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Sipilä seeks commitment from gov't partners after healthcare reform delays

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä asked government parties to voice their commitment to a flagship reform programme after it was delayed in parliament.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has confirmed that his government's flagship reform programme will be delayed by one year to 2021. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Finland's premier is to ask MPs in the government parties to re-commit to a flagship reform of health and social care after it was delayed at the committee stage.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said the reform will now come into force in 2021, a year later than planned, and regional elections will be held in May 2019. The premier added that he wants commitment from the three government parties before MPs leave Helsinki for their summer holidays.

He's also calling for a debate with opposition MPs on Wednesday—but that will not be followed by a vote of confidence in the government.

On Monday Sipilä had said on Yle's current affairs programme A-Studio that he would test confidence in the government if the reform was delayed, but on Tuesday he told media he would settle for an expression of support from each of the three government parties.

"It's a big change," said Sipilä. "Not just the change of the year, but it affects many other things: the 2020 budget and so on."

Opposition leader Antti Rinne said on Twitter that Sipilä had back down from his threat to force a vote of confidence over the reforms.

"So the government doesn't dare test whether or not it enjoys parliament's confidence," wrote Rinne.

National Coalition leader Petteri Orpo said that the reforms had the support of his party, and that the goal was to get the reform enacted this year.

"The target is that parliament has approved well-written laws by December," said Orpo.

New elections

Sipilä's Centre Party has been particularly keen to see the reform pass parliament quickly, so that elections to new regional governments can be held before parliamentary and European elections due next spring.

"Sipilä wants to measure [his support] and put a bit of pressure on individual MPs from government parties," said Yle's political correspondent Jari Korkki on morning television. "They will all be forced to consider the, admittedly remote, possibility that there could be an election in the autumn and consider their own chances [in that election]. It's a bold move."

The reform package includes two main planks: opening the social and health care sector up to private providers and transferring responsibility for administration and oversight of services to 18 newly-created, elected regional governments.

Originally the reform was expected to save three billion euros a year compared to projected outgoings, but as plans have progressed the government has admitted that the changes are unlikely to result in savings in and of themselves.

Dissent among MPs

Regional government has also been a bone of contention, with civil servants warning that there should be no more than 12 regional governments.

Political analysts put the Centre's intransigence down to a desire to maximise the party's representation within these new bodies.

A confidence vote would have ended up on a knife-edge in parliament. The government has the support of a total of 104 MPs in the 200-member legislature, with Speaker Paula Risikko of the National Coalition unable to vote. In addition to her, NCP MPs Elina Lepomäki and Susanna Koski have said they will vote against the healthcare reform.

That brings the likely government vote total down to 101, with several NCP MPs from Helsinki having already supported a critical motion on the reform in their roles as Helsinki city councillors.