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Opposition slams government’s employment, economic plans

The first interpellation debate since the coronavirus pandemic began was marked by tense exchanges between party leaders.

Pääministeri Sanna Marin (SDP) kuuntelee, kun valtiovarainministeri Matti Vanhanen (kesk.) vastaa opposition välikysymykseen eduskunnan täysistunnossa Helsingissä 30. syyskuuta 2020.
Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen and Prime Minister Sanni Marin during Wednesday's interpellation debate in Parliament. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

The government's package of measures to increase employment and stimulate the economy was criticised as inadequate by opposition parties during a marathon interpellation debate in Parliament on Wednesday.

The interpellation debate, which is followed by a confidence vote, is the first to take place during the coronavirus pandemic, with opposition parties stating in the spring that they would give the government space to work on the unfolding crisis.

In March the Finns Party cancelled a planned interpellation debate on the government's asylum policy.

After the government's budget negotiations all four opposition parties — the National Coalition Party (NCP), Finns Party (Finns), the Christian Democratic Party (CD) and Movement Now (MN) — agreed to table an interpellation debate criticising the measures announced to raise employment levels.

The government's target is to raise the employment rate to 75 percent.

In pursuit of that goal, the government said it would cut daycare fees and increase spending on salary subsidies, among other measures, but the opposition parties argued that these measures were expensive and likely to prove ineffective.

"The employment measures decided in the budget are not nearly enough," National Coalition Party (NCP) chair Petteri Orpo said. "If the 75 percent employment rate in the government programme were to be achieved, the required increase in employment would be well over 100,000 by the end of this government’s term."

However, the government defended its policies, arguing that it was not possible to stick to the original employment target due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis, and questioned the opposition’s motives in tabling the interpellation debate.

Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen (Cen) began his speech by saying that the opposition were capable of criticising the government’s policies, but not offer any joint strategies of their own.

"It remains unclear whether the MPs who signed the interpellation question and their parties have any common agenda that would provide an alternative to the government’s economic policy," Vanhanen said, and later criticised the opposition parties’ reluctance to discuss issues such as the removal of the pathway to early retirement and the cutting of unemployment benefits.

Tense exchanges

There were also some tense exchanges during the course of the debate, with NCP chair Orpo accusing Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) of failing to address the questions raised for the interpellation debate.

"We wanted to ask you what you are doing to help the unemployed. You are answering something completely incomprehensible. I do not think this is a suitable way to conduct parliamentary debate," Orpo said.

In reply, Marin said she answered the questions as they were put to her, and reiterated the government’s commitment to stimulate the economy by the extension of compulsory education and the reduction of early childcare fees.

The Prime Minister has clashed with the National Coalition Party in the past, most notably when she asked if the party was "ashamed" by its actions during last year’s parliamentary debate over the government’s plans to repatriate Finnish citizens from the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.

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