Finland: Covid triumphalism covers austerity betrayal

Center Party chair, Katri Kulmuni, who resigned as Finland's finance minister following allegations of a misuse of public funds (Wikimedia/CC)

Finland’s ruling Social Democrats are riding high in the polls as the country emerges from the first wave of coronavirus, not untouched, but far less stricken than its neighbors, Sweden and Russia. The Social Democrats and their partners in government, especially the second coalition partner, the Center Party, are using the opportunity to push an agenda of cutbacks hurting those most vulnerable to a second wave of outbreaks.

The Social Democrats attained a narrow, one-seat victory in the 2019 election largely on the promise of an increase of 100€/month in the basic state pension. Last Sunday, 14 June, Prime Minister Sanna Marin announced the Government would break that promise, claiming the coronavirus crisis’s impact on the economy made the €2 billion proposals impossible.

The announcement came just days after finance minister and Center Party chair Katri Kulmuni — making her last statement as finance minister following her resigning after allegations of misusing public funds — announced a review to raise Finland’s retirement age. The retirement age for people born in 1995 or later is already age 68.

These two changes on their own represent an attack on pensioners, who suffered disproportionately from corona in Finland, as they have in Sweden and elsewhere. Having to work longer and being worse off materially makes the elderly more vulnerable to serious health problems. The government’s undermining of pensioners is made worse by its policies toward the health care system.

HUS, the Helsinki area medical board, projects itself to be 200 million € in debt for 2020, having provided free-at-the-point-of-use treatment for the majority of coronavirus cases in Finland. HUS says they will have to cut back on everyday services like GP consultations for the coming few years to make up the debt. They say they will have to finance much of the rest by asking the city of Helsinki for a flat-rate tax increase, because the central government refuses to fully cover the health system’s debts.

‘Sote’ – privatisation of health

Instead, the government is going ahead with a new version of “Sote,” the national health system realignment. The previous two governments collapsed from failure to agree Sote and the last attempt failed because the Center Party’s proposal was ruled unconstitutional. Under the Sote realignment, Finland’s towns would lose direct control of the health care system to ill-defined regional authorities, with space created for private providers to profit off health care and pressure to close local hospitals.

The impact would probably be similar to that of health care cuts in the UK: longer emergency response times, less access to specialist services and fewer hospital beds. Yet it is Finland’s relative abundance of these that saved it from total disaster during the outbreak–unlike Sweden, where health cutbacks and privatization have been underway for several years, Finland did not need to rush to open new hospital beds nor ration treatment. Rather than learn lessons from the outbreak, Finland’s “left” government is cutting back, risking worse results next time for the sake of a few pennies.

Meanwhile, the 15 billion euro jet fighter deal which has hung over the Finnish budget for years will continue no matter what, according to the government.

Finland’s miserliness is international. Under new finance minister Matti Vanhanen–who himself resigned in 2010 amid allegations of improperly receiving campaign funding from big business lobbies–Finland has aligned itself with the “frugal four” (Denmark, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands) in pushing against no-strings bailouts for the EU countries hit hardest by coronavirus, Spain and Italy. Instead Finland is insisting financial assistance should depend on privatization and deregulation, using EU powers to do to Spain and Italy what the EU did to Greece in the 2010s.

We say:

  • Double the state pension. Reset the retirement age to 60.
  • Full public funding for and operation of health care, paid for by wealth taxes and progressive income and business taxes. No cuts, no privatization!
  • Cancel the fighter jet and warship deals–use the money to help the working class
  • Comprehensive income support for all workers. Share out work with no loss of pay. For a 28-hour workweek and job creation to end unemployment!
  • Break with the bosses’ EU. For a socialist Nordic federation as a step to a socialist Europe and socialist world!
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