Anna-Maja Henriksson, the chairperson of the Swedish People’s Party, spoke to reporters in the midst of the coalition formation negotiations at the House of the Estates in Helsinki on Monday, 8 May 2023. Henriksson on Wednesday stated that her party is not prepared to slash development co-operation appropriations but instead insists on raising them to a level equalling 0.7 per cent of gross national income. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)


THE FINNS PARTY and Swedish People’s Party are at odds over funding for development co-operation.

Whereas the Finns Party wants cut funding for development co-operation as much as possible, the Swedish People’s Party wants to increase it to 0.7 per cent of gross national income, in accordance with national commitments made to both the EU and UN.

“We’re naturally not ready to make major cuts. We’d like to increase development co-operation appropriations so that we can reach 0.7 per cent of gross gross domestic product,” Anna-Maja Henriksson, the chairperson of the Swedish People’s Party, stated to reporters as she arrived at the House of the Estates in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Finland has spent less than 0.7 per cent of gross national income on development co-operation since the early 1990s, when the target was reached momentarily as a consequence of the economy shrinking. The Ministry of Finance has reported that the appropriations amounted to 0.42 per cent of national income in 2022.

The aim of development co-operation is to, for example, support democracy, education, the rights and status of girls and women, efforts to combat the climate crisis, and job creation and economic consolidation in emerging economies.

Jussi Halla-aho, an ex-chairperson of the Finns Party, on Monday stated that the populist right-wing party wants to cut the appropriations by as much as possible, a view that was rejected by Henriksson.

“In a situation where there’s a war in Ukraine, we’ll have to continue to pay for support to Ukraine for a long time, but it doesn’t mean that we can forget about everything else. Finland has to be a reliable partner also in the future,” Henriksson was quoted saying by YLE.

Anja Nygren, a professor at the University of Helsinki, said to the public broadcasting company that cutting development co-operation appropriations would be bad not only for the co-operation partners, but also for Finland.

“It’d do reputational harm to Finland. We’ve been a fairly well known player internationally in the development co-operation space: we’ve promoted democracy questions, principles of the rule of law, human rights questions, been fairly important for climate questions. Will Finland shut off from the rest of the world if you tear all this down?”

The possible harm extends beyond reputation, she added. The climate crisis, for example, will have an impact on the country no matter how sound its national policy decisions.

“The world is simply so interlinked that the idea of a strict nation state and state-run control where you only consider the actions of a single country is inevitably outdated,” argued Nygren. “Development co-operation has pretty substantial indirect and direct effects on the perception of Finland,” she said, pointing to an image of openness as a pull factor for foreign investment.

A withdrawal from international co-operation and generally more passive stance on international issues could also have an impact on businesses and universities.

If Finland scales back its internationalisation effort and reputation, foreign students and skilled workers may no longer be as interested in coming to the country, for example. Highly educated Finns, in turn, may become more inclined to move overseas in search of better opportunities, warned Nygren.

Both the Finns Party and Swedish People’s Party are involved in the coalition formation negotiations led by the National Coalition. The National Coalition is intent on implementing fiscal adjustments worth six billion euros in the next four years and has voiced its readiness to "critically evaluate" appropriations for development co-operation.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT