Wealthy, successful country
Finland is among the richest and happiest countries in the world. In spite of cuts in public spending over the past few decades, welfare state arrangements are an important cause of citizens’ satisfaction. Given this, Finland may also have been in a better position than many other countries to meet the challenges of the pandemic, and may have had fewer vulnerabilities than other countries.
High levels of trust,
but low turnout rates
but low turnout rates
Finland has been a stable democracy since independence. Much as in the other Nordic countries, surveys indicate that Finns have relatively high levels of trust in politicians and political institutions. At the same time, however, voter turnout rates for parliamentary elections are significantly lower than in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. To a certain extent, this is explained by the fact that governments in Finland have often been oversized (i.e., governments have typically commanded very large parliamentary majorities). In addition, government coalition parties represent a wide range of ideologies spanning the left-right spectrum.
Few COVID-19 deaths, successful management
There were relatively few COVID‐19-related deaths in Finland in 2020 and 2021. However, the economic consequences of restrictions were considerable and unemployment rates are high, but still less severe than in many other countries. The government successfully mitigated the worst consequences of the COVID-19 through measures to support businesses, buffer workers against income losses, and compensate for falling revenues (mainly for municipalities), thus enabling continued benefit administration and service provision. There have been limited increases in benefit levels, although access has been extended for some groups (most specifically self-employed persons and entrepreneurs). The support measures substantially increased the public budgetary deficit in 2020 and in 2021. By early 2022, no significant austerity measures had been discussed.
Healthcare system is standout success
The greatest strengths of the Finnish COVID-19 strategy include Finland’s relatively well-functioning healthcare system, which is based on the public provision of care, and the comprehensive safety network provided by the Finnish welfare state, which was extended further in order to cushion the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Virtuous circle of
Finland enjoys high levels of public trust. People generally trust public institutions and authorities. The pandemic has demonstrated a kind of virtuous circle in terms of trust. Before the COVID-19 crisis, people generally trusted public institutions. During 2020, the parties in opposition did not challenge the government’s response to COVID-19, which helped the government to sustain public trust and even enhance it.
Little international solidarity
The weak point of the Finnish crisis response relates to international solidarity. As a small country, Finland has not had enough resources to engage in COVID-19 solidarity in any extensive way. There has also been a tendency to put national self-interest before international solidarity. During 2020 and 2021, the government, health policy experts and the media focused on risks associated with COVID-19, excluding alternative points of view and limiting the scope of rational debate.
Focus on supporting demand
During the COVID-19 crisis, the government focused on maintaining and increasing economic demand, and introduced passive measures to protect workers from income losses. Very few new active measures were introduced to encourage workers to find new employment, as the focus was on mitigating the hysteresis effects of the crisis.
Growing public participation
Measures have been introduced to revitalize and enhance the level of participation in Finland, the most important being the so-called citizens’ initiative, which obliges parliament to debate any petition that receives at least 50,000 signatures. This initiative has been very popular.
Russia seen as
Within the field of national security, Finland faces a number of challenges. As a consequence of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its intensified activities in the Baltic Sea region, Finland has increased and deepened its defense cooperation with international partners, notably Sweden and the United States. Finland is also a member of the European Intervention Initiative. The question of whether Finland should apply for membership in NATO has been debated ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, but leading politicians, notably President Sauli Niinistö, as well as a strong current of public opinion, remain rather indifferent toward NATO membership. However, more interest in NATO membership was shown when Russia increased its military presence at Ukraine’s border in the fall of 2021.
Low fertility rate
Fertility rates have been dropping for almost a decade, and reached an all-time low in 2019. However, the declining trend was finally reversed in 2020. In the context of Finland’s aging demographics, the country’s low fertility rate is of major concern, as it challenges the financial sustainability of the welfare state and the availability of public services. Although public attitudes toward asylum seekers and refugees remain negative, the attitude toward work-related immigration is generally positive. At the same time, support for the populist Finns Party increased steadily over the course of 2021, which could reflect a more negative popular attitude toward immigration.
The government’s executive capacity is strong. The programmatic framework works reasonably well, and forms the basis for strategic planning and implementation. Interministerial coordination works well and is highly efficient. Interest organizations, various civil society groups and increasingly the general public are consulted when legislation is drafted.