Executive Summary

Effective, top-ranked system of governance
Finland’s mature system of governance allows stakeholders to identify problems, formulate solutions and advance social well-being, earning the Nordic country top marks in international rankings. Freedom House has repeatedly awarded Finland the highest ranking worldwide on political liberties and civil rights. Since 2008, the country has also on several occasions topped Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index; in the 2017 ranking, Finland places 3rd, after Norway and Sweden. After a 2008 scandal concerning party and electoral campaign financing, Finland dropped from the top position in global anti-corruption rankings. In 2017, the country ranks 3rd on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Legislation requiring the disclosure of donations to candidates and parties has been introduced. Modest electoral system reforms introduced in 2012 have improved the proportionality of the system. Additionally, a participatory mechanism introduced in 2012 now enables citizens to propose legislative reforms online.
Economic troubles
despite positive signs
While Finland’s economy in past years has numbered among the most stable in Europe, its recent standing has been less favorable. The economy has been in a recession for several years, public debt is increasing and the labor market continues to shrink. Recent developments suggest a turnaround for the better. Optimistic forecasts notwithstanding, unemployment, particularly among youth, is alarmingly high.
Attitude toward immigration hardening
Public attitudes toward immigrants have hardened in recent years. The main political parties have hesitated to challenge this shift in part because of growing support in recent years for the populist and anti-immigration Finns Party (formerly referred to in English as the True Finns party). However, public support for the party has radically diminished under the current government. Attitudes toward the Swedish-speaking minority have also hardened, despite Finland’s official bilingualism and constitutional protections. The present vivid and largely uncontrolled inflow of refugees and asylum-seekers into Europe has helped to generate a deeper understanding of the need to adopt a more generous and responsible immigration policy.
Shifting cabinets
over time
Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen’s government (2011 to 2014) featured a broad coalition of six parties. Following the withdrawal of two parties from the governing coalition and cabinet reshuffles in 2014, a new government under Prime Minister Alexander Stubb took charge until parliamentary elections in spring 2015. Following these elections, a three-party (Centre Party, National Coalition Party and Finns Party) government under Prime Minister Juha Sipilä was installed in late May 2015, commanding 124 of the 200 seats in parliament. In summer 2017, a split within the Finns Party became evident; a more moderate group of MPs formed Blue Reform, commanding five ministerial chairs while representing only about two percent of the electorate.
Rudderless leadership faced with tensions
Developments under Sipilä have been far less than encouraging. As tensions across government departments have persisted, the leadership has appeared rudderless. Most notably, the government and labor market organizations have been battling over the direction of economic policy. A recent reform designed to introduce business practices into higher education has largely failed. Meanwhile, the central government’s attempts to restructure local government, in part by amalgamating local government services, has met with resistance within local administrations and among the public, ultimately leading to a compromise solution with no clear prospect of success. Also, beleaguered by disputes over environmental principles and ongoing problems with mining sites, Finland’s environmental management and policy framework is less effective than expected.
Minimal reforms in
motion. Many challenges are external
Beyond reforms targeting a reorganization of regional government, health care, and social services, no other large-scale institutional reforms enhancing governance and decision-making have been undertaken during the assessment period. A earnings-related pension reform addressing the financial sustainability of statutory pension provision came into force in January 2017. The government has retained much of its system of program management and strengthened its strategic-planning procedures. The lack of additional large-scale reforms does not necessarily evince a failing of government but may rather underscore the quality and comprehensiveness of the existing system. The economic and governance challenges facing Finland today are surmountable, though many of these challenges are rooted in problems beyond the government’s control. The effects of European and global economic and political crises present challenges to the economy and have undermined public sympathy for EU values and the EU’s political agenda. Still, recent security developments, most notably numerous obtrusive displays of Russian military and political power, have generated a palpable rise in pro-EU and pro-NATO attitudes among the public.
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