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Tuesday's papers: Justice Chancellor rules on Soini, PE teachers in the dark, farm aid heading south

Finland's press discuss an expected decision on the Foreign Minister's anti-abortion activities, teachers' struggle with data privacy issues and drought relief.

Ulkoministeri Timo Soini eduskunnan täysistunnossa.
Finland's Foreign Minister Timo Soini in Parliament on September 12. Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

This Tuesday the Joensuu-based newspaper Karjalainen carries an STT news agency story on a decision expected today from Finland's Chancellor of Justice – the nation's top arbitrator of the lawfulness of government actions – on the anti-abortion activities of Foreign Minister Timo Soini. The decision follows an official complaint made after Soini participated in a pro-life event in Canada, while he was there representing Finland as foreign minister.

"Participating in a candlelight vigil in honour of abortion victims was an expression of my sincere and genuine religious beliefs, which enjoy the protection of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion," the Finnish foreign minister wrote in his report to the Chancellor.

The Catholic minister also argued that he did not speak or assume any kind of role at the vigil, and that former Christian Democrat Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen had been granted leave to speak at a religious event in 2013 on the basis of her religious beliefs. But the paper reports that Turku University professor of public law Juha Lavapuro told STT in August that Räsänen's case is different because her ministerial post was less representative of Finland, and more importantly, she participated in the event in question during her free time.

Foreign Minister Soini is also facing a confidence vote in the Finnish Parliament on a date yet to be decided because of his vocal anti-abortion views.

"In a world where women's rights are increasingly being challenged, it is not right that Finland's foreign minister repeatedly does things in defiance of them," said the Social Democratic Party's parliamentary chair, Antti Lindtman.

Karjalainen writes that only two ministers in Finnish history have been at the receiving end of a vote of no confidence. Foreign Minister Rudolf Holsti in 1922 for entering into a joint foreign policy agreement with Poland and the Baltic States, and Interior Minister Yrjö Leino in 1948 for handing over Finnish citizens that were eventually placed in a Soviet prison camp.

Health history remains a mystery

The tabloid Ilta-Sanomat looks at the ramifications of new data privacy laws in light of the recent death of an Espoo pupil after a school fitness test.

Health care data in Finnish schools remain confidential, and rules from the National Agency for Education state that patient information can only be disclosed with the written consent of the pupils or their parents, IS writes. This means that teachers can only learn of a pupil's health issues or illnesses if the parents or the pupils themselves speak up.

"So we've got an interesting situation whereby teachers basically can't get this information. If a child has an illness like asthma or some other health problem, the family has to inform them," Kasper Salin, head of Finland's union of PE and health care teachers, tells the paper.

Aulis Pitkälä, director of culture and education in the metropolitan city of Espoo, had earlier told IS that the secondary school boy who perished after participating in the "Piip" running test had been prone to fainting spells.

Salin tells the paper that when new laws on Finnish secondary schools were being drafted last year, his union pointed out that PE teachers in particular should have access to important information about their pupils. The "Move" fitness test that was in used in Espoo contained instructions exempting students with serious heart issues or a history of passing out after strenuous exercise. But Salin argues that unless the pupils or parents say that this is the case, it is impossible for the teacher to know.

"And then it is challenging for the teacher if there are students that repeatedly try to get out of participating in gym class. Unless the family has confirmed that the pupil has been ill, the teacher has a hard time judging whether the minor really is sick or if they are just trying to skip the lesson," he says.

Two-thirds of drought relief heads south

And this Tuesday, the Oulu-based newspaper Kaleva talks about the distribution of Finland's aid for its farmers, after a long and hot summer brought drought to many areas.

In August, the government decided to grant 30 million euros in crisis support for farmers, two-thirds of which went to areas south of the Pori-Lappeenranta line. This leaves just 10 million for thousands of farms north of this boundary.

Minna-Mari Kaila from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry tells the paper, which serves the north-western area of the country, how the remaining 10 million will be used.

"At the end of the year, about five million euros will be targeted towards farms with livestock, and about 2.5 million euros will be distributed as aid to vegetable growers. This leaves 2.5 million euros to be paid out as aid next year," she says.

The paper asks her why the lion's share of the aid was directed to a relatively small area of the south.

"We examined the situation as a whole, and the damages due to drought were the largest in southern Finland, and so the focus of the aid is there."

Agrarian lobby MTK director Juha Marttila says that the 30-million-euro supplementary aid package is insufficient to resolve the setback to local farmers. He told Kaleva that the only lasting solution would be a rise in producer prices.

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