YLE - Финские новости по-русски

Excellent summer for Finnish lakes: August blue-green algae level lowest in 20 years

Warm late-summer weather could still bring toxic algae to the surface though, experts warn.

Toxic blue-green algae, technically known as cyanobacteria, has been unusually rare on Finnish inland waters this summer despite spells of hot weather that usually trigger the growth of surface algal blooms. Since last week, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) has detected fewer cyanobacterial blooms on Finnish lakes and sea districts. In maritime areas, cyanobacteria are mostly mixed into the water, but there are some surface blooms in southern and southwestern regions. Meanwhile the incidence of cyanobacteria in lakes has dropped significantly. "Usually blue-green algae is at its heaviest in Finnish lakes in August, but this summer levels in August are lower than at any time in the 20 years of national monitoring," says Marko Järvinen, head of SYKE's algal bloom monitoring unit. Most abundant in southern Finland This week blue-green algae has been detected at 30 observation points around the country. At six of them the level was rated as abundant, with one classified as 'very abundant'. That was at Haapajärvi, a lake between the eastern city of Lappeenranta and the Russian border. Most of the 'abundant' spots are in the south and southwest, between Sipoo, just east of Helsinki, and Rymättylä, near Naantali. Järvinen attributes the paucity of blooms to unsettled weather. Meanwhile low levels of rain means that less nutrients have been washed in from lakes' watershed areas. Runoff from agriculture, including fertiliser and animal manure, is a key driver of cyanobacteria growth. Although blue-green algae levels have declined, he says it's too early to declare the season over. "Blue-green algae is now mixed into the water. If the weather warms up again, it will collect on the surface again," Järvinen predicts. "Along the coast, the blue-green algae situation can vary significantly even between places close to each other and can change quickly," adds another SYKE researcher, Sirpa Lehtinen. "Blue-green algae may form different types of toxins and agents that irritate the skin. Significant blue-green algae blooms should always be treated with caution," warns SYKE. Exposure to the bacteria can cause illness or even death in humans and animals such as dogs.

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 18:43:00 +0300

Parental involvement key in fight against mouldy schools

Many kids are starting the school year in temporary buildings as their schools undergo repairs to remove mould.

Parents across Finland are finding that their involvement with local officials is key in their battle against mould in schools. In Helsinki’s Vartiokylä neighbourhood elementary pupils have a new routine this term. They gather in the yard of their former school shuttered for mould before being bussed to an interim facility in Malmi for lessons. Tuula Putus, an indoor air expert from the University of Turku, told Yle that a number of schools around Finland face problems with indoor air quality. She said city officials often drag their feet before taking corrective measures, pointing out that children’s symptoms are likely to be dismissed as regular colds. Meanwhile some teachers have been led to believe that menopause is the cause of their symptoms, rather than mould exposure. "Children's rights aren’t being met in Finland. We react very slowly when it comes to mitigating risks affecting children and youths. Kids are the future and they deserve healthy daycare and school environments," Putus explained. Parents advocate for kids In Vartiokylä, pupils’ parents spent years leveraging their professional expertise as doctors, lawyers and construction experts to lobby local decision makers as well as the Regional State Administrative State Agency to initiate testing and ultimately shut down the school. The parents also took an active role in relocating the elementary school to an interim facility in Malmi. One of these active parents is Kimmo Laine, who transferred his son to another school after three years of upper respiratory problems. "Many things would have been better if the city had improved communication. Hiding information will never improve situations like these," Laine said. Critics blame poor inter-agency communication and decentralised decision making for mould complaints taking so long to wind through the system. In any school, the principal, school healthcare, occupational healthcare and industrial safety representatives all deal with indoor air quality complaints. The final responsibility, however, rests with the property owner, which is often a subdivision of the municipality. The rehoused Vartiokylä pupils are now facing yet another move as mould has appeared at their temporary school facility in Malmi. The interim school building in Malmi also has mould, parents recently found out.Matti Myller / Yle Aware of the growing problem, the government has launched a "Healthy Spaces 2028" initiative to tackle the dual problem of mouldy buildings and residents suffering from allergic symptoms triggered by damp and mould. Helsinki has meanwhile vowed to improve communication on air quality matters, according to Sari Hildén, a property manager for the city.

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 17:32:00 +0300

Study: Severe mental illness in youth has detrimental effect on future career

Mental illness adversely affects income, education and employment. Schizophrenics have the lowest employment rates.

