I encourage everyone to cast their vote in January. Now is the time to decide on the future of health, social and rescue services. The county elections are about basic services, and the importance of these services has been further emphasised by the COVID-19 crisis. They are about making sure people can continue to rely on basic services.
Trust is the foundation of our entire society. Trust, and the ability to cooperate and agree on things together, are especially important in difficult times. People need to be able to trust that society will function in the midst of a crisis. People need to be able to trust that we can work together for the security, wellbeing and future of our nation. With this in mind, I would like to thank the opposition for the valuable support you have given to our Government in managing the COVID-19 crisis.
We are a society with many strengths. We are a skilled nation that has overcome many ordeals together. Finnish society is strong. It is particularly strong when we encounter hardships.
Internationally, Finland and Finns are held in high regard. Many people around the world see us as a leader. People trust Finns. Never before has our position been this strong.
Finland’s most important frame of reference is the European Union, which all European countries can seek to join. We have also strengthened our national security through comprehensive security and defence cooperation, which we will continue to intensify. In addition, we retain the option of applying for NATO membership. We should uphold this freedom of choice and make sure it remains a reality, as this is part of every country’s right to decide on its own security policies. It is one of the foundations of European security enshrined in the principles of the OSCE. We have shown that we have learnt from the past. We will not let go of our room for manoeuvre.
Whatever happens in our operating environment, Finland and the Finnish people will get through it. Next year will also be a time of both light and darkness. The whole Government and I will do everything in our power to ensure that the bright days outnumber the dark ones.
I wish everyone a safe and happy new year!