Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko (Centre) on Tuesday spoke to the media after another unsuccessful attempt by the ruling coalition to thrash out an agreement on the framework for future government spending. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)

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THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) on Tuesday lifted the state of emergency declared over the coronavirus epidemic, relinquishing the powers afforded under the emergency powers act.

Marin made the announcement at noon, as the ruling parties convened for already the seventh day of negotiations over the framework for central government spending in the coming years.

Despite another hours-long attempt to thrash out an agreement on key questions such as the framework itself, employment measures and measures to support peat producers, the negotiations ended inconclusive after 11pm, fuelling concerns about the functioning and future of the ruling coalition.

Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko (Centre) confirmed yesterday evening that it remains uncertain whether an agreement can be found.

“This is what politics is like sometimes. Many Finns are probably wondering what’s the deal. We’re talking about taxpayers’ money and Finland’s future – nothing more and nothing less,” she was quoted as saying outside the House of the Estates by YLE.

The framework session, she said, has been hard and taxing.

“We’re not fighting over where and how much Finland should put money next year or the year after that, but about whether we have a common vision for what Finland should do so we can kick-start the rebuilding we’ll face after the coronavirus epidemic. That in my view is this government’s primary responsibility.”

Saarikko pointed to the coronavirus epidemic and measures introduced to manage it as the reason for the session dragging on well beyond the scheduled completion date, 22 April.

“Future generations won’t measure us only based on how we took care and protected Finns’ health with the demanding and difficult restrictions, but also based on how we came out of the crisis. That’s why the negotiations have taken a while,” she said. “Of course Finns are justifiably thinking how this will end. I unfortunately can’t say anything about that yet.”

The Centre and Social Democrats remain roughly 200 million euros apart on the extent to which the framework could be exceeded in 2023, with the former viewing that the framework should be exceeded by 300–350 million euros and the latter by 500–550 million euros.

The ruling parties have also yet to agree on concrete measures with a verifiable impact on both employment and public finances, as well as the approach to supporting peat producers.

The Centre has expressed its support for increasing the plant-based upper limit for tax-free energy use of peat from 5,000 to 10,000 megawatt-hours, as proposed by a task force at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. Both the Green League and Left Alliance have opposed the proposal, in part because it would effectively cancel an earlier tax hike and represent a defeat in what is the only climate-related issue of the framework session.

Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday wrote yesterday morning that the negotiations have entered a critical phase and could lead to the collapse of the entire government. The Centre Parliamentary Group, it reported, convened for a couple of hours, concluding that the preconditions for its participation in the government have diminished.

“The Centre’s confidence in the government ability to function is wavering,” summarised Saarikko.

The party has also called for assurances from the prime minister that the functioning of the government is developed if a compromise is reached in the negotiations over the financial framework, according to the daily newspaper.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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