Finland and the Politics of Crises

1. Finland and the Politics of Crises

Finland is generally known for its relatively extensive social security and welfare system, and whatever discourse of crisis there is in Finland, it is articulated in relation to the idea of welfare. The biggest economic crisis in the history of Finland happened at the beginning of the 1990s and that depression kickstarted the process of unravelling the welfare system that had been built during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. What we saw in every economic recession since the 1990s, is the continuation of the dismantling of the welfare system. Also, consistently since the 1990s, economic inequality has been growing. In the contemporary crisis as well—or in the way in which it is portrayed in Finland—the rationalization is that because the economy is not doing well and will soon be doing much worse, it will not be possible to maintain even the current level of welfare services in the future.

When it comes to responses to the crisis on a national level, during the budget negotiations this summer, Minister of Finance Jutta Urpilainen proposed a programme designed to tackle what are considered to be the causes of the crisis in Finland, namely the overall economic situation in Europe, the structural changes occurring in the Finnish industry, and the sustainability gap in public finances.[1] The European financial crisis is argued to have contributed to the necessity of introducing a programme of structural change that is outlined in The Finnish Economic Policy Strategy 2013. According to the Strategy, the key solution is to increase the time Finns spend in active workforce. Hence, the proposed structural changes include shorter schooling for higher education by cutting student benefits, encouraging stay-at-home parents to re-enter the workforce by cutting parental leave, and re-examining the duration and/or level of unemployment benefits and other social welfare programs so that there would be more incentive for the populace to seek and accept employment that is readily available.[2] In the new budget the government also allocates a large part of the cuts to the municipalities, targeting health care, childcare services, and education. In other words, everything that has traditionally formed the backbone of the Finnish welfare system is now subject to change. This further dismantling of the country’s welfare system is legitimated by the discourses of crisis.

Framed with a discourse of ‘economic necessity,’ a Social Democratic Minister of Finance is pushing forward a programme of structural adjustments that have long been called for by the Finnish economic elite. It is no surprise then that those representing, for example, the Bank of Finland and the Confederation of Finnish Industries, drawing inspiration from the idea of ‘creative destruction,’ talk about the benefits that are to be gained from the crisis.[3] When it comes to the welfare state, Leena Mörttinen, member of the Board of Directors of the Confederation of Finnish Industries, argues that ‘the welfare state gives you the political stability to do things, and that is important. But that is based on there being something to share. […] Economic growth comes first, and after that, we can see if we again will have what it takes to have a welfare state.’[4] On the liberal Right, there is an idea that, on the one hand, the welfare state creates political stability, but on the other hand, it creates a sense of safety that reduces people’s willingness to take risks. There is thus a kind of tension between the wish for what the crisis potentially enables (i.e. the subjectification of people as risk takers and entrepreneurs) and the possibility that people will not direct their energies towards the creation of economic growth but towards something else (i.e. the danger of social and political instability).

<< Prev    1 2 3 4 5 6    Next >>