Hospitalisation for mental disorders in youth and early adulthood has the potential to hinder future careers, according to a study by a consortium of five Finnish universities. Researchers found a link between mental health disorders and low salaries, poor education and unemployment. The study revealed that income levels, educational attainment and employment rates of people under 25 who have been hospitalised due to past mental illnesses are notably lower than that of the general workforce. They also face a greater risk of joblessness and often may not pursue secondary or tertiary education. Individuals who had been hospitalised for schizophrenia had the lowest employment rates of all subjects in the study. Less than 10 percent of this group was found to be gainfully employed during the duration of the study. Just under half of subjects who had been hospitalised with mental illnesses were still employed after the age of 25. Wages remain low The study also found that average incomes of those hospitalised for severe mental illness in their youth remained quite low throughout their career and did not increase at any point. More than half had no income at all during the survey period. The researchers examined data on more than two million individuals between the ages of 25 and 52 in Finland from 1998 to 2015. "People diagnosed with mental illness do not participate in the labour market for a variety of reasons. However, in treating severe mental illness it would be good to ensure at an early stage that patients have the opportunity to participate in working life and training," Helsinki University researcher Christian Hakulinen said in a statement. The study was published in the Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica journal, and was funded by the Academy of Finland and the wage earners' association.

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 16:21:33 +0300

Finland's grocery giants help consumers track climate impact of food

The country's two main food retailers say they'll inform consumers of the carbon footprint of select product groups.

The second-largest Finnish grocery retailer, the K-Group, is to begin providing customers with statistics on the carbon footprint of some food purchases. This autumn K-Group will begin providing those enrolled in its Plussa customer loyalty programme with data on the climate impact of their food shopping. The system will not pinpoint details for individual products but simply generate data based on popular product groups such as milk, bread, beef and root vegetables. Initially the programme will cover 40 product groups. The K-Group is the second major Finnish retailer to roll out such a scheme. Last month its main rival, S-Group, said it would start letting shoppers know the carbon impact of their purchases. Together the two chains control more than 83 percent of the Finnish groceries market, according to the Finnish Grocery Trade Association. Last year the association said that the S-Group had a market share of more than 46 percent, followed by the K-Group at just over 36 percent and German budget chain Lidl with less than 10 percent. Story continues after photo Experts say such trackers are a small step in the right direction.Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP Like that of the S-Group, the K-Group tracker will be based on climate impact estimates from Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), one of Finland's official statistics authorities. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra meanwhile estimates that 68 percent of Finland's greenhouse gas emissions are related to household consumption. "Responsible choices" The K-Group says that many clients have asked for support in making sustainable choices when shopping for food. "We want to help our customers to make choices that are responsible and in line with their values," head of the company's grocery divison, Ari Akseli, says. Meanwhile at S-Group, "our aim is to offer help and tools to consumers so they can check and reduce the climate impact of their food purchases," says Senior Vice President for Sustainability and CSR Lea Rankinen. The S-Group has already begun showing carbon figures for some product groups to loyalty card holders who log into a website. "For instance you can see your purchases of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, in other words practically all the major product categories, and an estimate of their carbon footprint," says S-Group product manager Vesa Riihelä. He told Yle last month that some 150,000 people had signed up for the service, with the number growing by 25,000–30,000 per month. No silver bullet Environmental scientists say such trackers are a small step in the right direction. "Many companies estimate the climate impact of their products, but we are not yet in a situation where reliable product- and brand-specific data is available on a comprehensive, comparable basis for all products," notes Merja Saarinen, a senior scientist at Luke. According to Marja Salo, a researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), "all solutions that increase transparency in consumption are good in terms of boosting consumer awareness, especially when that information is tied to everyday life." However she does not see such trackers as a silver bullet to change consumption habits in a more sustainable direction. For instance, WWF Finland estimates that residents of Finland used up their share of the planet’s natural resources by early April this year. "I wouldn't rely on everything changing when consumers get information about their carbon footprints," Salo tells Yle. "Even if we have plenty of information, that alone is not enough. We need many forms of guidance."

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 15:17:20 +0300

DoS attack downs public service websites

Police, tax and population centre websites are operating normally again after Wednesday night's service disruption.

