Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Against the background of a moderate recovery from recession, Finland’s economic policies receive high rankings (rank 7) in international comparison. Its score in this area has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Economic growth has returned after a period of weakness, driven by a strong increase in exports. Government efforts to restore vibrancy, increase competitiveness and reduce debt continue to top the public agenda.

Unemployment rates have declined to moderate levels of around 6.8%, but efforts to address long-term and youth unemployment have been less successful. Activation measures have reduced benefits for some job seekers. Income taxes are strongly progressive, and municipal tax rates high. Corporate taxes are lower than in most other Nordic and EU member states

Budget deficits are moderate, with the public-debt ratio expected to fall below 60% of GDP by 2019. R&D spending, which once topped the EU, has declined over recent years.

Social Policies

With a generally strong safety net, Finland falls into the top group internationally (rank 5) in the area of social policies. Its score in this area has declined by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

The education system is of high quality, though the country’s outstanding PISA scores are slipping due to gender and regional disparities in student performance. Spending cuts have undermined education-sector performance somewhat. Pockets of relative poverty persist despite generally very efficient redistributive policies. Improving services to prevent loneliness has become a key social-inclusion issue.

A major reform shifting social-welfare and health care responsibilities from municipalities to larger governmental entities is slated for implementation in 2021. Child-poverty rates are low, and women’s employment rates high. A reform aimed at promoting more equal sharing of parental leave and improving mothers’ labor-market participation rates failed after consensus proved impossible to achieve.

The pension system generally prevents poverty, while ongoing reforms are addressing fiscal concerns. Immigrants are not well integrated in the labor market. Anti-immigrant protests have occurred, occasionally turning violent, but the refugee crisis ultimately triggered somewhat more favorable attitudes toward immigration overall.

Environmental Policies

With a strong record of cooperation on conservation issues, Finland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 5) with respect to environmental policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.6 points since 2014.

Contributions to combating climate change have been modest overall. According to a report released in late 2017, greenhouse-gas emissions had grown by 6% compared to the previous year. The country has focused strongly on water pollution, curbing industrial emissions and cleaning polluted waterways, but farm-produced waterway pollution remains a challenge.

Forest protection has also been a top priority. Efforts to halt a decline in biodiversity have been insufficient, although the government has created networks of protected areas.

The country has engaged in and honors a large number of international environmental agreements, but is rarely a forerunner in creating these regimes. It holds the chair of the Arctic Council from 2017 to 2019, and is promoting implementation of the Paris Agreement and the UN’s sustainable development goals.



Quality of Democracy

With an outstanding mix of procedures and protections, Finland falls into the top group internationally (rank 2) with regard to quality of democracy. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to its 2014 level.

Campaign-finance laws are strict, featuring transparency requirements and independent monitoring. A widely used new popular-initiative system allows the public to submit issues to parliament on a non-binding basis. The media is strongly independent and pluralistic. The rise of social media is shifting the way candidates are campaigning and communicating with voters.

Civil rights are generally strongly protected, with same-sex marriage and adoption rights recently granted. Anti-discrimination rules are broad, although the small Roma community is marginalized. The now-divided Finns Party, one splinter of which remains part of the government coalition, has encouraged discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Legal certainty is a strong part of the political culture. Courts are independent, though no constitutional court exists. Corruption is rare.



Executive Capacity

With its broadly evidence-based system, Finland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 2) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Strategic planning is deeply integrated into policymaking. Evidence-based planning is enhanced using trial projects, as in the case of the basic-income experiment. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has broad policy-review capabilities, and works closely with ministries. However, decision-making is based on ministerial consensus rather than PMO leadership. Interministerial coordination is strong at all levels.

RIA use is systematic, though there is no such strategy for ex post evaluation. Interest organizations are regularly involved in the legislative process, although the role played by tripartite labor-market negotiations is weakening. Vested interests do not generally receive preferential treatment in regulatory enforcement proceedings.

While the current government’s agenda is comparatively focused, several proposals have already been abandoned. An ongoing reform that will create new, larger entities to provide the social and health services now provided by municipalities has been contentious, but will finally be implemented in 2021. A new medium-term climate-change policy was adopted in 2018.

Executive Accountability

With strong oversight mechanisms in place, Finland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 3) with regard to executive accountability. Its score in this area is unchanged relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have access to considerable resources, and very strong formal executive-oversight powers. The audit and ombuds offices are well-funded and independent. The ombudsperson can initiate investigations on his or her own initiative, and conduct onsite investigations if necessary. Two separate data-protection authorities oversee personal-data and privacy issues.

Citizens’ policy interest and trust in political institutions have risen in recent years, though evidence regarding levels of policy knowledge is mixed. The media produces a considerable quantity of high-quality information. Although declining, daily newspaper circulation figures remain reasonably high.

Political parties are responsive to members’ input, but leaders decide most issues. The large economic-interest associations have long been integrated into the policymaking process, though this corporatist structure is regularly criticized. Other interest groups often present influential if narrow proposals and analyses.
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