Saturday 10/16/21

Marin dodges economic disaster in self-indulgent New Year's message

The prime minister avoids any self-criticism despite the mistakes and scandals that polarized society in 2020.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk/File photo.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk/File photo.

Not a single word of self-criticism.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin avoided in her New Year's message the most controversial issues related to her political management in a year that - she says - "has certainly been a difficult one, one that has taught us many lessons and caused us to stop and think."

In her message, released at dawn by the Government Communications Department, the head of the Finnish Government admits that during 2020 she has "been forced" to make decisions that she did not want. She specifically mentions the closure of schools and libraries, restrictions on movements and business activity. All within the framework of a pandemic in which, she adds, "some have lost loved ones, others have lost their jobs, and many have had to give up things that are familiar and important to them."

And that's it.

From there, the political message is limited to highlighting that Finland has done better in this pandemic than other countries, that everybody must show resilience now that vaccinations have started and that the recovery of Europe is Finland's greatest interest in this moment. All this sprinkled with the typical recommendations: teleworking, maintaining a safe distance, using a mask and washing hands.

Errors, polarization

There is not a word of encouragement in the Prime Minister's message for the people who have lost their jobs. Nor for the thousands of entrepreneurs who have seen their businesses sink into the mud of the economic disaster caused by the Covid-19 crisis, nor for the companies whose turnover has decreased significantly and who are the ones who must lead the recovery.

There is also no self-criticism, despite the fact that the management of the coronavirus has been at some stages marked by errors and controversies: failed purchases of useless sanitary material for hospitals; the scandal of the 'free money' of Business Finland to finance large consulting firms or businesses owned by celebrities or people with ties to politics.

There is also no mention of the government's resistance in spring to take action and create a 'task-force' of experts to tackle the pandemic until the President of the Republic, Sauli Niinistö, intervened. Or the refusal until autumn to recommend the use of face masks, even with the presentation at a press conference by the health authorities of alleged scientific studies that advised against its use.

All these issues contributed in 2020 to further polarize a society that at times demanded a more determined action from its politicians. 

Well-informed Finnish citizens concerned about the pandemic were those who in March-April launched initiatives requiring people to stay at home, who pushed for mobility to be restricted and, months later, who demanded the use of masks, which the Government arrogantly refused to recommend. Society was always one step ahead of the government, which is now seeking to take credit.

Marin, like other leaders, could have said in her New Year's message that there have also been errors, some of them understandable given the initial ignorance of the seriousness of the situation. She had done so in April, before Parliament, where she admitted that mistakes had been made. But in her New Year's message, she didn't.

Unfulfilled programme

It could be argued that a New Year's message is not the best moment to discuss the miseries of politics. However, the message does contain a good dose of propaganda, highlighting the part of the political programme that the prime minister claims to have fulfilled this year. Marin says:

"Although 2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 crisis, we have been resolute in our progress on the reforms agreed on in the Government Programme. We have increased the smallest pensions and basic security, dismantled the activation model, restored the right of all children to full-time early childhood education and care, reduced group sizes in child care, increased resources for all levels of education, decided on extending compulsory education and made secondary education genuinely free of charge, introduced a statutory minimum staffing level in care services, submitted the healthcare and social welfare reform package to Parliament, agreed on the main points of the family leave reform, invested considerably in road, rail and transport infrastructure, decided on the energy taxation reform, made progress on the Nordic labour market service model and implemented the first structural measures to boost employment."

Not a word about the unfulfilled part of the programme. For example, to say that in 2020 the country has moved further away from the objective of reaching an employment rate of 75% and that unemployment rose sharply. The public deficit and debt have also increased significantly this year and the economic projections of the EU, the OECD and the Finnish Government itself foresee that it will continue to do so in 2021.

Nor is it mentioned that, although the Covid-19 crisis hit Finland less than other countries, both the Ministry of Economic Affairs and international organizations emphasized in their forecasts that the Finnish recovery will also be much slower than in the rest of Europe. 2021 will probably be a lost year for economic development and employment.

"We Finns are known for our guts, perseverance and tenacity," says Marin at the end of her message. Certainly, much of that will be needed to rebuild what was lost in 2020.