Finland's Stubb Says Health Care Deal Decisive for Government

Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said reaching a compromise on an overhaul of the health care system will be crucial in holding together the seven-month-old government coalition.

“If we don’t get a compromise, it becomes a question of” whether to stay in the government, said Stubb, who’s also leader of the National Coalition, the second-biggest group in the three-party coalition. Stubb said he hopes his party won’t be forced to quit since “Finland is in a critical condition.”

Speculation surged in the media on Thursday that Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Center Party would leave the government amid disagreements on how to reorganize the health care system. Sipila walked by waiting reporters in parliament late Thursday without taking questions. Stubb said his party will meet on Saturday to decide on its future in the coalition.

Sipila, elected in April, has tried push through reforms to bring down costs as Finland struggles with deficits and growing debt. He has sparked union protests over efforts to make workers accept measures, including cutting holidays, that would lower labor costs by 5 percent.

According to Juhana Brotherus, an economist at HYPO, the dispute has served to highlight the “different views” on regional independence, private sector involvement, funding and patient’s freedom of choice among the coalition. 

“And this power struggle is now visible to everyone," he said.

The northernmost euro economy has already contracted for three consecutive years and Stubb has called it the “sick man of Europe.” The country has been hit hard by the loss of Nokia’s mobile phone business, a decline in paper demand and a recession in Russia.

The European Commission on Thursday predicted economic growth of 0.3 percent this year. Only Greece is seen performing worse in the 28-nation bloc this year. Finland’s debt to gross domestic product will hit 62.5 percent this year and grow to almost 67 percent in 2017, according to the commission.

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