The government’s flagship project, a major reform of Finland’s regional government, health and social services, known as sote, looks to be delayed once again.
As a result, the associated provincial elections pencilled in for next May will again be put off indefinitely – until after a new government takes office.
In order for the vote to have gone ahead in May, the entire sote legislative package would have had to have been approved before the end of the year.
The centre-right cabinet, entering the final months of its four-year term, had hoped for a vote on the floor of the Parliament before its Christmas break, scheduled to begin on 21 December. That now appears impossible.
Vote before year's end "highly unlikely"
On Wednesday, the Social Affairs and Health Committee finally completed its draft memorandum on the complex reform. However before the package can go to the full legislature for an up-or-down vote, it must still be considered by the Constitutional Law Committee – and then go back to the Social Affairs and Health Committee for yet another look.
On Thursday, the chair of the Constitutional Law Committee, Left Alliance MP Annika Lapintie, said it was highly unlikely that the package would be ready for a final vote this year.
She said that her committee will begin considering the draft memo on Friday. First it must decide which experts to hear. They must be allowed 2-3 weeks to study the hundreds of pages of material before beginning testimony before the committee, which will take several weeks more.
Thus Constitutional Law Committee is not likely to come to any conclusions before mid-December, she said. Therefore the Social Affairs and Health Committee will probably not reconsider the matter until after Parliament reconvenes. MPs are now slated to return to work on 8 January after a shorter-than-usual holiday recess.
Provincial elections next autumn?
Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Annika Saarikko of the prime minister’s Centre Party told Yle that if Parliament doesn’t vote on sote until January, it will be too late for the provincial elections to be held at the same time European Parliament elections on 26 May. The Chancellor of Justice has ruled that there must be at least six months to prepare for the provincial elections after possible approval of the legislation.
Thus the provincial elections would probably be held in the autumn of 2019 – partly depending on a new government, which is expected to take over in late spring or early summer following a general election due in April.
And if sote is to be approved before the current three-party government leaves office, the final vote would have to be held in March, before the closing of the parliamentary term on 10 April. That is just four days before the parliamentary election.