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Friday's papers: Possible Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki, an off-the-cuff PM and tuition fees

Newspapers in Finland on Friday respond to news that Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to meet US President Donald Trump in Finland soon. They also talk about recent off-script comments from the Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and ETLA recommending university tuition fees for all students - foreign and Finn.

Donald Trump ja Vladimir Putin
Could their first official meeting take place in Helsinki? Image: Michael Reynolds / Alexei Druginyn / EPA

Newspapers in Finland discuss the tantalizing prospect of a future meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin being set in Finland. The Finnish press is abuzz after Reuters news service reported on Thursday that Putin suggested the meet-up to Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at a gathering of the International Arctic Forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia.

"If it does transpire, than I personally would be happy to participate," Ilta-Sanomat reports Putin as saying. "If not, a meeting could happen alongside the G20 meeting in July."

Soini: "A big deal"

Finland's second mainstream tabloid Iltalehti interviewed Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini about the prospective summit. "I think it would be a big deal if we could get this kind of thing to Finland during our centennial year of independence, when Finland assumes the chair of the Arctic Council," said Soini.

Political veteran and long-term diplomat Jaakko Iloniemi said a summit between the two world leaders in Finland would steer the Nordic country in the right direction in terms of its foreign policy, saying it would strengthen Finland's status as a country that does "good deeds".

Finland has earlier played host to important meetings of the Eastern and Western superpowers: in 1990 George H. W. Bush met with Mikhail Gorbachev in Helsinki, and in 1997 Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin convened in the capital city.

"Finland is a good meeting place, in that security has proceeded smoothly and the risks are relatively small. But we are still a long way from preparing for an imminent summit," says Iloniemi.

Sipilä surprises

Helsingin Sanomat features a blog entry from its political correspondent Marko Junkkari on Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's strange behaviour of late. Sources in the government tell the paper that Sipilä has lately been spouting surprising revelations that haven't been discussed in the ruling coalition beforehand.

On Tuesday, the premier appeared on MTV3's morning TV programme indicating his concern for young boys' school performance. He said the latest PISA results showed a concerning connection between school success and the parent's social background, promising that in its mid-term talks, the government would "explore what could be done to preserve the competitiveness of the comprehensive schools, and make them a good place for the students." 

This came as news to the other government members, Junkkari writes, because as far as they knew, school funding was not on the agenda in late April. Is Sipilä having second thoughts about his team's cuts to education equity, asks Junkkari.

On Wednesday, Sipilä went on to tell the financial magazine Kauppalehti that the government would find new ways to fix indoor air problems in municipal schools and other public buildings with state support or "new financing channels" which--according to Junkkari--caused the rest of the coalition to scratch its head in wonder once again.

Swedish language misstep

A few weeks ago, Sipilä made headlines with his comments on restoring the second official language in Finland – Swedish – as a compulsory subject in the national matriculation exams. His Eurosceptic Finns Party coalition partners lined up to disavow Sipilä's statement, with parliamentary group chair Sampo Terho saying "nothing of the kind has been agreed upon in our government programme."

Sipilä later clarified his comment, saying "It is clear that the Swedish language ability of our civil servants has deteriorated over time; one reason could be the elimination of the obligatory Swedish matriculation exam." But seeing as how the change was only made in 2005, it can't have had too much of an effect yet, Junkkari points out.

Some pundits write off Sipilä's going off-script to his lack of political experience. Others say the Centre Party is trying to gain points by hinting at rescinding austerity measures, because it knows that the NCP-controlled Finance Ministry will keep a tight hold on the purse strings.

10,000-euro tuition fees

And the last item in our Friday review is from the Keskisuomalainen newspaper, headquartered in Jyväskylä.

A new brief from the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, or ETLA, has proposed three measures to safeguard funding for research and education, and one of them is allowing universities and other higher education establishments to charge "moderate tuition fees". ETLA suggests 10,000 euros for a five-year degree.

Vesa Vihriälä, ETLA CEO, says it is time for Finland to forsake free upper education and "accept that tuition fees are not socially unjust", given the state of public finances. As co-author of the brief, along with research director Niku Määttänen, Vihriälä says fees would make university studies more efficient, enhance operations and improve the quality of instruction.

With about 300,000 students in universities and vocational schools at present, the brief argues that even a tuition fee of 1,000 euros per semester would reap 600 million euros in revenue annually, which would more than make up for government spending cuts in the sector.

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