Some months before the next elections for the Finnish Parliament, we will begin the analysis of the programme of the different political groups with the Greens (Vihreat), based on what they have already published on their site.
In democratic parties, the political programmes adopted in the congress of the party, as the one we are analysing here, is in fact the result of the vote on sometimes hundreds of motions presented by local section of the party. In this democratic exercise I have attended some years ago at a Swedish Social Democrat Congress, any idea which is not necessarily in the main line of the party may be voted by a majority of participants and added to the programme. This does not mean that the measure will be an element of the programme of the party when it goes to the government.
Another strange element for people from other countries is the relative freedom of the candidates, and the fierce competition among candidates of the same party, which may lead to strange fights, due to the originality of the Finnish democracy. The electoral system for parliamentary elections is based on a classical proportional representation system organised by districts. In these electoral districts, the population votes for individuals, not for parties. The votes of the individuasl of the same party are added, and it is on this basis that the number of seats of the party is determined for the district. This leads the candidates to compete against those of other parties, but also to compete against the other candidates from the same party in order to have a better ranking among them. It leads to individual differenciation of the candidates of the same party who are in competition: they may use specific themes of the party’s programme to be different from the others, and in some case add their own ideas on party’s topics, which is somewhat confusing.
A third element is the necessary existence of coalition governments: with such an electoral system, it is extremely seldom that a party gets a majority of votes, so governments are composed of a number of parties who agree on a common written programme which is supposed to be implemented for 4 years. This programme is negociated rapidly in the weeks between the election and the constitution of the government. From a democratic point of view, it means that in fact in a number of cases the parties bend their own programme to fit in the government, which gives in fact a big power to the party’s leadership to forget about their programme. That allows for very strange alliances, such as the present government going from the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus, right wing) to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and even the Left Alliance (Vasemmisto, left of the left), even if for example the programmes of these 3 parties in the election were in total opposition on certain topics. That may explain why the programmes of the parties are in some way a kind of dream, where realism is not necessary, and reality comes back during the discussions for the creation of the government.
A compilation of measures
The Green programme is in fact composed of 2 documents: “The Greens of Finland’s Statement of Principles: Responsibility, Freedom, Caring” adopted by the party conference in 2012, which sets the frame and principles, and “Towards a sustainable society: The Greens political target program 2015-2019” adopted in 2014, which goes in the detail of their proposals.
From a general point of view, knowing how a congress goes, I should not have been surprised by the size of this document, which includes 42 objectives and 221 proposals organised in 6 chapters. Some of these proposals are quite high-level and vague, such as the increase of the powers of the European Parliament (in which domains?), some are quite detailed, for example the increase of the Russian language provision in schools. The presentation does not always allow for really explaining the motivation and the mechanism of implementation of all the measures, when some of them are quite expensive or controversial (see below). In addition, the document lacks prioritisation: in particular, it would be interesting to know what exactly are going to be the measures that should be included in a government agreement, if the Greens are considering participating in a coalition.
I also doubt that the voters are going to read such a document. It will be interesting to see if the Greens are going to prepare a simpler document with the main reforms they want to promote for the next 4 years, following the example of the Finns’ Party for the EU parliamentary election, or if they have other plans for a clearer communication. There are other ways of proceeding: the programme of the Swedish Greens (Miljöpartiet, MP) is presented in a simple way, with an easy to read text with a limit amount of measures to be implemented rapidly; the French Greens (Les Verts) hasvechosen a much longer format, but limited the number of (not too controversial) measures in order to be able to detail them practically, as the document is clearly aimed at the press. It will be interesting to see how the Finnish Greens are going to proceed to become accessible for the general public.
There is also a matter of transparency: would it be possible for the voters to know before the election which of these 221 measures should be in a governmental programme for the Greens to join a coalition government?
The traditional green ideas
From the content point of view, it is not surprising that the Greens are focusing one important part on its classical themes: healthy environment, fight against the climate change by better housing and transportation, development of renewable energies, ethical and sustainable agriculture, animal welfare improvement, protecting the biodiversity, etc. This is quite developed, and the measures seem rational, even they would be a big step forward for Finland and Europe. I will not go in the detail, as I feel that we are going to find a number of these ideas in other parties’ programme: who could be in principle against the majority of these measures?
I have noted a particular idea which would need some extension: the development of smart grids for the distribution of electricity would certainly allow to deal better with peaks of demand and reduce emergency power needs. But I would have expected to see the Greens develop it on the basis for example of Jeremy Rifkins’s ideas concerning the Internet of energy in his book, “The Third Industrial Revolution“, an inspiration for some green parties around the world. Finland could become a leading country in this domain, with its strong capacity in the IT field. You can hear more about it here.
A last remark about the environmental side is the fact that the Greens in their programme are promoting the use of electric cars and of biofuels, which is a little surprising: a recent study,”comparative environmental life cycle assessment of conventional and electric vehicles” performed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows that the choice between electric and conventional cars is not so environmentally straightforward, and it has been confirmed by a more recent French study. For biofuels, there are some doubts about their environment impact, but Finland (and in particular Fortum) has a position of leadership in the domain, and I understand the Greens’ position.
Finance, Economy and employment
Years ago, the Greens were called ecologists, at least in France, and their programme was not covering other fields than the environment. There has been a global understanding among the Greens in Europe that it is difficult to address only the environmental protection, and that it is necessary to paint in green all the policies in order to achieve the protection of the environment and of human health. Also, if I may add, you cannot be easily elected if you have no other ideas which would qualify you to lead or participate in a government, which after all cannot take care only of environmental matters.
So the Finnish Greens programme addresses the main political domains, and not only environmental protection. As it is quite difficult to cover all the fields, I have focused on 3 main questions: how is the programme dealing with the present difficult financial situation, with the economic development and with the present high level of unemployment?
From the point of view of Finland’s public finances, the intentions are good: the idea is to “strengthen public finances (by correcting the structures of society)“. However, I would question the possibility to strengthen public finance if the programme was implemented, as I have read at each page measures which lead to more spending, such as for example the raise of disability pension earnings, waiving property transfer tax, improving social security for entrepreneurs and self-employed, developing a broad green investment strategy, investing in clean energy and energy efficiency, support the creation of new jobs for micro and SMEs, promote social housing, and affordable rental housing for students, developing a system for supporting caregivers, increase the number of nurses in geriatrics and in primary health care…
I have not doubt that these proposals make sense, but the link with the resources available is not clearly established. However, it must be understood that the programme is keynesian, from the economic point of view: it clearly states that “In bad times, the state is financing the future with significant public investments”, which means that the state financing is supposed to support the growth and bring more taxes for the state. And I agree that the measures proposed would probably have in a number of cases a positive effect on the consumption of local production (when it targets low incomes), or even facilitate the economic development by supporting the small entrepreneurs. The Greens are also including some measures which are in line with the plans of the present government, such as to sell all state-owned non-strategic assets in companies.
I would like here to make a special mention of the green economy and the investment in the renewable energies. It is a well-known phenomenon that new ideas first look extremely brilliant and create high expectations, then in a second phase are facing a general deception, and at the end are slowly put in practice and constitute the base of the economic growth. For me, the green economy follow that model: all political staff speaking about them 10 years ago, without any concrete idea of how to develop them; then it has been replaced by more trendy and newer ideas, and now seems like a good period to consider them again, as the ideas and the technology have developed a lot, products are less and less expensive, and a part of Germany’s and Sweden’s success seem to have been coming from the development of green technologies (with great success on the Chinese market). Even if the price of oil went down in the last months, the investments for example in green energy may be excellent for Finland.
The Greens are also proposing a change in the tax system, in order to replace the classical taxes by green taxes which aim at promoting a better environment in Finland. This has been done in Sweden, and it seems to have been quite successful.
In the domain of unemployment, the measures proposed are quite traditional and I dare to say quite near the Social Democrats usual proposals, for example the increased role of municipalities in the activation of unemployed people.
Some interesting controversies
I have focused this analysis on the environmental and the economic domains, as they are in my view very important challenges in this century. But the programme covers also a large range of other fields, such as well-being, the quality of health and social services, information, education and culture, respect of human rights, equality and democracy, solidarity of the European Union and global policies. The positions in these fields are interesting, but often not very far from those of other parties. However, on a number of points, there are courageous or controversial positions which will certainly attract the attention if they are discussed:
- The creation of congestion charges in major urban areas (which means that people using their car to go in the main towns should pay a fee). It has already been discussed, but not decided in Helsinki (It exists for example in Sweden)
- The changes in agriculture, in particular towards a ethical and sustainable agriculture, with a stress on supporting vegetarian food consumption and the production of vegetal proteins
- The end of fur farming
- The end of environmentally harmful subsidies
- Increase of pension contributions and raise of the retirement age (link with life expectancy)
- Creation of a basic income for all, which will encourage people to look for a job. An old idea, but it would simplify the administrative management of social support
- Limited liberalisation of the sale of wine and beers
- Waiving retail and service shops opening hours restrictions
- End the use of tax heavens for public money, including pensions funds
- Increase large estates inheritance tax
- Stop the reimbursement of consultations and treatments by private health providers, and use the funds for improving the public service
- Stop punishing the personal use and possession of illegal drugs (in particular cannabis)
- Public funding of food banks (bread queues)
- Allow undocumented immigrants access to the non-emergency health care
- Create a mechanism to detect early the cycle of debt accumulation and treat it
- Keep education and training free of charge
- Maintain and improve the network of public libraries
- Increase and improve Russian language provision in schools
- By law at least 40% of women and 40 % of men in the boards of companies in the Stock Exchange
- Separation of the Church and the State, so the state does not collect church taxes and the churches public role is transferred to municipalities
- Close all institutions for persons with disabilities and develop outside care (done in Sweden 20 years ago)
- Raise the refugees quota
- Ensure that the right of assisted death is in place
- Give the right to vote to 16 years old young people
- Increase the powers of the European Parliament (in particular allow it to initiate legislation) and give to the EU specific resources to replace partially member States contributions.
All these measures may have a big impact, positive and negative, on the public opinion and in a number of cases in the life of a number of Finnish people. I am not sure that they all are seriously considered by the leadership, and I would really like to know what will be during the campaign the attitude towards them, and what kind of answers the Green candidates are going to give when they are asked about them. Such a programme for a party wanting to be in a government to improve the society is quite risky, which is the reason why I would be interested to know which measures the Greens really want to push for the next 4 years, and how they are going to promote them.
The positions of the greens on refugees and illegals are quite liberal, and it looks like the Green party is going to have interesting debates with the Finns’ party on the topic. However, the Greens may be right from an humanitarian point of view: there are 5 times less refugees per inhabitant in Finland than in Sweden, 3 to 4 times less than in Germany, Switzerland or France… but 7 times more than in Russia.