National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo says that Finland faces a wave of job cuts by municipalities this autumn as the country grapples with an economic downturn.
Speaking at a party congress in Pori that re-elected him as leader unopposed, Orpo criticised the government and painted a grim picture of Finland's economic situation.
He pointed to the global recession, a crisis in the travel business, and export industries' probable layoffs.
"Finland's challenges are just beginning," said Orpo. "Because our competitiveness is not in order, there's a grim time ahead for Finnish jobs."
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In his keynote address Orpo said that this difficult economic situation will affect the public sector too, as municipalities will have to make tough decisions.
"In the municipalities there is no magic ATM from which they can withdraw cash, when the money runs out they have to make savings," said Orpo, who said that youth workers, teachers and nurses could be targeted for lay-offs.
Orpo's speech took place on Sunday morning as delegates started the third day of their party conference. In addition to his election as leader, delegates at the conference elected Antti Häkkänen, Elina Lepomäki and Anna-Kaisa Ikonen as vice-chairs, and Heikki Autto as secretary of the party board.
The NCP is the joint-largest opposition party in Finland with 38 seats in parliament.
It is autumn conference season in Finland, and on Saturday the Centre Party had changed leader at its conference, with Katri Kulmuni losing the vote to Annika Saariko.
Clear blue water between the parties
Signalling clearer divides in Finland's political scene, Orpo said that fifteen years ago there could sometimes be little difference between the parties. That has now changed.
"In school textbooks it was taught that in Finland there are three large parties, and two of them at a time are in government," said Orpo. "There was ten years of pretty much unbroken economic growth behind us, a time of rising living standards. There was talk of dividing the spoils, for which the parties had differing plans. The big picture and future direction was agreed by everyone, more or less."
The situation in 2020 is very different, according to Orpo.
"Politics has returned to an era of alternatives," said Orpo. "The coming months will decide Finland's direction for a decade. At times like these the government cannot sit in power for four years without its actions being continually challenged and criticised.
Orpo said that the NCP wants to preserve the Finnish welfare state without resorting to populism or 'alternative facts'.
"We do it in a tolerant way, so that Finland is an open society where everyone can live their own life," said Orpo. "We don't compromise on equality and human rights. We do it responsibly, so that the guiding principles of our decision-making is ecological, social and economic responsibility."
Orpo also emphasised that Finland is closely bound to the European Union and an active member of the UN — and that the NCP wants Finland to join Nato at some point.
"We have an alternative to Finland's current direction," said Orpo. "Our alternative is about stability, the economy, work and the future. The politics of hope."