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Matti Vanhanen: Union silence could mean deal will happen

Helsingin Sanomat
Matti Vanhanen: Union silence could mean deal will happen
Matti Vanhanen: Union silence could mean deal will happen
Former Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) talks about the economy, political realities, the migrant crisis and 'Soldiers of Odin' patrols - even laughing off his 'most boring politician' reputation in this week's HSTV Newsmaker's programme, hosted by David Mac Dougall

Former prime minister, and Centre Party stalwart Matti Vanhanen says he thinks recent "silence" from unions could mean a compromise deal on working conditions reform with the Confederation of Finnish Industry is more likely than not.

Speaking on HSTV's English-language current affairs show Newsmakers, Vanhanen says the economy and competitiveness are vital areas for the government to focus on when the new session of parliament begins in February. But a deal which will likely adversely change terms and conditions for hundreds of thousands of union-affiliated workers has been elusive.

"The main issue is the competitiveness of the country, and there we have to have good cooperation with trade unions" says the 60 year old former PM. "Prime Minister [ Juha Sipilä ] has already tried three or four times to get an agreement, and after the last time he said no, the responsibility is clear, the partners have the responsibility”, Vanhanen says.

“And now there is silence, and I think it might be a good signal. When there is a silence it can mean that there is something happening".

Vanhanen says that while nobody wants to see salary reductions, a better way to increase competitiveness - and compete in particular with Sweden and Germany - would be to lengthen the working day, or cut some holidays.

Following the general election in April 2015, the Centre Party formed a coalition with the centre right National Coalition Party and populist Finns Party. Vanhanen, who was prime minister for almost seven years between 2003 and 2010, says it's clear these parties are the right coalition partners.

He claims that public disputes about health care and social welfare reform, migrants and membership of the Eurozone "didn't cause any big damage within the government", and that in his experience, the three parties were thinking about the important issues in similar ways.

Vanhanen explains that Prime Minister Sipilä's style of leadership was to set targets and timetables that all partners could agree on, and finally implement the objectives, something he conceded "has also been one of our weaknesses in the last years".

Turning to recent domestic news, Vanhanen backs Interior Minister Petteri Orpo's stance over the self-styled Soldiers of Odin security patrols which started in several cities, and which would supposedly give local people a sense of security during the migrant influx.

"That type of 'home guard' whose message is actually against other people, is not the right way to go" says Vanhanen "I am of course underlining what Minister Orpo said".

With more than 30,000 migrant arrivals during 2015, Vanhanen says Finland was "not an easy country" for them to come to, considering the climate and language barriers in particular. He says that in the beginning it is practical for asylum seekers to be sent where there is accommodation available, but in time, if they are given final approval to stay they would have freedom of movement. "The experience from the past has been that people will move to bigger cities" he says.

With regard to his own political legacy, Vanhanen said the most important lesson he learned is that "you have to be patient [...] you have to think about the whole four year period". He says he can laugh now about being dubbed 'the most boring politician in Finland' during his time in office, but that "in the post, you have to be somehow also boring".

The veteran politician, who has a new book about foreign policy coming out at the end of January, says that "of course" people remember scandals about campaign finance and salacious revelations about his private life, but that he doesn't regret things that happened during his time in office. "It's a life", he smiles.

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