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Thursday's papers: Ministries at odds over ID verification, Christmas market sauna, and back taxes

Finland's media reports on two approaches to limiting bank fees for e-services, the prospect of a fourth consecutive Christmas with no snow, and a tax deadline.

Tuomaan Markkinat
The Helsinki Christmas Market in 2016. Image: Torikorttelit

The daily Helsingin Sanomat features a story on the contradiction between two of Finland's government bodies on the subject of electronic identification. It seems the Ministry of Finance is working on a project to harmonize the country's various identity verification systems into one independent service, while the Ministry of Transport and Communications is exploring how to open the identity provider market up to more competitors.

At present, 90 percent public service customers in Finland log in to electronic websites with bank codes. Each chain of banks that operates in the country has a different verification system for this, and each currently retains a three to ten cent fee for every authorization. About four percent of online verifications are made through a telecom service.

Finnish residents have used their bank codes or phones to verify their identity over 90 million times this year, meaning that the state has paid over five million euros in fees to the banks.

The ministries want these payments to end. The Finance Ministry's solution is to develop a "national identifier" that is not tied to any banks or telecom operators. The Transport Ministry's proposal, which will be discussed by the government on Thursday, would cap bank fees for the service at three euros and do away with first-time processing fees for setting up the service, in the name of promoting universal access to e-services.

No snow for Christmas in the south?

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat starts in with the annual tradition of speculating about whether the south will have a white Christmas this year. It says that for the last three years, the holidays have been "black" in Helsinki, a phenomenon that has occurred only three times earlier, in 1928-30, 1949-1951 and 2006-2008.

The paper writes that if this year also finds the capital city area without snow, it will be the first-ever Christmas with four consecutive days without the white stuff. IS bases its story on measurements from the weather observation station in Helsinki's Kaisaniemi district, which has been tracking Finland's climate fluctuations since 1844.

"The last time we had snow in Helsinki for Christmas was 2015, when we had nine centimetres on the ground," a Finnish Meteorological Institute weather expert tells the tabloid.

Sauna in Senate Square

The local capital city paper Helsingin Uutiset continues on the holiday theme with a story on the opening of the Helsinki Christmas Market (Tuomaan markkinat) in Senate Square on Saturday. This year, the market will feature 140 vendors selling local Finnish produce, good food and gifts. New attractions include Christmas karaoke, circus and film presentations, and a "vegan ham bingo", the paper writes.

Last year's new attraction, the market's Christmas sauna, will also be warmed up and ready to use Wednesday through Friday from 3 to 8 pm, and on weekends from 2-9 pm. The sauna fee of 5 euros includes a towel. The Helsinki Christmas Market will be open from 1-22 December from 11 am to 8 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 7 pm on weekends.

Back taxes due on 1 December

And to finish, a reminder from the Joensuu-based newspaper Karjalainen that Monday is the last day to pay the taxman any back taxes that are due. If the amount of back taxes exceeds 170 euros, the sum has been divided into two instalments, the first of which is due on 3 December. The next instalment will come due on 2 February 2019, the paper says.

"If an individual has misplaced the bank transfer slips for back taxes that came with the tax decision, the payment details are also available via the Tax Administrations' new e-service MyTax. You can log in to MyTax with your online banking codes or a mobile certificate at vero.fi," reads the paper's excerpt from a press release.

The Finnish Tax Administration reports that 600,000 individuals owe 1.2 billion euros' worth of back taxes for the 2017 tax year. In contrast 3.6 million individuals will receive 2.9 billion euros in tax refunds on 11 December. The MyTax service can also be used to check the status of this payment.

Starting next year, the payment of tax refunds and back taxes will be spread out from August to December – meaning that there will no longer be one single payment day.

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