The country’s leading daily Helsingin Sanomat reports that, as expected, Finland signed a host nation agreement with NATO on Thursday at the NATO Summit in Wales. Host nation agreements cover acceptance of external assistance or resources on the country’s soil for military training and co-operation. Specific activities will nevertheless be agreed upon on a case-by-case basis. Finland’s representative at the signing of the agreement was the country’s Chief of Defence Jarmo Lindberg. Sweden signed a similar agreement with NATO at the same time. Sceptics say the timing is wrong to be taking this step – the fact that it was signed in the middle of the Ukraine crisis is no coincidence.
The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat also reports from Wales, stating that Finland’s President Niinistö spoke for an extended period with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Niinistö met with NATO officials on Thursday afternoon to discuss continuation of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Finland had earlier agreed to participate in post-operation support efforts. “Chancellor Merkel pointed out an achievement: not one female was allowed to go to school under the Taliban, but now two million Afghan girls are getting an education,” Niinistö noted.
Having just met with Putin three weeks earlier, Niinistö said he spoke with Chancellor Merkel at length about the Russian ceasefire and its coordination with the EU’s Association Agreement. Niinistö said that in his discussions with Putin, he got the distinct impression that the Russians thought the situation had fundamental problems.
“President Putin has spent a lot of time justifying his actions. It looks as if Chancellor Merkel also recognizes this,” said Niinistö.
President Niinistö said he hoped the ceasefire in Ukraine would materialize. “The first prerequisite, of course, would be for the killing to stop,” he said.
Presidential comments from Wales
Finland’s second widely-read tabloid Iltalehti covers President Niinistö’s reaction to a call from the Estonian Prime Minister on Finnish television Thursday for Finland to join NATO. The Finnish President responded from Wales, saying: “We are not militarily aligned, this is clear.” He added that this is not the first time Estonia has extended the invitation.
Niinistö does not warm to the idea of NATO membership.
“I believe that we should build our security with our own defence forces. Our defence is unique in Europe in the sense that we view many things entirely differently than many other EU countries.”
“Security is based on a strong, independent defence capability coupled with as large a network as possible. In this respect, one component does grow stronger as our partnerships develop,” said the President.
Niinistö spoke at a press conference from the NATO Summit, saying that Finland was networking with Sweden and the other Nordic countries and was expanding its partnership with NATO, but was not considering anything else at the current time.
More accolades for Finnish schools
Friday's Helsingin Sanomat continues with yet another story on Finnish school success. A new education comparison rated Finland’s education system the most effective in the OECD for the last 15 years. This new comparison was carried out by Gems Education Solutions, an international education consultancy.
The study ranked 30 OECD countries from best to worst, based on teacher-related expenses and pupil’s learning results. PISA test results were used as an indicator. The data was used to calculate which education system had the highest education payback relative to expenditure.
Rational for Finland’s number one position with regard to effectiveness are its relatively large class sizes and the reasonable salaries of teachers. Finland had the third largest class sizes in the study.
South Korea, Japan, Hungary and the Czech Republic also did well in the study, with Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy coming out on the bottom. Sweden was ranked as number nine.
Education spending in industrial countries has risen by more than 30 percent in the last decade, and yet learning outcomes have remained unchanged in most countries. The Gems study does not however recommend certain class sizes or teacher salaries for different countries, pointing out that seeking maximum efficiency is not always the best choice.
She couldn't resist
And to finish on a lighter note, the southwest newspaper Turun Sanomat runs a story about a kiosk salesperson who went through over 1,550 scratch-off instant lottery tickets before her crime was discovered and she was fired. The total value of the lottery coupons was estimated at 9,000 euros. The crime took place in 2013 in a Turku R-kiosk, where the salesperson scratched her way through the tickets over ten months. The Southwest Finland District Court found the 28-year-old woman guilty of aggravated embezzlement and sentenced her to a five-month suspended prison stay. She will also be required to compensate the kiosk for the financial loss.