Finland is in many respects a model democracy that has clearly established a democratic basis for attempts at reform, problem-solving and social betterment. Several international rankings and classifications released during 2009 and 2010 have verified this. For instance, Finland again received the highest rankings for political liberties and civil rights in an annual Freedom House world survey; in the organization’s 2009 press freedom survey, Finland ranked first together with Denmark, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. However, Finland’s democracy is not without its shortcomings. The country’s previously excellent rankings regarding corruption have been deteriorating. Political financing scandals in 2008 and again in 2009 were partly to blame, as political parties and individual politicians were accused of failing to disclose sources of campaign funds. The scandals had a negative impact on government legitimacy, and an opinion poll indicated that no less than 60% of respondents believed that politicians’ credibility had fallen as a result of the scandals. In consequence, political parties have now decided to open their records and the government has drafted new campaign finance legislation that will force the political elite to disclose sources of political money. Also, the government has initiated reforms to further advance the proportionality of the Finnish electoral system. However, the main parties have not as yet agreed to all technical details in the proposal.
The global economic crisis had of course affected Finland negatively, and the Finnish economy contracted in 2009. Among the many consequences of the crisis was an increase in the number of long-term unemployed. The general decline in the economy seems, however, to have since leveled out, and several indicators suggest that Finland has taken on the challenge to work out and implement a forceful post-recession exit strategy. For instance, Finland ranks sixth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010, and according to a poll among international banks, Finland had the most impressive sovereign funding team as of 2009. A long-term stability program was endorsed by the government in February 2010.
In the wake of the economic crisis, it has been observed that Finnish society at large has expressed a growing negativity toward immigrants. Despite national elections scheduled for 2011, the main political parties have so far hesitated to confront or challenge these attitudes, whereas at the same time, support for the right-wing populist party True Finns has gained momentum.
Whereas a recent reform of the university system, introducing elements and ideologies from business discourse and practice, has met with much criticism and seems set to fail, the attempts of government to restructure local government by means of municipality amalgamations have been clearly more successful.
Large-scale institutional reforms and other similar arrangements for promoting governance and decision-making have not been introduced during the period under assessment. The present government decided in 2009 to retain the system of program management used since 2007 and encompasses three inter-sector policy programs as well as the government’s strategy document procedure. In February 2009, the implementation of the cabinet program was evaluated at depth at a meeting that not only engaged in stocktaking but also listed future measures that were regarded necessary for a full implementation of the cabinet program.