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Defence Minister: New fighters necessary to restore Finland’s defence credibility

Defence Minister Carl Haglund says the next two governments will be forced to make expensive but necessary decisions to maintain Finland’s defence capability. Speaking in a television interview Saturday morning, the centre-right minister also weighed in on Sweden’s recent submarine hunt, Parliament’s struggle with social and health care reform and Finland’s high overall tax rate.

Carl Haglund.
Puolustus- ja urheiluministeri Carl Haglund Ykkösaamun vieraspenkillä. Image: Ilkka Kemppinen / Yle

Finland’s next government will have to grapple with the difficult decision of appropriating additional funds to update Finland’s aging defence armaments. This added funding will mean that the money will have to be cut from other national priorities, said Minister of Defence Carl Haglund in a television interview Saturday morning.

“As it is, the public sector will confront major adjustments in the future, so this will be a hard nut to crack. The money must partially be raised via savings, because we can’t count on a rapid influx of tax revenue. We also cannot expect to take more loans. Government negotiation over this will be tough, and I think it is a good thing to give people a heads-up already at this stage,” the minister said.

Haglund stresses that the acquisitions must nonetheless be made in order to maintain Finland’s defence capability.

“There is no other option”

“We have carried out Defence Forces reform, and it brought the savings we were looking for, but it has led to a situation in which the lemon has been squeezed dry. In the long term we will need a new supply of materiel to replace aging equipment. If we fail to do this, Finnish defence will no longer be credible,” Haglund said.  

An even bigger investment is ahead as well: renewal of the air defence system and replacement of the existing Hornet fleet. A feasibility study is underway at the Defence Ministry to identify the available options. It will be released in May 2015.  

“In my judgment, there is no other option beyond new fighters if we wish to maintain a credible defence. We need to work from the premise that it must be taken care of. Of course we also have to face the fact that it will be a very expensive endeavour.”

Swedish submarine scare

Haglund was also asked about the recent military mobilization in Sweden. Finland’s Minister of Defence says the unresolved underwater search should not be considered a loss of face.

“On the contrary, (the events in Sweden) demonstrate how tense the situation is here in the North, mainly due to the crisis in Ukraine,” he said.  

Swedish Defence Forces called off the large-scale search off the coast of Stockholm on Friday after a week-long intelligence operation. Although officials said they were trying to pinpoint “foreign underwater activity”, the media speculated that the vessel in question must have been a Russian submarine.

“You can be sure that people will be talking about this for a long time, even if no definitive or water-tight evidence was found at this juncture,” said Haglund.

MPs can’t trounce the Constitution

Haglund also responded to Finns' Party candidate Timo Soini's demands on Friday for immediate resolution of the social and health care reform quagmire in Parliament, saying MPs should even consider amending the constitution.

Minister Haglund said although Soini's intentions are good, decision-makers must be careful not to override municipal authority to determine their own services and operations, adding that the constitution can't be side-stepped.

Overall tax rate too high

Haglund also went on record Saturday to say he supports cutting both Finland's income and value added taxes, saying the current overall tax rate in Finland is too high.

“We must admit one thing: we have hiked up taxes considerably during this election period with our adjustments. Finland's overall tax rate is now unsustainably high,” the centre-right leaning minister said.

Haglund feels Finland’s high overall tax rate stifles the purchasing power of the populace. In addition to tax cuts, he says the government must find other ways to grow the private sector, as the public sector cannot afford to hire any more people.

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