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Friday’s papers: PM defends advisers, climate measures face pushback, and more councils depend on Helsinki region

Friday’s newspapers include a stout defence of the government’s employment of more special advisers.

Finnish cattle farmers may have to make changes under new subsidy rules. Image: Kalle Niskala / Yle

The Sanna Marin and Antti Rinne governments have been a clean break with their predecessor in many ways, not least in their approach to HR issues.

While Juha Sipilä’s government slashed numbers of advisers and even ministers to set a cost-cutting example as they looked to balance the nation’s books, Marin and Rinne have employed more staff to help their ministers.

That has generated extra costs for the state, doubling expenditure on special advisers to 11.5 million euros, and on Thursday opposition politicians launched their latest attack on the expansion.

Uusi Suomi reports that National Coalition MP Mia Laiho drew a parallel with health spending, suggesting that the government was prioritising adviser recruitment over diagnosing cancer patients.

Prime Minister Marin responded by pointing to the government’s plans to increase spending on research and education, contrasting that with Sipilä’s.

In Iltalehti’s story on the debate there was a link to an opinion piece from January, in which the other side of the story.

It details the travails of Sipilä’s Transport Minister Anne Berner, who famously managed without any advisers at all.

According to IL she frequently came out with statements that surprised her partners in government and at one point announced a change in car taxation that decimated sales of new cars in Finland.

She was also responsible for the taxi reform which has garnered many critics since it was introduced.

Climate change measures contested

Both Ilta-Sanomat and Helsingin Sanomat run stories about groups affected by, and unhappy about, planned changes that will help curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

Ilta-Sanomat looks at the government’s plans to encourage homeowners to shift away from heating oil to warm their homes, preferably to low-carbon alternatives like geothermal heat pumps.

The paper reckons that there are around 190,000 houses in Finland warmed with heating oil, and getting them to switch won’t be easy.

IL visits Kalevi in Huittinen, a 78-year-old whose home is heated by oil. He bought a new oil burner 10 years ago, and considered getting a heat pump.

That would have cost 18,000 euros, compared to 3,600 euros for a new burner. Even with lower running costs for the heat pump, the low oil price back then decided things for Kalevi.

Even with current higher fuel prices he says he’s not yet ready to buy a heat pump. He might consider it, but that depends on how much he can get in financial aid to pay for the switch.

CAP fight on the way

HS looks at a similar attitude among farmers.

The new EU commission expects landowners to introduce measures to fight or mitigate climate change in return for their lavish subsidies.

The details of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the years 2021-2027 have not yet been worked out, but the farmer HS interviews near Oulu says that he’ll need to be paid to change things.

The paper also asks the Finnish farmers’ lobby group MTK about the situation, and finds a similar attitude. There are some common interests, for instance finding efficiencies in resource use, which save money and reduce climate impact.

But as the CAP budget comes under pressure at the European level, it is clear there will be a fight over how it can also be made more climate-friendly.

Budget negotiations start next Thursday, and Finland’s corner will be fought by farmer and Agriculture Minister Jari Leppä, who in 2017 received some 115,000 euros in agricultural subsidies himself.

His position shows the precarious balancing act supporting the Finnish government’s target of carbon neutrality by 2035 while maintaining support among the Centre Party’s rural base.

Bigger towns benefiting from Helsinki

Kauppalehti reports on another hardy perennial of the metropolitan Finnish news cycle: subsidies for smaller rural municipalities.

The paper reports that the subsidies are no longer only for the small isolated villages in the countryside, as increasing numbers of city councils nationwide start to receive additional funds.

Helsinki is the biggest net payer into the system, with the city handing over 373 million euros in tax revenues to be redistributed among other councils.

That amounts to some 581 euros per resident.

Vantaa, Espoo and Turku are also net payers but other big cities including Tampere, Oulu, Kuopio and Jyväskylä receive money from the central pot.

The figures show the reality of a Finnish economy increasingly focused on the Helsinki region, with other areas struggling to catch up.

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