The chapter about the migration policy represents the last two pages of the government programme, and was one of these topics where divergences were expected between the parties in the government’s coalition. But finally the solution chosen reminds of the three (not so) wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and just ignore reality, because it is easier when there is no common approach among the partners in the coalition.
Some elections promises
The True Finns programme included among other topics:
- Lowering the number of immigrants: “Immigration policy should have the goal of a return to the net migration statistics of the 1990’s. The lowering of migrant numbers will allow resources to be freed and better used for integration specially in regard to challenging situations. When migration numbers are under control, the support for immigration policies from the main population will increase.”
- Limiting family reunification: “Many European countries, such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, have put significant restrictions into their family reunification legislation in recent years to prevent family members abroad from receiving welfare benefits. Finland should be taking lessons from these countries on how to develop similar policies rather than copying Sweden which has decided on ‘open door’ family reunification policies“.
- Cutting refugees’ quotas: “If there is a governmental budgetary deficit, expenditures are paid by additional debt and the level of basic public services is being decreased, then we must consider cutting refugee quotas“.
- No hiring of workers from outside Finland: “Finnish employers should put effort into hiring presently unemployed Finns and migrant youth already living in Finland and not be looking for workers outside our borders“.
- No health services for undocumented immigrants: “There is considerable discussion in Finland as to the offering of health services to undocumented persons as these people are living in Finland illegally. The Finns Party believes, unequivocally, that these persons should be deported and services should not be offered as these will only be an additional attraction“.
- No begging: “Finland, as well as other west European countries, have seen since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, a migration of a large number of Roma people engaging in solicitation. This solicitation is, more or less, associated with a great deal of street crime, shoplifting and burglaries. These phenomena can be effectively reduced by prohibitions of soliciting in public“.
The two other parties (National Coalition Party Kokoomus and Centre Party Keskusta) were not showing prejudice against any category of migrants. The main related element was Juha Sipilä’s declaration about work-based immigration: “In starter companies we have been asked to have more specialists from outside of EU countries and there are some limitations on this. We want to be more liberal in those cases – especially when we talk about specialists”. These declarations are in line with the positions of the National Coalition Party, Kokoomus.
The government programme: finally nothing should change
As could be expected in such a situation, the result is in fact a deception for everybody. None of the measures proposed by the True Finns are in the programme, which shows the extent to which Timo Soini was ready to let go of the main topics on which he has been elected, in order to get a minister’s position. The only minor satisfaction for his electorate is the sentence: “To participate in the international sharing of burdens, the number of quota refugees will be maintained at least at the same level”, which is going to be tested against the proposals of the Commission to share the burden with Italy who is under heavy refugees’ pressure.
Juha Sipilä and Alexander Stubb got nice sentences about work immigration, such as the introduction “The Government will promote work-related migration that enhances employment in Finland, boosts public finances, improves the dependency ratio and contributes to the internationalisation of the economy. The whole of Europe is ageing and will have to deal with the resulting problem of public deficits. Immigrants enhance our innovation capacity and increase our know-how by bringing their cultural strengths to Finnish society”; but it is followed some lines later by “As a general rule, testing for domestic availability of labour will continue as before…Collective agreements will be respected”, which means that nothing will really change in the work-immigration domain, except maybe some improvement in the procedure.
And in order to put some icing on the top of the cake, the government has decided to launch a study on the topic, which is, together with the creation of a committee, the best way to bury an embarrassing topic: “An independent study of the costs of migration and its impact on Finnish society will be conducted to enable facts-based discussion, better integration policies and better decision-making”.
All this is not going to solve Finland’s main problem, which comes clearly as stated in numerous public papers and studies from a demographic unbalance. In addition, it is quite schizophrenic, as the government has also taken a decision which will have a negative impact of the refugees’ policy. In 1970, the United Nations general assembly has voted a resolution stating the commitment of the world’s governments to commit 0.7% of rich-countries’ gross national product (GNP) to Official Development Assistance. The new centre-right Finnish government has decided to cut development aid by 43%, which makes it, after education, the biggest cuts in the government project. In addition to creating a clear opposition with the positions of the other Nordic countries, it is also a serious contradiction: if, as stated by Timo Soini, the difference of development between Europe and Africa is the main reason why refugees are coming in great numbers in Finland, why cut the budget which is contributing to fight this situation?
Today’s crisis is difficult to ignore
In addition, it will anyway be quite difficult for the new government to ignore the situation (hence the reference to the three not so wise monkeys) and just indicate that they will not accept more refugees. Due to the crisis in the Middle East and Africa, 26 000 candidates for the status of refugees have arrived in Italy in the first 4 months of 2015, which is more than twice the 2014 numbers. In addition to these “official” refugees, tens of thousands arrive undetected and circulate illegally within the EU borders. This constitutes a crisis for the EU, and a good test for its members: there is a growing debate in the European Union about the lack of unified immigration policies and funding for migrant rescue operations.
It will be also quite difficult to continue to ignore the humanitarian situation. As of April 20, there have been about 18 times as many refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April compared to the same period last year, according to initial estimates from the International Organization for Migration. It was until now calculated that in the last 20 years, 20 000 people have died trying to reach Europe, and the numbers have strongly increased in 2015. In addition to the people who died at sea, we should just remember that 864 died of hunger, 300 were asphyxiated in trucks, 254 murdered, 250 crushed by cars, and that almost 400 were committing suicide when arriving. It is a heavy humanitarian cost, and it is growing.
