In this week’s Welfare Status,
we finally discuss the issue that’s been the theme of last two weeks here
and also attracted attention outside of Finland;
the fall of Finland’s government. Anarchy continues to not reign
and the streets seems relatively calm, and indeed the fall of the government
now looks more like a damp squib than anything concrete,
with it being called nothing but an electoral trick by prime minister –
or maybe we should call it former prime minister? Well, let’s say Centre Party leader
Juha Sipilä aiming to save his ailing party. At least we can say it has been a signal for the election struggle to truly get going. So, why did the government fall? The primary reason is, of course,
the social and health care reform, as always. Now, I have gone over these things in previous videos, but I’ll repeat them as a short recap. This all started as early as in late 2015. Of course, even before this, social and health care reform had been a big topic in Finland. During the last few days,
Finns have been active on Twitter defending the Finnish health care
system from US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley, who attacked Bernie Sanders by saying that Finns don’t like our care system, which Sanders admires. And it’s true that we do like it,
but there still exists a need to reform its administrative structures,
as the old municipality-based model is getting unwieldy in urbanizing Finland. All the major political parties agree on this
and want to reform the system, but in late 2015, the stage
was set for the reform efforts to go to a path that would once again
lead to a miserable failure. Back then, the Centre and Coalition
agreed that the Centre would get 18 regions that would be responsible
for health care administration but also have a wide variety
of other tasks and the National Coalition would get a “freedom-of-choice”
model, which would lead to massive outsourcing of health care,
and they would implement them both as fast as they could, not piece by piece as most experts would have suggested. It soon turned out that both
of these presented problems, mostly the “freedom-of-choice model”
but particularly when put together when they came face to face
with the Finnish constitution, which mandates provision of good services for everybody, no matter where they live or how much money they have. It must be noted that both of these –
the extra tasks for the regions and the “freedom of choice”
are extras – they are not related to the original goals of the
social and health care reform. These problems were compounded in 2017, when the True Finns, the right-wing populist natonalist party that had also been a
part of the government, ended up selecting a new
chairman, Jussi Halla-aho, from the far-right faction
of the party, leading to the party being kicked out of
the government and then splitting, as the moderate
faction decided to start a new party, Blue Reform, that continued in the government, even if the original party had been kicked out. Now, the True Finns had not
had much effect on health care policy in government, or any other policy,
and the follower party Blue Reform with 15-20 MPs and 1-2 % in polls,
has even less influence. Indeed, it could be said that Left Alliance, in the opposition and smaller, has had more influence on the social and health care reform than True Finns or Blue Reform, as a Left Alliance politician, Annika Lapintie, chaired the Constitutional Committee, which played a key role in the downfall of the whole social and health care reform effort the government was proposing. However, what the split in the
True Finns meant was that government position became very precarious
as their majority shrunk to only a few MPs. The problem was compounded as some National Coalition MPs announced they would vote against the new reform. Of course, being National Coalition MPs,
their problem with the reform was not that it was too market-based
but that it was not market-based enough – to them, the “freedom-of-choice” model
was too state-regulated, not a true free market model. Despite the ever dwindling majority,
the government was committed to pushing the reform through at all costs,
but still, due to the compromise, it could not fix the unconstitutional parts
without one of the two main parties feeling like it has been betrayed,
leading to the reform getting bogged down in committees again and again. Eventually, it became obvious that the reform would not pass the social and health care committee. The governing parties blamed
Krista Kiuru, the Social Democratic chairwoman of the committee,
for filibustering the proceedings and delaying the bill,
but it was obvious to most observers that the true reason was the
unworkability of the compromise solution that combined the
worst features of both parties’ proposals. However, even though most observers
who had paid actual attention to the proceedings had deduced what would
happen weeks or even months earlier,
the government took to the last moment to announce the inevitable. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä did it
early Friday morning two weeks ago, and many have speculated he
did this in such a dramatic fashion to one-up the National Coalition
who would have done it anyway in the afternoon. Of course, what this all means
is that Centre and National Coalition are now free to run against each other and each other’s social and health care reform models in the elections, no longer bound by ties of government. Almost immediately
after the fall of the government they essentially condemned
all that they disliked about each other’s social and health care models,
with the Centre indicating they no longer want the outsourcing-based
“freedom of choice” model in its entirety, and National Coalition
saying that they want to scrap the regions and build social and health care
on the basis of municipalities, leading to other parties wondering
why they had pushed this model so insistently for four years
if they disliked it all this time. On this issue, as in most other parts
of the social and health care reform, the National Coalition stands alone
as most parties have indicated they wish to continue building
a social and health care reform on the basis of larger regions,
though not with such vast power as the Centre Party would prefer these regions to have. However, the National Coalition is not trying to appeal to other parties but to people in large cities, like Helsinki, Turku and Tampere, where the local mayors, particularly Jan Vapaavuori, the mayor of Helsinki,
have opposed the reform from the get-go since they fear it would transfer power
from the cities to the regions. Both parties are now courting the
Social Democrats, particularly the Centre who are eager to claim that
their reform on social and health care could easily be matched with the
Social Democratic model, thus allowing the formation of a
red-earth government, the traditional government structure sustaining the Finnish welfare state, which would combine the Centre and the Social Democrats with some other parties. However, there are some bumps
in the road to that goal. Some of them could be seen in the
big debate of the last week where the various party leaders
faced off to kick off the electoral period. One of these is environmental regulations. While the Greens and Left Alliance
advocate for the strongest environmental regulations, the Social Democrats,
who have said they want to form a government with at least these
two parties to the left, also advocate a stronger environmental line than previously. This has included proposing
an environmentally based VAT as well as advocating banning
the sales of petrol-using cars by 2030. This has led to an over-reaction
by center-right parties, which are aiming to revive their flagging support
by portraying these as a “meat tax” and a complete ban on petrol cars,
though these issues are far more complicated than this would indicate. Of course, all environmental policy also
needs to take account social sustainability as a precondition
for the general sustainaibility of all environmental policies,
as well as the equality of regions and the status of workers
in various fields and industries, so as to prevent the rising of movements equivalent to the Yellow Vests in France. No matter how these questions
play out, it still remains evident that at least heavy efforts
are made before and behind the scenes to lay the foundations
for a red-earth government. Questions remain, however,
on how well the Social Democrats are committed to their stated goals
of social and environmental sustainability and whether the Centre would insist
on retaining all or at least some of the right-wing labor market
reforms and austerity policies of this government. For this reason, the Left Alliance,
which I belong to, is striving to be a part of the government
to ensure that it holds firms on the questions of welfare state,
environment and human rights. And however the process
goes, it would be a definite bonus to construct a government
where the National Coalition would not be able to advance it’s
unworkable and unsustainable model of social and health care reform
and the True Finns had as little influence as possible
to advance their line that would require Finland to scrap it’s
essential human rights treaties regarding asylum seeking
and other such basic human rights. That’s a wrap for this week, folks. Good evening or any other time of day, once again.