Kimmo Kiljunen (SDP) spoke during a question-time debate in the session hall of the Parliament House in Helsinki on Thursday, 11 April 2024. Kiljunen led the opposition’s charge against the government on the issue of pension cuts, reminding that the government had long assured pensions would be spared from its effort to balance public finances. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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THE OPPOSITION on Thursday tore into the government over its reported plans to slash pensions at the framework session scheduled for 15–16 April.

Kimmo Kiljunen (SDP) opened the question-time debate in parliament by reminding that the decision to slash pensions would represent an about-face from promises made in the government programme.

“The government programme promised that pensions wouldn’t be touched, and we’ve heard that same message from the government up until this day,” he stated according to YLE.

Kiljunen also reminded that pensioners have already been affected by the government effort to balance the budget through, for example, the freezing of cost of living-based increases in the general housing allowance for pensioners.

Also the Centre criticised the ruling coalition over the reported plan.

“We consider it necessary that the economy is patched up, but we wouldn’t cut pensions,” stated Mikko Savola (Centre).

Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) responded to the criticism by arguing that the three-billion-euro target the government has set for fiscal adjustments cannot be met without also reducing pension spending. The adjustments, she added, are necessary to prevent the country from triggering the excessive deficit procedure of the EU.

“We’re looking at pensions. The scope of our adjustments is so large that I don’t think we can reach the desired outcome if we leave out this segment. I do understand why politicians leave it out: because pensioners are such a large group,” said Purra.

The government is not intent on cutting the lowest pensions, according to her.

“Pensioners aren’t a monolith. There’s about 1.7 million of them, and there’s a wide range of people who receive a pension,” she commented, declining to shed further light on the targeting and technical details of the possible cuts.

Purra conceded that cutting pensions is politically tricky also in an interview published in Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday. “Generally speaking pensioners are a large voter group and a powerful interest group. Every politician who brings up the idea of saving on pensions will feel it. Maintaining sufficient popularity is part of the basic programming of politicians,” she acknowledged.

The daily newspaper had reported earlier that the issue has caused a schism between the two largest ruling parties, the National Coalition and the Finns Party.

Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday reminded that Atte Harjanne, the chairperson of the Green Parliamentary Group, called last autumn for a tax increase on all but the lowest pensions, drawing what he described as “chuckles” and “crisp feedback” from ruling-party lawmakers.

“I’m surprised that the Greens has taken the stance that we should reduce pensioners’ disposable income, that we should adjust pensions,” Minister of Social Security Sanni Grahn-Laasonen (NCP) retorted in the Parliament House in October.

“Unbelievable,” echoed Jani Mäkelä, the chairperson of the Finns Party Parliamentary Group. “For years, the purchasing power of pensioners has eroded because of the poorly balanced [pension] index. Now that the index happens to benefit pensioners for two odd years, the biggest eggheads are trying to curbing the increase immediately.”

Harjanne on Wednesday drew attention to the about-face on X.

“Minister of Finance Purra is now defending saving on pensions using pretty much the same arguments that I did when I proposed it last autumn. It’s amusing that at the time I got pretty crisp feedback and chuckles from the ranks of the ruling parties, including the Finns Party,” he wrote.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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