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NCP "regrets" choice of words on immigration policy proposal following backlash

The party's nine-point plan for changes to Finland's immigration policy included a proposal that immigrants receive reduced social welfare payments during the integration process.

Chair of the National Coalition Party's parliamentary group Kai Mykkänen said the party regretted the use of the term 'kantasuomalainen', or 'native Finn' in its policy proposal document. Image: Markku Pitkänen / Yle

The National Coalition Party (NCP) has expressed "regret" over terminology used in a nine-point immigrant and integration policy proposal, following criticism about the suggested measures as well as the term the party used.

The document, entitled Eriytetään maahanmuuttajien ja kantasuomalaisten sosiaaliturva (roughly translated as "Differentiating social security for immigrants and native Finns"), included a motion that conditions for the obtaining of a permanent residence permit should include criteria such as sufficient Finnish language skills and knowledge of Finnish society.

The proposal also suggested that immigrants should not receive the same amount in social welfare payments as the rest of the population during the integration process.

"Prior to acquiring sufficient Finnish language skills and adequate training, social benefits, in this case integration support, would be 80 percent of the level of the unemployment benefit received by the native population. When the targets are met, the 100 percent payment level will also be possible," the document's proposal number 5 stated.

An NCP press release, outlining the proposals, said the initiatives were similar to those proposed by the Juha Sipilä (Cen) administration in 2016, which suggested linking social security benefits to education, language skills and adequate knowledge of Finnish society and culture.

The party noted that the Sipilä government's proposals did not raise objections from Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee at the time, despite Finland's constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all citizens, and said they intended to submit the proposal to Parliament following the summer recess.

MP Pia Kauma (NCP), who led the party's working group in drafting the proposal, told commercial broadcaster MTV that the measures were aimed at tackling the low employment rate among people with a foreign background in Finland, which she said lagged significantly behind the levels in other Nordic countries.

"The unemployment rate of people with an immigrant background is more than twice as high as that of native Finns," Kauma told MTV, adding that Finland's current integration policy grants freedoms to immigrants but does not impose "sufficient obligations and responsibilities."

Social media backlash

However, there was significant backlash against the proposals on social media, and especially the party's use of the term 'kantasuomalainen' (translated as either 'native Finn' or 'ethnic Finn').

In particular, the party was asked for clarification on what exactly it meant by kantasuomalaisuudella, or 'native Finnishness', including (siirryt toiseen palveluun) by MP Joonas Könttä (Cen).

"How will #kokoomus [the NCP] check Finnish origin and how far back must the family's roots go, and are there any other criteria," he asked on Twitter.

In response to the social media queries, Kauma said the party regretted the choice of term and added that it was not intended to refer to ethnicity.

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"The term "native Finn" was used in our integration policy proposal. We have now clarified the term to mean "Finnish citizen permanently resident in Finland" in order to avoid misinterpretations," Kauma wrote on Twitter.

Kai Mykkänen, chair of the NCP's parliamentary group, also wrote on Twitter that the party apologises for the use of the term, adding that "due to an error, the sentence could be interpreted in a way we do not mean."

He further clarified that the aim of the NCP's proposed policies were to make a differentiation between the social security payments people received during their integration into Finnish society, and the payments received by people with permanent residency in the country.

"Permanent residence in Finland does not require "native Finnishness", whatever that means. Instead, in our proposal, permanent residence is related to obtaining a permanent residence permit or citizenship, and living in Finland (to which support is tied for citizens even now)," Mykkänen wrote.