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Friday's papers: Progress in budget talks, Russia-Ukraine security worries, mobile Covid testing

Papers report progress in budget talks, but also speculation that clashes could bring down the government coalition.

Valtiovarainministeri Matti Vanhanen syventyy matkapuhelimeensa. Taustalla opetusministeri Jussi Saramo.
In the foreground, Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen (Cen) at government budget talks on Wednesday. Image: Jussi Toivanen / Valtioneuvoston kanslia

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat quotes its sources in government talks on a framework for next year's state budget as saying that progress is being made, but also that late on Thursday Centre Party leader Annika Saarikko described that progress as "mouse steps".

Meanwhile, the Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat writes that in addition to the budget itself, these talks may determine whether or not the present coalition government remains in office.

This paper claims that disagreements, especially between the Centre Party and its left-wing partners are so great that they could lead to the collapse of the government. It writes that a compromise proposal brought to the table by Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) did not suit the Centre Party.

Measures to raise the employment rate continue to be at the core of the dispute.

Leaving the talks late on Thursday night, Minister of Finance Matti Vanhanen (Cen) told HS that while progress had been made there are also fundamental, genuinely difficult differences.

According to Vanhanen, the issues still needing to be resolved include "expenditure levels, employment, the continuation of emissions trading compensation, peat and what taxes are ultimately outlined."

Crisis or not?

In a bylined article, Iltalehti political correspondent Lauri Nurmi rejected speculation that the government may have come to the end of its road.

"The Marin government is no longer a union of love," writes Nurmi, but he points to two factors that continue to bind the ruling coalition together.

The first is the need for the Centre Party to be in the government. Without government power, the Centre would have no opportunity to influence the daily lives of its voters. Nurmi describes party chair Annika Saarikko and Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Cen) as two of the greatest political talents of their generation. They want to make an impact and not sit in the backroom.

Both Marin and Saarikko know that a real government crisis would stain their careers. It would give many middle-aged male politicians the opportunity to gloat, "What did we say? The ladies couldn't carry the ball," writes Lauri Nurmi.

"While a united government is likely to walk out of the briefing on Friday, the faces of many cabinet ministers and special assistants when seen in the spring sun will have small wrinkles not seen there a year ago," Nurmi predicts in Friday's Iltalehti.

Rebounding economy

Several leading economists tell Helsingin Sanomat that Finland can look forward to a period of strong economic growth starting this summer at the latest.

According to Markla Lehmus, forecast manager at the ETLA Economic Research institute, the upswing in the economy could start around midsummer.

"While full vaccination coverage will not yet be available at that point, there will be enough vaccinated people to get the economy rolling," said Lehmus.

Elina Pylkkänen, director of the Labour Institute for Economic Research stated that she thinks the Finance Ministry's growth forecast is far too low. Her institute is projecting growth of 2.5 percent this year and 3.1 percent next year and saying it is likely that it could be even higher.

Both Lehmus and Pylkkänen pin high growth expectations on two factors in particular.

The first is the recovery in the service sectors that have suffered the most during the pandemic. It is assumed that when vaccine coverage reaches a sufficient level, people will start consuming services again at the same level as before.

The second reason is the household savings rate which has climbed during the coronavirus epidemic. It is now likely that the higher-than-usual savings accumulated during the past year and more will start flowing back into the economy soon.

Russia-Ukraine worries

A poll by the farmers' union daily Maaseudun Tulevaisuus suggests that one in four people in Finland believes that the Russia-Ukraine crisis will develop into a full-scale war and that half think the situation will weaken Finland's own security position.

Those in rural regions and middle-aged men rated the threat of war more likely than other respondents. One in three supporters of the Finns Party and the Centre Party believes that a major war will break out between Russia and Ukraine. More than a fifth of supporters of other parties have the same view.

Half of those polled think that the crisis in eastern Ukraine is already weakening Finland's security situation. Men are clearly more concerned than women about the impact of the situation in Ukraine on Finland's security. A third of respondents do not consider the events in Ukraine a threat to Finland's security.

The MT poll was conducted by Kantar TNS Agri. April 16-21 and included 1,054 responses.

Mobile testing

The local Helsinki daily Helsingin Uutiset reports that the City of Helsinki has this week started a mobile coronavirus testing service using a vehicle making stops in Kannelmäki, Malmi, Kontula, Itäkeskus and Vuosaari.

The tests are free-of-charge and available without an appointment or a referral. All that is needed is a valid ID.

A negative corona test certificate is not provided, but test results go into a personal database where they can be accessed and printed out.

Full information about testing, and the mobile service in English can be found on the city's coronavirus updates page.

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