Centenary as independent country reached
Finland celebrated its centenary as an independent country on 6 December 2017. Its first decades as a nation were marked by severe difficulties. Its independence was not confirmed until after a brutal civil war had been fought between Soviet-backed socialists and “white” conservatives, with the conservatives emerging victorious from the war in May 1918. In the period 1939 – 1944, the country fought two wars against the Soviet Union and only barely managed to retain its independence. However, the war-torn country was forced to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union amounting to $226.5 million at 1938 prices. The last payment was made in 1952.
Democratic even in darkest days
Despite these hardships, the country has been able to uphold its democratic system of government. Comparisons of data and classifications provided by reputable sources such as Polity IV and V-dem indicate that Finland met the criteria of democracy even in the darkest and most difficult moments in its history.
Well-developed, transparent governance
On the whole, Finland’s system of governance is well developed, efficient and transparent, and the country has steadily improved its position in many international rankings. Finland is one of three countries that received the maximum aggregate score (100) in terms of political rights and civil liberties in Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom in the World survey. Since 2008, the country has on several occasions also topped Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. After a slightly negative trend in recent years, when Finland ranked third in 2017 and fourth in 2018, Finland was ranked second behind Norway in the most recent press-freedom index.
The level of corruption has generally been low in Finland, although Finland has lost some ground in recent years. Finland’s reputation as a corruption-free country was soiled in a 2008 following scandal concerning party and electoral campaign financing. However, measures were swiftly taken to curb corruption in Finnish political financing. In 2009, a law requiring the disclosure of donations to candidates and parties was adopted. In 2018, the country ranked third on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, behind Denmark and New Zealand. Other significant reforms over recent years include a reform of the electoral system in 2012, which reduced the number of electoral districts and thereby enhanced the proportionality of the electoral system. Additionally, a participatory mechanism introduced in 2012 now enables citizens to propose legislative reforms online.
The Finnish economy is recovering after a recession which lasted several years. The economy is projected to grow by 1.6% in 2019, and the debt ratio is projected to fall below 58% of GDP in 2020. Optimistic forecasts notwithstanding, unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is high. The Sipilä government reformed the unemployment benefit system in a number of ways, including reducing the duration of earnings-related unemployment benefits and setting stricter conditions on accepting job offers for unemployed people. These reforms marked a shift from passive to more active labor-market policies. However, the center-left Antti Rinne government, which was installed in June 2019, was expected to revoke many of the activation measures initiated by the previous government.
coalition in power
coalition in power
The most recent parliamentary elections took place in April 2019. Following these elections, a center-left coalition government – comprising the Social Democratic Party, the Center Party, the Green League, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s Party, and led by Prime Minister Rinne (Social Democrats) – took office. The government commanded a majority of 111 out of 200 seats in parliament.
Support for anti-immigration party rising
As elsewhere in Europe, the issue of immigration has been widely debated in Finland ever since the large inflow of refugees in 2015. The main political parties have generally taken a rather restrictive attitude toward immigration. Following the elections in 2019, the Finns Party, which is far more negative toward the acceptance of refugees than Finland’s other political parties, was the second largest party in parliament. Public support for the Finns Party even appears to be increasing; a survey conducted in October 2019 indicated that 20.9% of respondents supported the Finns Party, whereas the corresponding figure for the second-most-popular party, the Social Democrats, was 17.1%.
Clashes over economic, social policy direction
Given the fact that the Sipilä government was made up of center-right parties, it is not surprising that the government and labor market organizations clashed over the direction of economic policy. The largest controversy has concerned a major social and healthcare reform (SOTE), which would transfer responsibilities for social welfare and healthcare services from municipalities to 18 larger governmental entities (counties). As Sipilä failed to secure a majority in parliament for the healthcare reform, the government chose to resign in March 2019. Its successor, the center-left government led by Rinne, signaled that it would implement the reform, but at the time of writing the reform remained a subject of considerable – if somewhat less heated –political debate. This remained true for the Sanna Marin government, which replaced Rinne’s cabinet.