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Friday's papers: More on PM's Nato statement, small town worries, continuing vaccine hesitancy

Analysts say that recent comments on Finland's Nato option by Prime Minister Marin mark no policy change, but may make membership an election issue.

Prime Minister Marin’s Nato comments Wednesday have sparked a burst of criticism from the political opposition. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

Friday's papers continue to react to nuances in statements on foreign and security policy made by Finnish leaders, with the main questions still Nato and Russia.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said (siirryt toiseen palveluun) it is "very unlikely" that Finland would apply for Nato membership, at least during her current term in office.

However, she added that the option remained open in the future and noted that Finland "makes its own decisions" when it comes to foreign policy.

Marin’s comments soon sparked a burst of criticism from opposition parties. Later, Marin herself said in an interview with the daily Ilta-Sanomat that her statement to Reuters had been "over interpreted".

Asked for his reaction by Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Mika Aaltola, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, viewed the PM's remarks as being in line with current policy.

"I would not see that there is any conflict with past policy, nor should there be," said Aaltola. "The message from the foreign policy leadership must be consistent."

The interpretation given by Hanna Smith, Research Director of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, is that Marin did not close the Nato door in any way, to the contrary.

"The Nato debate has been moved in a more sensible direction," said Smith. "The yes-no debate has never taken this issue forward. Now different ways to discuss Nato membership have arisen, and one may wonder if Marin is suggesting that Nato will be a pretty big topic in the next election."

Smith pointed out to the paper that it would take so long for Finland be accepted as a member that it could not even happen during Marin's term in office.

The next parliamentary elections will be held in spring 2023, and according to Smith, the nation's Nato policy must also have the support of the electorate. Helsingin Sanomat's latest poll showed that currently 28 percent of Finns want Finland to join NATO.

This week's All Points North podcast looked at whether Finland will join Nato, and how to decide who to vote for in Sunday's regional elections. You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or on your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.

Article continues after audio.

Voter turnout reflecting small town worries

The farmers' union paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (siirryt toiseen palveluun)writes that voters are deeply divided over their view of the importance of Sunday's election for new county councils.

The paper says that this is evident from the wide range of turnout in advance voting. In some municipalities it was as low as 17 percent and in others as high as 45 percent.

A total of 32 municipalities saw more than 35 percent advance turnout. However, there not a single one of these was a major city. The largest was Kauniainen, with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

"In municipalities with high turnout, the future of the service network is a real concern. The worry is that the reform will lead to a strong concentration of services," says Jenni Airaksinen, a researcher in municipal and regional management at the University of Tampere.

"There has been a heated debate about the service structures of the future and there is concern about how we will be able to have a comprehensive service network in the future. There may have been changes that have not pleased everyone," she added.

There have also been concerns expressed that turnout in this election could be so low that it will not meet the basic requirements of democracy.

"Voting turnout looks more positive than originally forecast. Some of the most skeptical observers thought that it would not even reach 30 percent, but that is no longer probable with these figures," Airaksinen points out.

Meanwhile, an analysis of responses by candidates carried out by the Uutissuomalainen news group (siirryt toiseen palveluun) found that the vast majority of candidates in county council elections believe that regional health and social service systems should "not avoid" purchasing services from private providers.

Of all the approximately 4,400 candidates who responded to the Uutissuomalainen group's election compass, more than 70 percent indicated they would not oppose buying in outside services from the private sector.

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Vaccine hesitancy on the right

A new survey by Tampere's Aamulehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun) shows the highest level of negative attitudes towards coronavirus vaccines in the Pirkanmaa region to be among the supporters of the right-wing, opposition Finns Party.

According to research by the pollster Taloustutkimus, 14.9 percent of people identifying as Finns Party supporters in the region have not and do not intende to get vaccinated.

Supporters of the Christian Democrats are also high in the listing, with almost one in ten (8.3 percent) of them saying they do not plan to take a coronavirus vaccine jab.

The highest rates of vaccination uptake were found among backers of the Social Democratic Party (98.3%), the National Coalition Party (95.2%) and the Left Alliance (91.8%).

Juho Rahkonen, Insight Director at Taloustutkimus, told the paper that the results reflected national findings with a majority of those who have a negative position the vaccines being Finns Party supporters.

Hazardous roads

The tabloid Iltalehti (siirryt toiseen palveluun)is among the papers reporting that dozens of traffic accidents were seen around the country on Thursday evening as snow and winds made driving conditions hazardous once again.

It notes that while the worst traffic chaos is slowly receding, snowfall will continue on Friday in the southeastern part of the country and on the eastern border well into the evening.

Nationwide, icy roads continue to pose potential hazards. Driving conditions are particularly poor in Kymenlaakso, South Karelia, North Karelia and South Savo.