Finland needs welfare cuts, opposition leader says ahead of election

Finland needs welfare cuts, opposition leader says ahead of election
Опубликовано: Thursday, 30 March 2023 11:02

Finland needs to reduce spending on unemployment benefits and other welfare programs in order to prevent public debt from rising, Petteri Orpo, an opposition leader, said. This was ahead of a tightly fought election that took place at the weekend.

Orpo, 53-year-old chief of the National Coalition, stated that cuts to housing benefits, subsidies to businesses, and other support were necessary to ensure services are viable for the nation’s rapidly aging population.

Orpo, a career politician, has accused Sanna Marin’s government, aged 37, of spending too much in areas such as education and pensions. He has made economic management a key theme of his campaign before Sunday’s election.

"The most significant difference between Sanna Marin’s government and a potential government of mine is what kind of economic policy will we pursue." Orpo stated that her policy was to fix all the debt problems and increase taxes in a March 14 interview.

Marin also said she would run a balanced economy. However, she prefers to find more tax revenue than cut. Some voters have responded positively to Orpo’s plan for more austere spending.

According to opinion polls, Orpo’s National Coalition holds a narrow lead in the most recent poll with 19.8%. Marin’s Social Democrats occupied second place with nationalist Finns Party at 19.2%.

During the Covid pandemic in 2020, Finland’s debt to GDP ratio rose 10 percentage points to 74%. However, it has been declining since then due to economic recovery.

The COVID pandemic was a success for Finland’s economy. However, growth declined to 1.9% last year. This year, the country will likely enter a mild recession.

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In recent years, the country’s generous welfare system was subject to pressures similar to other parts of Europe’s Nordic region. There, "cradle-to grave" public services are being stretched by falling birth rates. In the wake of the COVID pandemic, rising energy costs, and inflation, the country’s cost has risen.

Marin, who was the youngest premier in the world at the age of 34 when she took office, gained international attention. She has been leading a centre-left five-party coalition that invested in social reforms, despite having to pay for the pandemic and energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion.

Finland’s debt to GDP ratio of 71.7% in 2013 was well below the eurozone average at 93.0%. Orpo stated that debt will rise as more people retire and tax revenues decline.

"We want to increase the economy and boost economic growth. Increased employment means more income for people. "And fix the economy. I think this is what separates us," Orpo said, referring specifically to Marin.

If his party wins on Sunday (2 April), Orpo’s ability and willingness to control fiscal policy will be heavily dependent on the coalition he can form to govern.

He is open to collaborating with the Finns Party nationalist party, which shares his austerity views but many Finnish politicians avoid because it calls for strict immigration limits.

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