In a post (in Finnish here) on his blog whose title is “Enjoy the new Parliament term“, Antti Rinne gives the views of the Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) on the present situation, and on the differences between the policy the SDP would pursue and the government’s programme. Such a clear presentation is quite interesting to understand political differences in Finland, and is a good base to follow the political discussions at the national level.
Antti Rinne post begins by remarks concerning the strained atmosphere in Finland, and the concerns over the state of the economy: “The parliament term begins today after the summer break. During this summer, our citizens have expressed their concerns regarding the unjust budget cuts as well as the strained atmosphere. Additionally, there is a general concern over the state of the economy. The Social Democratic Party shares these concerns and offers alternatives to current Cabinet politics. A concern over the strained atmosphere is something both the Social Democratic Party and the Cabinet have in common“.
Support for Sipilä’s refugees policy
Antti Rinne first expresses his support for the government on the refugees’ question: “This summer’s discussion over Finnish values has taken an enormous leap ahead as tens of thousands have rallied for an open and tolerant Finland. I want to salute the Cabinet for how it has handled the flood of refugees from crisis areas. A general understanding for their plight can now be heard in Cabinet speeches. Parents won’t put their children on a boat – unless the boat is safer than the conditions on the ground. The Cabinet has the support of the Social Democratic Party in this matter, it can count on that“.
More finesse requested for boosting competitiveness
Considering that Antti Rinne is the leader of the opposition, we could have expected a strrong opposition to the government social contract and the budget cuts. In fact, he is quite measured, and asks Juha Sipilä in fact to avoid general measures and rely on sector-specific negociations in order to get sector-specific competitiveness measures: “The Cabinet seems to have lost its direction, after the social contract for labour market organizations failed. It focused on the competitiveness matters, forgetting the surrounding reality. True, some sectors in Finland do have competitiveness issues, but they cannot be solved by mechanic solutions punishing all wage earners. Sector-specific problems need sector-specific solutions. The proposed local agreement is a model, the expansion of which has the full support of the SDP – as long as there is trust between the employees and the employers“. Having been a trade union leader, and being as the SDP leader quite near the trade unions, it looks like a call for more flexibility in the way of building the government’s social contract.
Less cuts for the pensioners benefiting from medical assistance and housing benefits
It is not surprising that the leader of the left pleads for more contribution of the rich and less from the poor. The interesting point is that Antti Rinne is not objecting to the principle of cuts, just on the way it is done. Even in M. Sipilä’s party, in the Finns Party, there are voices criticizing the measures targeted at the poors among the pensioners. It may mean some changes during the discussions in the Parliament. M. Rinne writes: “The SDP is a party supporting workers, and it is normal that we are rather critical of pay cuts and similar measures when they are not justified. We object to cuts aimed at Finns in the weakest state. The Cabinet has forgotten to be reasonable, specifically when it comes to pensioners whose housing benefits and medical assistance are facing cuts worth hundreds of millions of euros. Adjusting the economy can be done in a fair manner however, everyone should participate according to their resources“.
Serious doubts on the content of the bioeconomy programme and on the cuts in education
We are here at the core of ideological differences, as M. Sipilä belongs to an agrarian party, very well established in the countryside, when M. Rinne is the leader of what was initially a workers’ party, more urban. The alliance of these 2 parties has been able diuring decades to lead Finland in a balanced way. In the government’s programme, M. Sipilä proposes to put stress on bioenergy, which would boost agriculture, but additionally the funds of the government would directly support the Finnish agriculture instead of focusing on the bio-industry itself. Antti Rinne disagrees with theis approach: “At the core of the SDP’s alternative is developing an individual in a functioning welfare society as well as faith in modernity and scientific progress. The Cabinet’s main programs seem rather implausible when a third of funds intended for bio economy are used for agriculture promotion. A Finland based on primary production has not existed in half a century“.
For education, Antti Rinne is totally opposing the cuts, as are a number of members of M. Sipilä’s party. M. Rinne states that: “A one-time investment of 300 million euros to education does not make up for the oversized education cuts which were set out in the initial government program. I have not heard of a single economy which would have risen from this kind of difficult economic situation by cutting its level of know-how. The Cabinet’s decisions mean that, for the first time in 100 years, the parent’s level of education will be higher than that of their children. This is the direction that the SDP wants to change“.
A possible collaboration between the Centre Party and the SDP?
M. Rinne concludes: “Together we can seek solutions for these problems. At the beginning of this new parliament term I offer a handshake of cooperation to the Cabinet“. This proposal by M. Rinne may mean a lot of things for the future: some support in the Parliament if M. Soini is unable to control its party’s MEP, an alternative to the present coalition, still wished by some members of the Centre Party, or just the guarantee that the SDP will not try to push for troubles for the government in a “strained atmosphere“? In all cases, it is good news for Finland: there is still a possibility of cooperation between M. Sipilä and M. Rinne.