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Parties clash as budget talks enter second day

Yle's political correspondent said it was a case of "the Centre Party vs. the rest"

Annika Saarikko puhui medialle Säätytalolla 23. maaliskuuta.
Centre Party leader Annika Saarikko arrives at the house of the Estates. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Party leaders and government ministers have arrived at the House of the Estates for a second day of negotiations over the future of the national budget.

Talks over the budget framework were paused on Wednesday evening, with ministers saying little progress had been made.

"The governing parties are quite far apart," said Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen (Cen).

Key sticking points were disagreements over boosting employment and reducing the national debt, with Centre Party leader Annika Saarikko criticising PM Sanna Marin's (SDP) proposals on job creation.

Valtiovarainministeri Matti Vanhanen syventyy matkapuhelimeensa. Taustalla opetusministeri Jussi Saramo.
Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen and Education Minister Jussi Saramo (Left) during the socially-distanced negotiations. Image: Jussi Toivanen / Valtioneuvoston kanslia

But governing parties the SDP, Left Alliance and the Greens see Centre Party proposals on unemployment as a form of budget cut, which they oppose.

"Cuts in spending especially in education, climate and environmental goals, or people's well-being is not the way to deal with the crisis at the moment," Emma Kari, the Greens' parliamentary group chair, said last week.

Junior coalition partner the Swedish people's Party (SPP) indicated it could back proposals to stagger unemployment benefits, saying it could be done fairly.

Parties divided

"The government seems to be split in two: The Centre Party vs. the rest," said Yle's political correspondent Maria Stenroos.

A proposal by Marin to shift control of jobseeking services from TE employment offices to municipalities and boost employment of disabled people is an example of the disjoint between the governing parties.

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the proposal could help create between 41,000 and 52,500 jobs.

However, the Centre is pointing to Ministry of Finance figures which dispute those numbers, saying the impact would be significantly less.

Sisäministeri Maria Ohisalo (vas.), oikeusministeri Anna-Maja Henriksson, opetusministeri Jussi Saramo, tiede- ja kulttuuriministeri Annika Saarikko ja pääministeri Sanna Marin (oik.) saapuivat hallituksen puoliväliriiheen Säätytalolle.
The governing parties are split over cutting public debt. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

"This compromise doesn't work for the Centre Party, in their view, the proposal does not sufficiently strengthen the public finances," Stenroos said.

Conversely, the Centre Party's proposal to link unemployment benefits to prior earnings has struggled to find backing from left wing partners in government.

"The Centre thinks "tough measures" would bring a lot of jobs, others don't. The Centre thinks earnings-related staggering would be a structural change and increase incentives, others see a cut," Stenroos said.

'Guardians of the economy'

Arriving at the House of the Estates on Thursday, the party leaders expressed their differences.

"Yesterday's proposal was genuine. Now the basic level talks have been carried out, hopefully it will be tackled. I hope everyone is looking for a solution here," Marin said.

"There are five parties in this government, so everyone has to be flexible," she added.

"Supporting people is a good thing, but employment must always strengthen the national economy. Solutions must now be found to balance the books. We are now playing the role of guardians of the economy," Saarikko said.

Justice Minister and SPP leader Anna-Maja Henriksson said her party was prepared to discuss any employment measures.

"Now we need this willingness to find solutions from everyone. It's good to keep negotiating the [Marin's] compromise proposal. We are not wedded to one thing here," she said.

Speaking on Thursday, Saarikko also said another controversial issue – that of phasing out peat as an energy source – had not yet been discussed.

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