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Opposition shreds govt’s economic programme

Opposition leaders have waded in to the incoming government’s austerity budget, with particularly heavy criticism directed at proposed cuts to spending on education and training. The chairs of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens accused the Centre Party of changing its position on the importance of education once in government.

Päivi Räsänen, Antti Rinne, Paavo Arhinmäki ja Ville Niinistö.
Image: Yle

Opposition MPs did not pull any punches in reviewing the incoming government’s proposed austerity programme. Speaking on Yle’s Aamu-tv breakfast programme Thursday, the Greens’ Ville Niinistö described the Prime Minister-designate Juha Sipilä’s maiden economic programme as "shocking".

”This list (of cuts) is so bad that I believe we all think of it as shocking. As people who’ve gone through the budget we know how difficult it is to save, but this is an exceptionally poorly thought-through austerity programme,” Niinistö declared.

The Greens left the last government under outgoing Prime Minister Alexander Stubb over a decision to grant a permit for the construction of a new nuclear power plant in western Finland by the Fennovoima power consortium.

Although the minority party managed to increase its parliamentary presence by one-third to 15 seats, it was not considered for a place in government as Prime Minister-elect Juha Sipilä opted for a powerhouse coalition comprising the election’s biggest winners.

Opposition accuse Centre of being turncoats on education

The Social Democratic Party also failed to impress Sipilä with its government-worthiness and was relegated to the opposition benches. Chair and former labour leader Antti Rinne lined up behind Niinistö in slamming the new government for changing its tune on the importance of education.

”Before the election we all agreed that we could not afford to cut anything from education. I remember the parliamentary discussions, when Tuomo Puumala and the other Centre party MPs challenged us, saying that we were cutting too much from training and education,” Rinne charged.

Left Alliance chair Paavo Arhinmäki also took aim at the government’s proposed economic programme, pointing to a pre-election interpellation and confidence vote tabled by the then-opposition Finns and Centre parties to protest the government’s plans to slash spending on education.

”There was a complete about-face in just four weeks,” Arhinmäki said.

”I could imagine that it would be wise to spend a couple hundred million euros on structural reforms. But 600 million is such a large sum that the programme won’t work by just streamlining the administration,” added outgoing Interior Minister and Christian Democratic Party chair Päivi Räsänen.

She said that she understood that economic adjustments were needed and agreed that the size of the proposed cuts seemed about right, but said that the proposed cuts were misplaced.

Social and health care reform off to a good start

While the opposition leaders weren’t sweet on the government’s austerity package they gave the new administration kudos for its approach to social and health care reform, an ambitious overhaul programme that faltered and eventually stalled on the outgoing administration’s watch. Each expressed cautious optimism, albeit with some reservations.

”I would say that the social and health care reform programme is the smartest and best thought-through part of the package. But we should be involved further planning to ensure that the execution is fair,” the Greens’ Niinistö observed.

”The model is in itself good, but I’m very concerned about the privatisation aspect,” Arhinmäki commented.

For his part Rinne said that the SDP is ready to move forward with the reform programme on the basis proposed by the government coalition. However he said that he is concerned about the future role of local governments.

”In my view that’s a big question. Municipal democracy has so far been a central element from the point of view of the ordinary citizen,” he added.

Meanwhile Christian Democratic chair Räsänen pointed out that the programme is yet to take on its final form.

”There are many major open issues, including financing,” she noted.

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