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Finnish PM says "would be ready" to more than double refugee quota—after agreeing 2018 freeze

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has said he would be ready to temporarily raise Finland’s refugee quota to 2000. Speaking during an Yle podcast series, Sipilä said that Finland could use the quota refugee system to help ease the burden of distributing asylum seekers across Europe. His coalition partners in the Blue Reform grouping are staunchly opposed to raising the refugee quota.

Juha Sipilä Image: Marja Väänänen / Yle

Finland has so far managed to fulfill its commitment to taking in its share of the 160,000 asylum seekers that EU states have agreed to distribute across the region, says Prime Minister Juha Sipilä.

However attitudes to asylum seekers and deportation policies have proven divisive for Siipilä's coalition government.

In spite of the strains the asylum seeker situation have put on the administration, Sipilä said that Finland could use the quota refugee system to shoulder a greater share of the asylum seeker burden.

"I would personally be prepared to temporarily increase Finland’s quota to 2,000 refugees," he told Yle’s Haloo Eurooppa podcast programme, which was released on Monday.

In the recently-agreed state budget for 2018, Sipilä's Centre Party agreed with its National Coalition and Blue Reform partners to accept just 750 quota refugees in 2018. The Blue Reform group in particular has been opposed to increasing the quota.

Finland's standing quota for refugees has been 750 per year, but in 2014 and 2015, the government raised the number to 1,050 due to the worsening situation in Syria.

Sipilä noted that EU aid provided for the crisis has not relieved the situation quickly enough. Additionally, the number of refugees who have no immediate prospects of returning home is too high.

Rough year for the EU

Sipilä described the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a real threat to the grouping. Following a number of regional elections that have seen voters repudiate populist right-wing parties, Sipilä said that he has high expectations of newly-installed leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron.

The PM said that he hopes that as a liberal, Macron will be able to introduce anticipated economic reforms. Sipilä said that he is not looking for increased solidarity and he noted that the pair are on opposite sides of the fence in relation to reforms of the Economic and Monetary Union.

"Macron and I have agreed that we will come together to advance a joint defence. Germany is our third partner in this. After the German election at the end of September, we expect the development of a joint European defence to take great strides forward," he declared.

A European at heart

Although Sipilä has not aggressively profiled himself as a man of Europe, he said that is precisely what he is.

"In my previous profession I moved around extensively in Europe and I’ve noticed that we have the same values. We easily perceive everything negatively and complain, but when you operate like that in a business you see development and what a great thing it was that we adopted a single currency and how much it facilitated trade and how much the internal market has helped the Finnish export sector and Finnish businesses and employment as a result," Sipilä expanded.

The PM said that trade is especially close to his heart. He added that the meaning of free trade is much more important for Finland than people understand.

"Joining the European Union was the greatest thing in my life," he declared.

He acknowledged that the premiership has given him a much deeper understanding of the role and operation of the bloc. However he said that he would like to see an end to sanctions against Russia because they disrupt trade. He called for more strenuous efforts within the EU to find alternative solutions.

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