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Tuesday's papers: Gov't denies defense tax, PM's business promo, aging population, driverless cars

Among the items in Tuesday’s morning papers are denials that the government is planning a special defense tax, and a claim that PM Sipilä has promoted a bio-tech company with family investment ties. Also, reports on Finland's aging population and a driverless car project in Helsinki.

Daily newspapers.
Image: E.D.Hawkins / Yle

The Finnish government has denied a report in Monday's Helsingin Sanomat that it may be planning to avoid using the regular state budget to finance ship and fighter aircraft purchases for the defense forces by levying a special defense tax or launching bonds. Both Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo took to Twitter to deny the details of the article.

According to the daily Turun Sanomat, the Office of the Prime Minister told the Finnish News Agency STT that discussions at a meeting in December reported by Helsingin Sanomat did not include the tax or bond issue, nor does documentation from the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Finance contain any reference to such a plan.

Turun Sanomat reports that opposition Social Democratic Party chair Antti Rinne gave a statement to the press Monday saying that spending from the state budget on the defense acquisitions being planned would require cuts in education and public services. This, he said, his party cannot accept.

Finance Minister Orpo's staff expanded on the government response by saying that Finland cannot exclude defense spending from overall calculations of the national debt because it is taken into account independently by credit providers, credit rating agencies and the EU Commission.

PM's promo in India

The lead item in Tuesday's newsstand tabloid Iltalehti is a report that a company with business ties to his family was among a group of enterprises Prime Minister Juha Sipilä promoted during a visit to India in February of last year.

The PM was accompanied by representatives of 17 companies seeking business ties. One of them was the Oulu-based biotech company Chempolis, which on the final day of the event announce a 110 million euro deal to build a bio-waste refinery in India.

According to Iltalehti, Prime Minister Sipilä's children own around 5% of Chempolis via the holding company Fortel Invest. A major shareholder in the company is one of Sipilä's former close associates Juha Hulkko.

Prime Minister Sipilä himself used Fortel Invest as an investment platform up until he divested his holdings in 2013, following his election as Centre Party chair the previous summer.

Getting older

Finland's population is aging, especially in areas surround larger cities, writes this morning's Helsingin Sanomat.

The paper says that there are 33 municipalities in the country where the number of residents over the age of 75 will double in just over a decade. In the capital region, these include Kirkkonummi, while the same is true of some municipalities surrounding Oulu, Tampere and Turku.

At present, many of these communities are economically strong, but urban researcher Timo Aro told the paper that there is an especially rapid shift in age structure in these areas. While the paper doesn't consider the development alarming in itself, there are other major changes such as government reforms in social and healthcare systems that could impact the situation.

The main issue of concern is not the projected aging of the population, but rather the pace at which the population structure is changing in these areas which may lead to a sudden spike in the demand for services required by the elderly.

Driverless cars

Helsinki is one of five new participants in a global initiative aimed at helping city leaders plan and prepare for the introduction of driverless cars.

The economic and business daily Kauppalehti reports that the Finnish capital, along with cities such as London, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires will now be taking part in a project knows as the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles.

The announcement was made Monday in New York by that city's former mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Helsinki's Mayor Jussi Pajunen told Kauppalehti that the city already has a lot of experience with the use of smart technologies in transport systems, and pointed out that Finnish legislation provides a lot of room for the development of automated transportation.

The urban structure of the capital is changing, with new residential districts being built close to the city centre and older areas becoming more densely populated. Officials say that the city is interested in carrying out driverless car pilot projects serving both of these kinds of areas.

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