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Monday's papers: Birth rate drop fallout, EU defence force support, city bikes and cheap petrol

Finnish dailies ponder how fewer babies being born will transform society, what the public thinks of a joint EU military, and more.

Autoja jonottamassa Tuurin kyläkauppaan.
Cars line up outside of the "Tuuri Village Shop" in 2013. Image: Yle

Helsingin Sanomat examines the long-term effects of "sharply and rapidly falling birth rates" in Finland. A dramatic slump in birth rates that began in Finland in 2015 is expected to make a big impact. For example, this coming autumn close to 60,000 children will start school throughout the country, but in just six years this number is expected to fall by 20 percent to just 47,500.

The paper says urban areas will fare better with the drop in children, thanks to domestic and especially international migration, but "the farther one moves out from built-up areas, the more the effects of the declining birth rate will be seen".

The changing demographic will likely first affect early childhood education, and later primary education. While Finland seeks to improve its services, it also has to prepare for smaller class sizes that will influence funding.

Terhi Päivärinta from the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities tells HS that municipalities will have to make individual decisions about how to meet the problem. She says combined primary and secondary schools will likely become more common, as smaller schoolhouses are discontinued – a centralization trend that has already changed the landscape of the countryside.

By the year 2030, the falling birth rate will hit the country's secondary and tertiary education institutions, the paper writes.

Statistics Finland predicts that birth rates in Finland will continue to fall, and by the year 2050, the population will start to grow incrementally smaller. Already now, there are six times more people over the age of 65 than there are children under three in Finland. The percentage of over-65s has almost doubled in the last 30 years, HS writes.

Poll: More Finns support EU defence force than oppose it

Next, the newspapers Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (MT), Verkkouutiset and Hufvudstadsbladet together commissioned a Kantar TNS poll of over 1,000 people that suggests that more Finnish residents would be willing to enter into a joint European Union defence agreement than would be against it.

Some 40 percent of the survey respondents supported Finland being a part of a joint military, compared to 25 percent who would prefer to stay out of external conflicts.

The survey also asked if Finland should come to the aid of EU member states that face a threat of war, and 64 percent of the respondents answered in the affirmative. MT asked Prime Minister Antti Rinne to comment on the poll results.

"If an EU country is the target of an armed assault, we would probably also declare a state of emergency," Rinne said. "[Finland] would probably be in a situation in which our troops and equipment would be needed here."

Rinne said that he doesn't support a common EU defence.

"There is no special factor that would require moving in the direction of a military union," he told the paper.

Is a new cycling craze on the way?

The Oulu-based paper Kaleva carries a story on bicycle retailers, who hope that the success of city bike networks in urban areas will inspire more Finns to buy bicycles of their own.

Bike sharing schemes have proven extremely popular in Helsinki, Turku and Oulu, for example, and Tampere is planning to launch its own service in 2020. For a small fee, people can use a city bike whenever they please for an hour and a half at time.

Helsinki resident Harri Pulliainen tells the paper that he uses the city bikes daily for his work commute, and the use of his own bike has tapered off as a result.

"If you buy a nice bike, it's just stolen right away," he tells Kaleva.

But bicycle manufacturers in Finland aren't threatened by the city bike boom, as they believe that more people will be inspired to take up the hobby.

"The way I see it at this point, city bikes are doing a better job of promoting cycling than creating competition," says Helkama sales director Harri Halme.

Founded in 1905, Helkama has manufactured bikes at its production facility in Hanko since 1953. Other Finnish bicycle brands include Pelago, Solifer and Tunturi. Tunturi was acquired by the Dutch company Accell in 2015.

Cheap petrol creates traffic hazard

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reports that "village shop owner" Vesa Keskinen's campaign to sell petrol for one euro a litre last Saturday at his megastore in western Finland didn't break the all-time record he set in 2012 for sales, despite selling over 20,000 litres in just seven hours. For this reason, the entrepreneur is planning a second campaign selling a litre of petrol for the price of 52 cents (to celebrate his 52nd birthday) for later this summer.

"I think a good time to schedule it would be 4 August, as it would coincide with the closing day of our Miljoona Tivoli amusement park," Keskinen told IS.

The giant golden horseshoe that is the calling card of Keskinen's popular "Tuuri Village Store", a large commercial complex in western Finland, was listed in a 2008 Reuters story focusing on ugly buildings and monuments.

IS reports that cars waited in line for up to two hours to take advantage of the cheap petrol deal on Saturday, causing some tempers to run high and several traffic hazards.

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