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Wednesday’s papers: Russia, Mediterranean migrants and a shorter working week

Coverage of Putin’s visit was plentiful, but there was also space for other stories.

Venäjän presidentti Vladimir Putin kuvattuna yhdessä tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistön kanssa Pietarissa 9. huhtikuuta.
Niinistö and Putin met in Saint Petersburg in April. Image: Michael Klimentyev / EPA

Vladimir Putin arrives in Finland on Wednesday off the back of protests in Moscow over candidates for upcoming local elections, possibly radioactive fallout from a new cruise missile and a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron this week at which the two compared notes on domestic protests.

Putin’s summer visit to Finland has become something of a tradition, with the Russian leader heading west each year since 2016. In 2018 he even met US President Donald Trump in Helsinki.

Finland is rarely on the world stage, and so Ilta-Sanomat basks in the spotlight in an editorial replete with potshots at those who criticised Finnish President Sauli Niinistö for meeting Putin in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. IS singles out Sweden for special mention, noting with satisfaction that Sweden and the other Nordics have ‘followed Niinistö’s example’ and met Putin anyway when the Nordic prime ministers assembled in Moscow this spring.

Iltalehti goes for a recap of previous meetings, warning Niinistö of the Putin propensity to surprise. Helsingin Sanomat has an analysis piece that outlines in some depth the countries' relations and motivations, concluding that relations are ‘as good as they could be nowadays’.

Running through the IS and HS pieces is the fact that Finland has always wanted to keep a line open to Moscow, as discussions with Russian leaders are important in achieving diplomatic goals. IS recalls that Niinistö told Sweden’s then-Foreign Minister Karin Enström in 2016 that Finland has a longer border with Russia than all other EU countries combined. So the consensus it is important to stay on good terms with the neighbours.

Refugee polling

Agrarian paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus publishes a poll that suggests opinion is split on whether Finland should take in refugees attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. The poll suggests that 47 percent said Finland should not accept such refugees, 37 percent said it should, while 16 percent declined to offer an opinion.

The paper reports this as ‘nearly half oppose’ taking in refugees, and also divides the poll by party support to state that supporters of the Centre Party and Finns Party are most opposed to accepting these migrants.

Over the summer Finland said it would accept 13 asylum seekers rescued from the Meditarranean. Parliament’s Grand Committee, which sets the parameters of Finnish EU policy, made clear this was a one-off gesture and not a policy shift--so the issue is likely to return to the political agenda soon.

Marin’s four-day week

Should Finland look at cutting working hours? That’s the debate started by Transport and Communications Minister Sanna Marin, who suggested that four days a week or six hours a day might be more appropriate than the current 40-hour week most workers perform.

The Social Democrat’s idea did not get a warm reception from those on the right of Finnish politics or employers’ organisations. The Juha Sipilä government had pushed through an increase in working hours across the economy in order to improve competitiveness in export industries, so some commentators are asking whether this is a step backwards.

That’s what Kauppalehti thinks, asking if Finnish working life is so terrible after all. “A six-hour day is too much if every minute is full of anguish,” suggests the paper’s op-ed. Iltalehti, meanwhile, takes a more positive if slightly condescending view: Marin is right that technology could well reduce the number of working hours people perform, but 'completely wrong' in thinking this is something central government or labour organisations can mandate.

That line, that Finland must change its tripartite labour negotiation system and move towards local pay bargaining, is a key talking point for employers’ organisations and one that may become more prominent now the union-backed SDP and Left Alliance are in government.

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