The Swedish People's Party has been in the Government for 36 consecutive years, roughly as long as its incumbent chairperson Carl Haglund has been alive. Haglund will celebrate his 36th birthday at the end of this month.
Yet, he insists that joining the Government is not an objective in itself for the party.
“A credible economic programme is the most important threshold question for us. We must succeed in promoting employment and lifting Finland. However, that can't be achieved simply by slicing billions after billions,” Haglund says.
He also acknowledges the pressing need for spending cuts, identifying the regional state administration, upper secondary education and higher education as possible targets for the cuts. Altogether, the next Government must seek to generate savings of two to three billion euros during its term in office, estimates Haglund.
“The rest of the deficit should be wiped out by promoting employment.”
Haglund has already established himself firmly in the political arena of Finland despite his relative inexperience in politics. He has been commended for his efforts as the Minister of Defence but also come under criticism from members of the opposition for the cost cuts introduced at the Finnish Defence Forces.
Prime Minister Alexander Stubb (NCP) called Haglund “the accountant” in the aftermath of last summer's government negotiations. Indeed, Haglund was the only one of the five chairpersons to express his doubts about the cost and implementation of the growth package hammered out in the negotiations.
“Further adjustments are needed,” he predicted, hitting the nail on the head.
Haglund estimates that employment must be the focal point of any credible economic programme, pointing out that unemployment-related costs rose to nearly five billion euros last year. “The situation is serious, and it's obvious that the welfare state can't be saved without creating new jobs,” he states.
He identifies a comprehensive labour market reform that encourages flexibility and local bargaining as well as introduces longer probation periods for new employees as a key means to promoting employment.
The objectives must be set “in the mindset that results will come,” he underlines. “If the results don't come, it'll be up to the Government to make decisions without labour market representatives.”
That, he adds, would be undesirable but possible if push comes to shove.
An important objective for the labour market reform would be the abolishment of benefit traps. “The number of benefit traps in Finland is ridiculous. Earnings-related allowances, for example, limit people's opportunities to study and found businesses,” Haglund highlights.
Haglund would also improve the position of small and medium enterprises as they have accounted for the lion's share of job creation. “We should remove obstacles to hiring the first employee,” he proposes.
The Swedish People's Party agrees with the Centre and the National Coalition that income taxes should be relaxed to boost purchasing power and that corporate taxes should not be raised.
The labour market reform, tax revisions, abolishment of benefit traps, rationalisation of the public sector, and tearing down red tape and unnecessary regulations would according to Haglund form the basis of a government programme with a single, clear-cut objective.
“Both smaller and larger companies would be confident that tomorrow will be brighter than yesterday. As long as companies have no confidence in that, they won't hire new employees or invest in new operations. As a result, no new jobs would be created in Finland,” explains Haglund.
The outlook for Finland is bleak unless “a credible palette” is put together, he cautions. “Unless we succeed, there'll be no new jobs and we'll still be struggling four years from now.”
The Parliament recently ended its spring session in virtual disarray as the ruling parties exacted revenge on one another by shooting down legislative proposal after another. Haglund believes the row between the National Coalition and the Social Democrats undermined the rules of procedure at the Parliament.
Order must be restored after April's parliamentary elections, he says. “The rules in Finland have been effective for quite some time, regardless of the composition of the Government.”
This article is the second part of a series of eight interviews by Helsingin Sanomat with the chairpersons of the largest political parties in Finland.
Part 1: Paavo Arhinmäki (Left Alliance)
Part 3: Ville Niinistö (Green League)
Part 4: Timo Soini (Finns Party)
Part 5: Juha Sipilä (Centre Party)
Part 6: Päivi Räsänen (Christian Democratic Party)
Part 7: Antti Rinne (Social Democratic Party)
Part 8: Alexander Stubb (National Coalition Party)
Martta Nieminen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
Photo: Rio Gandara / HS