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Wednesday's papers: Berner's "political catastrophe", Poroshenko visit, and medical care for undocumented migrants

The newspapers on Wednesday look at the fallout from Transport Minister Anne Berner's rapidly abandoned plan to reform motoring taxes and road maintenance, a state visit from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and a poll on whether undocumented migrants should get medical treatment.

Sauli Niinistö ja Ukrainan presidentti Petro Poroshenko
Sauli Niinistö and Petro Poroshenko arrive for a press conference in Helsinki on 24 January. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

For a week now the press has been largely dominated by Transport Minister Anne Berner's plan to abandon taxes on new vehicle purchases and incorporating a new company charged with maintaining Finland's road network and levying charges on motorists for road usage. The proposal was ditched on Monday evening, but the stories rumble on--although now they focus on the implications and fallout for the political actors involved in the case.

Helsingin Sanomat describes the episode as a 'political catastrophe' not just for Berner, but also for her political patron, Prime Minister and Centre Party boss Juha Sipilä. The plan was, according to HS, a casualty of Berner's political clumsiness. She had failed to secure the support of coalition partners in the Finns party and National Coalition party, and had apparently kept the Finance Ministry in the dark about aspects of the plan.

At the same time, the Transport Ministry had paid some 331,000 euros for reports from outside consultants, as first reported by Suomen Kuvalehti on Friday. Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat details that expenditure on Wednesday, including spending with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Strafica and Demos, as well as three professors at Finnish universities.

Despite all that expensive external advice, Berner failed to foresee that abolishing car tax in one year's time would--in all likelihood--stop car sales for a whole year, causing deep damage to the economy.

Poroshenko in Helsinki

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Helsinki on Tuesday, and Helsingin Sanomat leads its foreign pages with a Poroshenko interview. The headline is 'A Mannerheim Fan from Ukraine', referencing Poroshenko's visit to Finnish war hero Marshall C.G.E. Mannerheim's grave to place a wreath.

Independent Finland's first 'state regent' is an iconic figure in Finnish history, having first risen to prominence in the Russian army and indeed lived in Saint Petersburg until he was 50, and according to Poroshenko, he has a certain following in Ukraine too.

"Mannerheim was a unifying leader," Poroshenko told HS, referencing his role in the Winter War which is widely considered to have brought the country together after the bitter divisions of the 1918 civil war.

"We have faith in our own situation against Russia, even though the Russian army is much bigger. We are capable of defending our own state and our own, European values. So Mannerheim's popularity explains itself."

Poroshenko also commended bilateral trade deals in the energy sector between Ukraine and Finland, co-operation in combating cyber warfare, and hoped that Finland would take a negative view of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which aims to bring Russian gas to the EU via the Baltic Sea. It's regarded as a security risk by Ukraine, and by a majority of MEPs, but Finland has so far said it is simply a commercial project.

Poll shows support for undocumented migrants

Finland's bureaucracy has historically made it very difficult to exist in the country without the correct documentation. Undocumented migrants have been few in number, historically speaking, but in recent years the group has grown and now it's expected to increase exponentially as more and more asylum seekers get negative decisions.

It's a big political issue, and will likely become bigger. Undocumented migrants have difficulty accessing housing, healthcare and are at risk of exploitation through employment in the black market. So the question of whether they should get medical services from municipalities is a vital one, and on Wednesday Helsingin Sanomat runs a poll of residents of the capital city region asking exactly that question.

It found that there is majority support for medical services for children and pregnant women, but 33 percent of people would refuse treatment for all undocumented migrants. 29 percent of respondents said they'd treat everyone, while 28 percent said that children and pregnant women in the country without papers should get healthcare. Some ten percent of those answering the survey did not say one way or the other.

When divided by party support, the poll found that Finns Party voters were most likely to oppose treating those without a residence permit, while those supporting the Green Party were most positive about the idea.

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