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Monday's papers: Upgrading EU defence, religion out of daycare, making it easier to get a driving license

Among the items in the Finnish newspaper press this morning are efforts aimed at increased security for the European Union, and some confusion over what new rules on religious instruction in early education really mean.

Ruuhkaa ja tulvavettä Turun moottoritiellä keskiviikkona aamulla 11. lokakuuta
Traffic on the streets of Turku. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The newsstand tabloid Iltalehti reports that Finland today will take what it calls a "significant step" forward in strengthening European Union defense cooperation when Foreign Minister Timo Soini signs the country up for the EU's Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence (PESCO) in Brussels.

The agreement is a framework aimed at jointly developing defence capabilities and making them available for EU military operations.

"We'll see where this leads," EU Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told Iltalehti, "but in any case, this is a major political commitment."

The paper notes that enhanced EU defense capability has long been one of Finland's goals and points to comments made earlier this year by President Sauli Niinistö stressing that in today's world the Europeans must increasingly look to their own security.

Iltalehti in part attributes efforts to upgrade EU defence as a response to criticism of the level of European defense spending by US President Donald Trump.

Finland is particularly interested in more cooperation in the areas of cyber warfare, drones, satellite imaging, maritime security and intelligence sharing. In addition, Finland wants greater involvement in international defense exercises.

Ethics rather than religion

A new early education curriculum issued in August has removed any religious instruction for children in public daycare, replacing it with instruction in secular ethics.

Nationwide, 72% of the population are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and traditionally Lutheran local parishes, as well as some other denominations, have participated in early education programmes in public daycare centres.

Helsingin Sanomat reports that with the publication of the new curriculum, a number of municipalities put an end to all cooperation with religious groups.

Jorma Kauppinen, who heads up early education at the National Agency for Education, told the paper that this is an over-reaction and that there is no ban in place on cooperation with churches. However, he pointed out that the content of what parishes can provide has changed, "The basis of instruction is  neutrality, and daycare authorities must think very carefully about what kind of [educational] content serves this goal. On the other hand, many events organized by churches can be generally suitable for all."

Helsingin Sanomat says many parishes are now working on creating new offerings for daycare centres that fulfill the new requirements, focusing on life skills and ethics that are suitable for all children.

The National Agency for Education is still in the process of creating specific guidelines detailing what this new policy will and will not allow.

On the road

The freesheet Metro today headlines the news that in future it will likely be easier and cheaper for young people to get a driving license in Finland.

Drivers' education is mandatory and the total cost of courses and practice driving can easily top 2000 euros. Parliament is now processing a government bill to revise the law in order to make it easier for parents to get permits to give their children private training behind the wheel.

If approved, the requirements for getting a teaching permit will simply include being 25 years of age, having at least five years of driving experience and no record of serious traffic violations. Although cars will still have to be fitted with a brake for the instructor, a mandatory and expensive inspection process will be eliminated. In addition, it will be possible to start lessons for youngsters at the age of 16.

At present, only around 60% of 18 year-olds in the country have gone through drivers' education and passed their tests.

Meanwhile, the Alma Media group, including the Tampere-based Aamulehti, dug into Finnish Transport Agency statistics from over the past eight years to find out who are the most dangerous, and the safest drivers on the nation's roads.

The analysis, published Monday, shows that the most accident prone group of drivers is 18 year-old men. The second most likely group to have an accident are women of the same age.

The data shows a clear trend - the risk of being involved in road accident declines as age rises up until around the age of 70. The elderly are involved in fewer accidents than are the young, but there are also fewer drivers in the older age groups.

Aamulehti says that the profiles of the safest drivers came in part as a surprise. The two groups who are responsible for the least number of accidents are drivers between the ages of 59 and 72, and women over the age of 91. The likely explanation is that they just don't drive very much.

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