I am sure that Timo Soini and Juha Sipilä, who have strong religious values, are personally sensitive to the human aspect of this crisis. But, as their electorate is not very keen on anything which looks like supporting immigration and spending money on foreign countries or foreign citizens, when there is much to do in Finland and public money to do so is lacking, they may consider that the status quo is not a bad solution.
And what if Sipilä, Soini et Stubb decided to face the reality?
Finland deserves better than the present approach, and one could dream that Juha Sipilä, Alexander Stubb and Timo Soini find an honest way to present the debate to Finland’s population, and arrive to solutions which would take into account the real facts and issues.
A first need is to agree on a common terminology. The government, the politicians, the officials and the parties should be precise and avoid amalgams, which is a speciality of the True Finns: EU citizens, including the Romas, are legal immigrants who have a general right to come to Finland, and to settle in Finland, in the same way as Finnish citizens have the freedom to settle in other EU countries; non-EU nationals who have got a residence permit due for example to their working status, and their families, are also legal immigrants; people fleeing their countries to go to the EU and asking to get a refugee status are not illegals, and they can legally stay in refugees’ centres until it is decided if they become legal immigrants with a refugee status, or if they are extradited from the EU.
The truth should be said also about the only questionable category, the illegal immigrants: they are apparently 4 000 in Finland, and they are a diverse group, including asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected (after generally a too long period of administrative inquiries which makes it difficult to extradite them easily as they may already be integrated…) , those running from so-called ‘honour’ crime and victims of human trafficking, or simply foreigners with expired visas. Concentrating on them should not consist only in refusing to provide them healthcare as requested in his programme by Timo Soini, strage idea which goes against International Conventions and against common sense, because an untreated benign condition has good chance to lead to costly emergency compulsory treatments later. Evidently, these different groups of immigrants.should be treated differently according to their status.
It would be also interesting that each of the 3 parties explain what are their plans with this government programme to solve Finland’s demographic problem, which is according to all the main reason of the economic difficulties. The choices which have been clearly made by Sweden and Germany can be followed, with more work immigration, in line with Sipilä and Stubb views, but it will be difficult for Timo Soini; if no decision of this type is taken, then the Finnish population should be told what to expect, and what kind of efforts are going to be asked from them: how much will the diminution of pension will be? Will it be necessary to work until 70 or 72, as some experts are considering? How many high tech companies will leave Finland? Who is going to take the jobs that Finns refuse? This will not please the True Finns when it will come in 5 or 10 years…
It could also be requested from the government to tell the truth and, and explain clearly what the present situation is: contrary to what is said, Finland is dealing with a quite limited number of refugees (3 620 demands in 2014, against for example 202 000 in Germany, 64 000 in France and Italy, 15 000 in Denmark, 81 000 in Sweden, 13 000 in Norway and 24 000 in Switzerland). So a small increase in the number of refugees handled by Finland would not be an immense effort, and would perhaps guarantee a more thorough examination of the requests than if we let the situation as it is, with the majority of requests dealt by overburdened countries such as Greece and Italy, and no guarantee that the results are fair and that the process is guaranteeing EU security. We should all know that Italy is seriously considering giving a EU visa for one year to all immigrants arriving from North Africa, so they can cross the borders inside the EU, and as indicated by an Italian official, “go North”. Do we want to go in this direction, or do we help Italy?
Maybe it could also be said by the government that there is no need to fear a massive immigration to Finland, as the country is not very attractive for immigrants, with the language, the weather and the distances from the Mediterranean Sea. Even the social system is not sufficiently attractive: when practically the same social advantages, immigrants are clearly more attracted to countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland or Norway, or even the UK. If Juha Sipilä and Alexander Stubb want more work immigrants one day, there should be strong measures to get these workers to come to Finland, and it should be discussed.
Another issue is striking: if the government wanted really to participate really in the prevention of the massive arrival of refugees in the EU, which would be an understandable objective, it could have stated that it will promote peace through foreign policy, and support the development of the economy of the developing countries in order to allow their citizens to have a correct standard of life in their own country. I am not sure that the decisions to study seriously NATO membership and to cut development aid by 43 % are going in this direction…
In addition to these positive actions, internal measures could be taken to limit the number of illegals in the country. The existence in Finland of a population registry is a deterrent for illegals, as long as the employers respect the law and do not employ them. In reality, it is not the case in certain sectors where the black economy is prominent, classically such as construction, harbours, shipyards, hotels and restaurants. If we consider that people move illegally from developing to developed nations in search of better opportunities, and that many top economies rely on the inexpensive labour of illegal immigrants to stay competitive and reap higher profits, it should be clear that controlling more efficiently the employers and punishing firmly the CEOs for unlawful employment would be an efficient measure to avoid the presence of illegals in Finland, especially if their punishment would be aligned on those of trafickers. It would not perhaps be in line with Mr. Sipilä’s liberal line, but he could be reminded that the most liberal economy is the EU is UK, and that it is the most attractive for illegal aliens (estimated 2 years ago to be 800 000 in the UK alone). And again he has announced that he will fight the black market, which should include fighting the hiring of illegal immigrants by punishing the employers.
Some of these ideas could be supported by Keskusta and Kokoomus, some by the True Finns, but none almost would have the agreement of the 3 of them. However, together they represent different views on migration policy prevailing in Finland, and an agreement between them, which is still possible, would possibly provoke a national consensus.
For the moment, in order to avoid endangering the strange coalition leading the country, Finland may just continue its way, just as the Titanic did on the 15 of April 1912.