Government takes office under difficult conditions
After an extended negotiation process, Finland’s 72nd government officially started work on Wednesday.
The six-party coalition will need to get off to a running start, as it faces a number of difficult economic challenges, noted the new Prime Minister, National Coalition Party leader Jyrki Katainen.
“We need to be psychologically prepared for the fact that the Finnish economy and welfare society will face challenges. This will probably be a big central question during this government term”, he said as he presented his group to the media on Wednesday.
According to Katainen, uncertainty is what prevails in the European economy.
“That is the worst thing in an economy. The coming days, the coming weeks can change everything, to say nothing about the coming months”, he said, but would not itemize the challenges any further.
Katainen warned that the economic situation probably means that the government will have to re-examine its views.
“We will undoubtedly have to make new policy decisions on the way.”
The fresh criticism that the government programme has come under is par for the course in Katainen’s view. The programme is seen to have been heavily influenced by the Social Democratic Party, one of the two main parties in the coalition. However, he dismissed opposition talk of “Katainen’s socialist government” as simple colourful rhetoric.
Katainen did admit that the government has been cobbled together from very disparate elements.
He is the first prime minister from the National Coalition Party in over 20 years.
As it takes its first steps, the new government is slightly younger than that of the second government of Matti Vanhanen (Centre) when it began. The average age is now just below 46 years, while the last time it was almost 48.
The youngest of the group is Minister of Transport Merja Kyllönen (Left Alliance), 34. The oldest ministers are Social Democrats: Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, Minister of Labour Lauri Ihalainen and Minister of Education Jukka Gustafsson are all over 64 years of age.
Seven of the ministers are residents of the Helsinki region, now that Prime Minister Katainen, originally from Siilinjärvi, officially took up residence in Espoo.
The one in the group with the most experience as a minister is Erkki Tuomioja, who has served 2,982 days in government. Second is Minister of Defence Stefan Wallin who has 1,634 days as a minister. Eleven of the members of the new government have never held a ministerial post before.
Ten of the group are men and nine are women.
The ministers are of a high level of education, especially on the right side of the political divide. Three of the ministers have doctorates - Alexander Stubb and Paula Risikko of the National Coalition Party, as well as Social Democrat Erkki Tuomioja.
Nine have masters’ degrees. Päivi Räsänen (Christ. Dem.) is trained as a doctor. Lauri Ihalainen has a vocational school background, Paavo Arhinmäki still has some university courses to complete before he gets a degree, and Maria Guzenina-Richardson is an upper secondary school graduate.
Government party unity came immediately under strain on Wednesday when Parliament voted on the new Prime Minister and his government.
Jyrki Katainen was elected with 118 votes in the 200-member parliament.
Two MPs of the Left Alliance, Markus Mustajärvi and Jyrki Yrttiaho voted against Katainen and the government. The move brought them a warning from their party’s Parliamentary group, and some in the group would have wanted to expel the two from the group immediately.
Katainen said that discussions need to be held with the Left Alliance. He emphasized that “each party must act responsibly”, and that government parties should support the government.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Jyrki Katainen’s new government to be sworn in on Wednesday (22.6.2011)