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Wednesday's papers: Populists in govt talks, Migri censured, fit in Finland, winter-time push

Finns Party in early government talks, slap on the wrist for immigration officials, fitness in Finland and a final push to stop changing the clocks.

Miehiä sauvakävelylenkillä.
A new study says Finland is the fittest western country. Image: Riikka Pennanen / Yle

Government formation talks will officially begin on Friday, but discussions on the outlines of the next administration's economic policy are already underway -- and the nationalist Finns Party is involved, tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat reports on Wednesday.

"No party has been excluded from the negotiations," a source told the paper.

IS said that according to information it has obtained, Social Democratic Party (SDP) general secretary Antton Rönnholm is leading the intense negotiations behind the scenes and the economy is seen as one of the most difficult areas to find consensus.

On Friday the SDP, which narrowly won a mandate to lead formation of a new government, will summon parliamentary groups and will provide them with a series of fundamental questions about the administration's programme for the next four years.

The government is likely to comprise at least the SDP, led by ex-union boss Antti Rinne, and the conservative National Coalition Party, chaired by outgoing Finance Minister Petteri Orpo, according to IS. However it wrote that the populist Finns Party has not been ruled out, despite Rinne's comments suggesting that it may have been.

"With regard to the government's composition, everything is still open," the paper was told.

Migri "overstepped its authority"

The Finnish Immigration Service Migri recently received a slap on the wrist from the deputy chancellor of justice for directing officials to retain the passports of asylum applicants. Another tabloid, Iltalehti, reports Wednesday that the deputy chancellor ruled that the immigration agency overstepped its authority when it issued the guidance in 2016 and said further that the practice is not based in law.

In summer 2016, Migri issued guidelines to the police and border guards, calling on them to retain passports or other travel documents submitted with asylum applications until the cases were either approved or rejected. The directive specifically targeted people seeking international protection and the National Police Board had in turn urged police departments to comply with the recommendation.

The deputy chancellor began to investigate the practice following a complaint filed in 2017 by one applicant whose passport was taken by police officials. The deputy chancellor found that Migri's actions violated the principle of legality and that the practice of seizing a passport as part of the asylum process was a matter that required legislation. In other words, the decision to retain passports was a matter for lawmakers to decide, not Migri, IL wrote.

Following the ruling by the deputy chancellor of justice, the Interior Ministry began preparing an amendment to legalise the practice. A new reform that will make it legal for police and border officials to seize the passports of asylum applicants will take effect from 1 June.

Finns fittest among western nations

Finns are in excellent physical shape, according to another IL report. The paper picked up coverage of a new World Health Organisation study carried by Business Insider Nordic, which found that although Uganda topped 168 countries in terms of citizens' fitness, Finland ranked first among rich western countries, where work requires less activity.

IL writes that as recently as the 1960s, Finland led the rest of the world in terms of the prevalence of heart and vascular disease among men. However the situation has turned around, in part because people smoke significantly less than before and have healthier diets. But Finnish residents are also keener on looking after their bodies, IT noted. The WHO study suggests that 56 percent of residents aged 30 to 64 engage in at least one hour moderate physical activity every day.

Business Insider Nordic also highlighted the popularity of Nordic walking in Finland and the fact that schools and workplaces encourage students and employees to exercise.

Time up for changing the clocks?

Finland is hoping to use its rotating EU presidency to push through a final decision by EU member states on giving up daylight saving time, says the southwest Finland-based Turun Sanomat.

Although the European Parliament endorsed the decision to abandon the biannual ritual back in March, the European Council, the body that defines the bloc's policy agenda, has yet to corral member states to adopt a conclusive stance on the issue. Finland hoped that this would happen during Romania's EU presidency during the first half of this year.

"Finland's goal is to also get an official decision at the level of the EU Council during its presidency through to the end of the year. It's not that simple, given that there are 27 member states and each of them will have to ask national parliaments and governments about the matter and then draft a national position, but we are aiming for a decision," said Maria Rautavirta, a counselor with the transport and communications ministry.

Rautavirta said that it would still be possible to call time on daylight saving time in 2021 if Finland is able to push through a final decision during its EU presidency. Once the EU Council upholds the EU Parliament's decision, each member state will determine whether to retain summer or winter (normal) time as standard.

Finland has already indicated support for adopting winter time as permanent standard time. However Rautavirta said that the then-cabinet's support for winter time is only an initial position that can still be negotiated.

"The final position will come from parliament and it will then be implemented nationally," she added.

A majority in neighbouring Estonia is said to back switching permanently to summer time, while studies show people in Finland prefer sticking with winter or normal time. Rautavirta noted that normal time would keep Finland in the same time zone with Estonia, while it would be one hour ahead of Sweden if winter time applies in all three locations.

Edit: Updated at 11.16am to clarify how Finland would stand with respect to Estonia and Sweden if winter time becomes the norm throughout.

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