Thursday's papers: Centre controversy, bridge building decision, and a debt ceiling

Economists have worried about levels of household debt in Finland.

Oulu MP Juha Pylväs (Cen) caused a row with his comments about immigration on Wednesday. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The Centre Party found itself embroiled in controversy on Wednesday when the party's MPs held a summer meeting in Seinäjoki, Ostrobothnia.

The new chair of the group, Oulu MP Juha Pylväs, addressed his people with a speech mostly focused on traditional Centre Party themes — focusing on Finnish issues rather than international ones, and a supposed conflict between action on climate change and people's economic well-being.

It was the line on immigration that caused a row across social media and the newspapers.

"Yes, we need people who can make ends meet through their own work in Finland," said Pylväs. "Parasitic living standard surfers who live on social benefits, on the other hand, we don't need."

That kind of language is not usually associated with the Centre, an agrarian political force which is often the establishment party in Finland's smaller, rural towns.

He was immediately criticised on Twitter by one of his own MPs, Hanna Kosonen, and the leader of the Centre youth, Hanna Markkanen. Party leader Annika Saarikko told reporters that Pylväs was responsible for his own words.

Ilta-Sanomat was present and asked (siirryt toiseen palveluun) Pylväs for clarification, but he did not back down, saying that sometimes you need to dial up the rhetoric.

HS also asked (siirryt toiseen palveluun) for more details, and Pylväs expanded on the theme. In his opinion, the quota refugee system is good, because Finland 'knows who is coming', whereas the asylum system is not, because people claim asylum once they arrive in the country.

This somewhat overshadowed Saarikko'sspeech, which talked about climate action and rural issues.

The party still faces a struggle to recover support, as shown by a poll in Helsingin Sanomat. That suggested the Finns Party's support is down at 17.9 percent, but that's still nearly five percentage points higher than the Centre Party.

Tram bridge approval

Tampere's tram system was completed this year under budget and ahead of schedule, but one Helsinki project has not been so efficient.

The Crown Bridges (Kruunusilta) between Laajasalo and Hakaniemi were originally meant to cost 255 million euros, but that has now risen to 326 million euros.

Helsingin Sanomat reports (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that the new cost base was approved at a meeting of Helsinki City Council on Wednesday evening, as councillors voted by 71 to 8 to spend the extra money.

The 10km project includes one 1.2km bridge that will be the longest in Finland, and is supposed to be ready by 2026. It was originally controversial, as it has tram tracks and space for cyclists, but no road for private cars.

Action on joint housing company loans

Financial paper Talouselämä reports (siirryt toiseen palveluun) on Thursday that the Ministry of Finance is preparing action to modify one problematic aspect of the Finnish housing market, according to a policy paper obtained by Talouselämä.

Finnish economists have long worried about household debt rising, and a key component of that has been debt jointly held by housing companies.

A lot of Finnish real estate is owned through these housing companies, with a certain shareholding entitling the owner to use an apartment in the block, or a house owned by the company.

When repairs are needed, all the shareholders take out a joint loan, each assuming responsibility for their share of the debt.

This works well for renovations, but in recent years new developments have been sold with large housing company debt attached. That helps those who might otherwise struggle to get a mortgage afford the properties.

It's also good for investors, who get certain tax advantages when debt is jointly held by the company, and some new buildings are now sold with 70 or even 80 percent of the purchase price as housing company debt.

That means individual buyers only need to have a small fraction of the purchase price, in cash or mortgage debt, to buy the property.

Putting more of the purchase price in joint debt, as opposed to a mortgage, is a great deal for them but increases the risks for everyone else: if someone defaults on their housing company loan repayments, the housing company has to pay the debt. That's not a risk with individual mortgages.

According to Talouselämä, the ministry wants to limit housing company debt on newly-built properties to 60 percent of the purchase price.

The ministry also wants an overall individual 'debt ceiling' of 500 percent of a person's gross income, and to limit maximum repayment periods on mortgages to 25 years (although Finance Minister Saarikko(Cen) would prefer that to be 30 years).

The paper also looks at transferring regulation of payday loan firms to the Financial Supervisory Authority (Fiva). They are currently regulated by the Southern Finland Regional Administrative Agency (Avi).