Finance Minister Alexander Stubb defended the government’s economic policy measures in a television appearance on Saturday. He was quoted earlier in the week as saying that there had never been a more NCP-like policy in Finland’s history, referring to the centre-right National Coalition Party of which he is the chair. He repeated this claim on Saturday, saying that the current austerity plans are the only responsible course.
“It begins with responsible financial management, in other words, we get a handle on debt and stop living on credit,” he said.
Stubb says the government’s plans to implement employment policy reform, introduce freedom of choice to the social and health care sector, and liberalise standards like shop opening hours are all part of this same responsible economic policy.
Step in the right direction
He also described the so-called competitive agreement, formally referred to as the social contract – a hard-won pact between employers and the country’s unions aimed at reducing unit labour costs – as Finland’s first-ever internal devaluation. Stubb stands by the agreement, even though there has been critique from within his NCP party on the local bargaining concessions, which have been seen by some as not being sufficiently ambitious with respect to wages and working hours.
“The measures we would have liked to utilise may have brought us farther than the social contract does, but it is still a step in the right direction,” he said.
The Finance Minister says that when it comes to the general economic situation, there are already small signs of recovery and a positive vibe in the air. Last year Finland’s economy achieved a modicum of positive growth, he says, and his ministry predicts 0.9 percent growth in 2016.
Definitely not bulldozed
Party leader Stubb defended his political party’s role in the formation of government policy and denies allegations that the other two parties in the coalition, the Centre Party and Finns Party, would have overrun the NCP. He says it all comes down to equal cooperation between the three parties, with the Prime Minister taking the lead.
Stubb has flip-flopped with his comments on consensus politics in the past, at times critical and at other times, praising the process. Even so, he calls for accountability on all fronts.
“I believe the social contract should show clear results, just as politicians should be held accountable. If you can’t demonstrate results, then you will be shown the door. This usually happens in the elections.”
Education cuts = euros lost
When questioned about the government’s controversial decision to cut money from education funding in Finland, the Finance Minister says this austerity measure is regrettable. But he says every decision is difficult in politics, as there is pressure not only from the voters, but also from within the party and other political parties.
“If I would have been able to choose, I would not have cut education funds as much as we did. I think that every euro we take away from training and education is a euro lost.”
Stubb said on Saturday that he supports the idea floated on Friday by some ministers to shorten the length of home care allowance in Finland and extend the parental leave instead. Foreign Minister Timo Soini of the Finns Party came out immediately in opposition to the proposition.
“I am strongly of the opinion that a more equal distribution of parental costs and duties would contribute to gender equality in Finnish society, putting women on more equal ground with men,” said Stubb.