Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and Finance Minister Alexander Stubb were forced to explain their u-turns on education policy on Friday as journalists asked about campaign promises to protect the education budget.
Both politicians had posed with a sign reading ‘No education cuts’ during the election campaign, and those photos quickly reappeared once the new government announced that the education budget would contract by hundreds of millions of euros.
At a press conference on Friday, the new ministers were asked several times why they’d broken their promises.
“When I took the sign, I said that education would be reformed and properly,” said Centre chair Sipilä.
Stubb had a less direct answer.
“You have to look at the government programme in general and think about whether the Finnish education sector, teaching programmes, schools, universities, higher education institutions and colleges will be better in four years’ time than now,” said the National Coalition leader. “Money isn’t the main thing; it’s actions and creativity.”
The ministers also reiterated their view that education is one of the key projects of the new government.
“We need to make savings to enable long-term structural reforms,” said Sipilä.
“Education cuts are painful and nobody would have hoped for them,” said the new Education Minister Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, who made a speech on 1 May – after the election – saying education cuts would be unwise.
“The most important thing is how you make the cuts, so that you achieve as much savings as possible through structural reforms so as to guarantee the quality of teaching and research,” she added.
Soini grilled over unemployment benefit cuts
Foreign Minister Timo Soini was asked to explain cuts to unemployment benefits, something his Finns Party had opposed during the election campaign. He admitted that changes and cuts were coming to unemployment benefits, particularly to the initial income-linked portion paid to workers when they first lose their jobs.
He was, however, unconcerned over the effect the changes would have on his party’s support, saying the party had been written off many times before.
“First the party shouldn’t have been founded, then it shouldn’t have grown, and the latest is that it should have collapsed,” said Soini. “The party is progressing. Now it’s a 20-year-old young man or woman. It’s enjoying a good life.”