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Multi-job MPs snap up spots on county councils

Following the regional election, more than half of Finland's Members of Parliament now have a seat at every level of government.

Some 101 of Finland's 200 MPs will also have seats on municipal councils as well as newly-formed regional assemblies. Image: Juho Liukkonen / Yle

Finland's first-ever county council elections have given 101 MPs—or just over half of parliamentarians—a say at all three levels of government.

This powerful group are municipal councillors as well as being newly-elected county councillors, and have a day job serving as an MP in parliament.

In total, 108 Members of Parliament are now county councillors, including Education Minister and Left Alliance leader Li Andersson, Green Party interim leader Iiris Suomela, Christian Democrats chair Sari Essayah and the National Coalition Party's former Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen.

But what is the motivation for MPs, ministers and party leaders to take on more roles and responsibilities?

Josefina Sipinen, a Postdoctoral Researcher in Political Science at the University of Tampere, tells Yle News she doubts all of these MPs are eager to take on multiple public offices. However, Finland's D'Hondt voting system leaves them with little choice.

"It's because the Finnish electoral system is so candidate-centred, that in order for parties to get votes, they need efficient candidates, they need well-known candidates, they need the brightest faces to collect the votes for the party," Sipinen explains, adding that these big-name candidates are therefore under pressure to stand for election if their candidacy would be beneficial to the wider party.

In Finland, voters choose candidates from party lists and each candidate is then ranked in order of votes received, with places allocated to each list in proportion to the total votes that list received. In practice, this means that a candidate that attracts a lot of votes can take a lot of less popular candidates into power with them.

This system can lead to political power being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

"There is a risk that in the future we have this class of professional politicians in this country who collect all power. When they take the seats, there is less room for ordinary people," Sipinen adds. "If these seats are accumulated by certain people, then it is a democratic problem that ordinary people become less engaged as they think that politics is just for the professionals and they cannot aspire even to the local council."

Among the public, this concentration of power across levels of government is not wildly popular. A survey published by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (Eva) at the beginning of January found that two thirds—68 percent—of respondents would limit the ability of politicians to simultaneously occupy positions as MPs, city councillors and county officials.

Although such dramatic systemic reform might not be the answer, Sipinen says, an 'open data' system would provide more transparency into politics at the local level and help voters to make more informed decisions the next time they are at the ballot box.

"It would be good if there would be open data, where you could see how actively these MPs and councillors participate in these meetings. And if people could see that their representative was not actively participating [in the meetings], then these MPs might think again, is it worth participating [in the elections], or not," Sipinen said.

Multiple remunerations

The multi-jobbing MPs are also paid at least some remuneration for each public office they hold.

MPs are paid a salary of 6,614 euros a month before tax—rising to 6,945 if the lawmaker has 4 years of service and to 7,408 euros after 12 years of service.

MPs can also claim expenses, up to a maximum of 1,809 euros per month depending on where they live and if they have a second home in Helsinki. They also receive an additional monthly supplement of 744 euros if they chair one of the parliament's various committees.

Municipal councillors are paid for attending council meetings. The amount depends on the position and the municipality, but councillors in Tampere, for example, receive about 330 euros per meeting, according to the results of an analysis carried out by Yle in 2018.

A councillor in Finland's northernmost municipality of Utsjoki, though, is paid just 30 euros per meeting.

Chairing the council, or being a member of the council's board, also comes with a set annual income, which again depends on the municipality. In Tampere, the chair of the city council was paid 8,000 euros in 2018 while a board member received 2,500 euros in addition to the per-meeting payments.

For the newly-formed county councils, or regional healthcare assemblies, the exact remunerations will be decided by the regions, but tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reported (siirryt toiseen palveluun) (in Finnish) at the beginning of January that budget allocations have already been made by the Ministry of Finance.

Citing the Pirkanmaa region as an example, IS reported that 474,000 euros have been allocated for the regional assembly, which would work out to an average of about 6,000 euros per delegate. However, these figures have yet to be finalised.