Even though the students have swapped their normal term-time lives for summer jobs, summer studies or even a well-deserved summer holiday, the political machinery continues to run at its own pace. Unusually, it seems like the summer of 2017 will be very interesting from a political point of view, as many decisions with far-reaching consequences for Finland’s future will be prepared and made. Below, I have compiled a list of the issues that I plan to keep an eye on towards the end of the summer:
Health and social services reform
This week it was finally announced that the Act on Organising Health and Social Services and the Counties Act will not be up for parliamentary debate until the autumn. During the summer, the Social Affairs and Health Committee and the Constitutional Law Committee will prepare thousands of pages on the Act on Organising Health and Social Services. Both committees’ views on the reform as a whole are essential, but we are particularly keen to hear the Constitutional Law Committee’s views on the matter. With previous proposals on health and social services, the Constitutional Law Committee has acted as a sort of final boss that cannot be defeated, and that may well be what the proposals will be facing this time as well.
Government proposals on health and social services and on the counties have been drip-fed to the Parliament for a good six months in batches of various sizes. This has made it very challenging to evaluate the reform as a whole. While getting to grips with this task, the Constitutional Law Committee will also take a stand on whether or not this huge historical reform requires to be accepted by two successive parliaments. If the Constitutional Law Committee interprets the situation in this way, then it will be very difficult, or maybe even impossible, to take the reform forward. The interpretation of the Constitutional Law Committee should be ready before the autumn.
Despite the fact that not a single act regarding health and social care or the new counties is even close to being signed by the president, the political parties are starting to prepare for elections. The county elections will be organised simultaneously with the first round of the presidential elections in January 2018. Could there be a worse time to push through a new level of administration, which the population is still fairly unfamiliar with? Not only will the parties be forced to campaign in the sleet and darkness of midwinter, but there will have to be a break in the election buzz right at the most important point, as Christmas and new year will put Finns’ minds to more pressing matters than counties and local government: which one is the worst chocolate in the box, pineapple or cranberry?
Even though it feels like we have ages to go yet until the end of January, in reality it is not that far away. The district organisations of many parties are spending the summer preparing their programmes, and the aim is to nominate a large number of candidates before the end of September. Lobbying organisations find themselves in an absurd situation: lobbying parties on the counties should start no later than the beginning of the autumn, even though no final decision has yet been made on the role of the counties. But the advantage that the organisations have is that those writing the programmes are only likely to know the tiniest bit more about the roles of the counties and the county councils than the organisations lobbying them.
In July we will get a new Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services when Juha Rehula takes a well-deserved break and Annika Saarikko takes over. If the health and social services reform proceeds as the Government has planned it will be interesting to see how Saarikko prioritises her tasks. Is it finally time for a visible Minister of Family Affairs?
The National Coalition Party’s interesting trio: chairman Orpo, Mayor and “the real Coalition Party member” Jan Vapaavuori, and the free agent, presidential candidate Niinistö. Three tricky positions, and the will to tell it like it is. Vapaavuori has already started dropping truth bombs, but I have a feeling this will not be the end of it.
With this list I would like to wish all those with a personal or professional interest in politics a good summer!
Silja Silvasti, Social Policy Adviser and political enthusiast