The leader of the Swedish People's Party, Carl Haglund, has told Yle News that he wants to vastly increase the number of immigrants coming to Finland, in order to plug a looming pensions shortfall and replenish the country's ageing workforce.
Haglund, who is also defence minister, also laid out the SPP's stance on joining Nato, in the second of Yle News's interviews with the leaders of Finland's eight major parties in the run-up to the general election on April 19.
Haglund said that he is not advocating for a public referendum on whether or not the country should take the controversial step of becoming part of the military alliance. He said that the public does not currently have enough facts at its disposal to be able to draw an informed conclusion about such an important decision.
“I'm not necessarily opposed to [a referendum] but I'm not advocating for one,” he said. “We need more facts in this discussion, we do have a lot of facts on the table but there are a lot of facts and a lot of wild speculation, and a lot of people presuming this and that.”
Describing his party as “more pro than we are con” regarding the controversial issue of joining Nato, Haglund called for a parliamentary committee to immediately begin weighing up the case for and against seeking membership.
“A parliamentary committee would be a good idea to look at this to come to some sort of a conclusion as a basis for public discussion. And possibly that would end up concluding that we need a referendum, possibly not,” he said.
Failed election pledge
Responding to questioning about his party's recent performance in government, Haglund accepted that the SPP had not met its 2011 election pledge to balance the majority of the country's finances by this year. He insisted that unforseen events, such as the deterioration in Europe's relations with Russia, as well as internal disagreements within the six-party governing coalition, made such a goal almost impossible to achieve.
He also denied claims that his party, which has been in power continuously since 1979, had failed to make its voice heard in the most recent government coalition, insisting that the current state of the country's economy and finances would be far worse were it not for the SPP. However, he also admitted that, with hindsight, some decisions could have been taken more effectively.
Speaking to Yle while on a visit to an elderly people's home in Nurmijärvi, north of Helsinki, Haglund pointed to recent research by the think-tank EVA which said that Finland needs to be taking in double the current amount of immigrants every year in order to care for and support the country's ageing population.
Responding to the argument that the unemployment rate among Finland's immigrants is considerably higher than among the general population, Haglund said that a mindset change is required in Finland to make employers more open to giving jobs to outsiders.
He said that unnecessarily high language requirements are often used as an excuse not to employ foreigners. But he admitted that bringing about a change in attitude among Finland's employers is easier said than done.
“Most people do agree on some sort of rational level that this is something we are going to need to do, but we are still in the minority in relation to the political field in general,” Haglund said.
“But the only way up is to work hard, so we're not going to give up. And reality's on our side, that's an upside. I think that employers, the business market, the labour market will at some point have to adjust and live up to this.”
Ineffective Swedish lessons
Commenting on the issue of Swedish teaching in schools, Haglund agreed that there are widespread shortcomings in the effectiveness with which Swedish is taught to Finnish schoolchildren.
He called for Swedish teaching to be more immersive, and to start when children are younger, so they pick it up with less difficulty.
But he dismissed the argument that compulsory Swedish should be dropped from the curriculum altogether.
“I can't see how Finland would benefit from having less languages,” Haglund said.
Ahead of the parliamentary elections due on 19 April, Yle News is interviewing all the party leaders in English. We'll produce a short online film on each of the party chairs where we grill them on their plans for the next electoral term.