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Wednesday's papers: Lobbyist pressure, housing market risks and Pyeongchang predictions

Wednesday's papers include stories on the private healthcare industry's recruitment of NCP politicians, housing market worries and the upcoming Olympics.

Some new-build flats come with big debts attached. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Finland's reform of social and health care has been a long-running, complicated affair that may soon be drawing to a close. Over the course of the negotiations several politicians from the National Coalition Party have joined companies in the healthcare industry, and the party has stuck fast to their line that would give as much of Finland's healthcare services as possible to private providers.

This revolving door has opened again, with the news that Sanna Lauslahti, a third-term NCP MP, has resigned from parliament to join the pharmaceutical industry lobby group Pharma Industry Finland. Ilta-Sanomat reports that not all NCP MPs are happy with the situation.

"I don't know if it will affect our support, but it raises suspicions," said veteran NCP MP Pertti Salolainen.

Last week IS reported quotes from an unnamed party figure that the party worked closely with private healthcare industry lobbyists during negotiations on the reform last year, and today Salolainen echoes those concerns.

"The worst would be if the public sector is destroyed and the private sector gets a disproportionately strong position in healthcare," said Salolainen.

Risky real estate

Trouble on the stock market may be in the headlines, but the housing market is not immune to difficulties, and Helsingin Sanomat looks at one very particular risk in Finland. Mortgage lender Hypo's Managing Director Ari Pauna tels HS that the Finnish system of housing companies could conceal a broader risk.

That system is founded on buildings being owned by shareholder-owned companies. Each shareholder holds stock in proportion to their flat's size, with repairs and maintenance for the building undertaken and paid for by that company. The shareholders pay a monthly service charge, and pay off their share of the loans taken out for big repairs and renovations to the structure.

It's those loans that Pauna sees as a problem. Some building companies have recently begun to sell apartments (that is, shares in the aforementioned companies that allow the holder to live in one of the apartments) at very low prices. The catch is that the apartment comes with a huge loan taken out by the housing company and to be paid off by the shareholders.

Many of these highly-leveraged flats are being sold to investors, who would not otherwise be able to afford them. If there is a problem with the loans, Pauna says that the contagion could spread, and interest rates for everyone--even the relatively conservative and diligent older Finnish housing companies--could shoot up.

Pyeongchang on my mind

This week is the big kickoff for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and much of Finland is of course feverishly excited about the event. The country's main medal hope is biathlon star Kaisa Mäkäräinen, although there are also possibilities for success in snowboarding, speed skating and other sports too.

The opening ceremony is on Friday, and Ilta-Sanomat is among the outlets to report that 40-year-old ski jumper Janne Ahonen is to carry the flag. He will be the first Finn to do so at two Olympic games, having first had the honour at the 1998 games in Nagano.

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