The websites of several state organisations in Finland were inaccessible due to a denial-of-service (DoS) attack late Wednesday night. A DoS is a cyber-attack in which the perpetrator disrupts the services of a host connected to the internet. The attack downed the websites of the Finnish Police, Tax Administration and the Population Register Centre, and caused disturbances at the websites of the Border Guard and the Suomi.fi online information portal. Juha Tretjakov, an IT security expert with the Ministry of Transport and Communications, says the disturbances started on Wednesday evening. For the most part, the services were once again in operation by mid-day on Thursday, although some problems with logging in to e-services of the Social Insurance Institution (Kela) were still being reported. The cause of the disturbances is not known. An investigation has been launched. The tabloid Iltalehti reported Thursday that the website of the Finnish Police crashed on Wednesday evening while Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Helsinki for a working visit, but said "there is no information yet if the disturbance is associated with Putin's visit".

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 13:57:26 +0300

Migri botches extended permits for underage asylum seekers

The Finnish Immigration Service admits to granting two-year extensions, instead of the four applicants are entitled to.

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) has been granting underage asylum seekers two-year residence permits to stay in the country when they would have been entitled to a four-year permit, according to an Yle investigation. The cases in question concern individuals who entered the country as minors, and are now applying to Migri for a permit extension for the second time, as their two-year term has expired. Migri is supposed to grant a first-time extension of two years, with four year extensions the norm for the second round of extensions. Immigration Service unit director Olli Koskipirtti says the confusion was due to ambiguous in-house guidelines. "The guidelines say that extensions can be granted for one or two years, if the applicant has reached adult age during the period of the previous permit. However they don't say whether the customer is applying for a renewed permit for the first or second time," he says. Koskipirtti says Migri is taking steps to amend the situation, and will write up clearer instructions in the early autumn. He points out that renewed permits can be granted for shorter periods on other grounds, as well, as things like school performance and criminal records are considered in the permit decisions. Long processing times lead to restrictions The authority for granting renewed residence permits in Finland was transferred from the police to the Immigration Service at the start of 2017. Hanna Laari, a lawyer with the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, said that reports of inconsistent and truncated permit extensions began to surface shortly after this. She says she has come across several cases in her work. The Finnish Immigration Service pays for legal representatives to be appointed for unaccompanied minors that arrive in the country to seek asylum. This representative is responsible for making sure the child's best interests are being considered in different situations. Finnish law stipulates that the first residence permit issued on the basis of individual humanitarian purposes be valid for one year. Processing of the permits may sometimes drag on for up to a year. "Young people have to manage without a residence permit card. They are legally in the country because they have a certificate that they have applied for a residence permit, but it is impossible for them to travel and difficult to receive services," says Jukka Kursula, who has worked as legal representative for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers for close to two decades. Legal reps dropped when applicants turn 18 Laari says the onus is on the legal representatives to make sure that the decisions minors are receiving are in line with the law. Some minors that arrived to Finland in 2015 have had a poor "luck of the draw" in this area, she says. The fact that the legal representative drops out of the picture when the applicant turns 18 is also a problem. Migri's Koskipirtti says that the processing time for renewed permits is currently in the neighbourhood of four months. The Refugee Advice Centre's Laari says in her experience, the wait is often seven to eight months.

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 11:56:26 +0300

Thursday's papers: Free pass for Putin, GPS jamming and climate change anxiety

Finnish dailies analyse the Russian leader's Wednesday visit, and clock concern for the planet's welfare.

The country's most widely-read daily Helsingin Sanomat discusses Finnish President Sauli Niinistö's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday in Helsinki. The National Defence University's Russian security expert Katri Pynnönniemi called Niinistö out for "not questioning any of Putin's interpretations" in his remarks. "In my opinion, the most important thing was that Putin got all of his key talking points across. The thrust of his message matched Russia's long-term communication strategy which says that the US is making decisions over Europe's head, without consideration for the interests of its allies," she told the paper. She said President Niinistö could have challenged many of Putin's comments about the US' lack of communication with EU allies about its missile technology or US involvement in the European energy market – the latter of which conveniently painted the Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as better-suited to European interests. "He [Niinistö] surely could have said that the relationship between European and Nato countries and the US is a good one, or that Europeans still make their own, independent decisions," Pynnönniemi said. Another missed opportunity in her eyes concerned the subject of a crackdown on demonstrations for free elections in Moscow. At this juncture, the Finnish President commented that it would be "too easy to say that nothing similar happens in Finland". "Niinistö's criticism on this point was quite cloaked in that [...] there is no way you can compare the Finnish political system to what is happening in Russia right now," she told HS. Scrambled GPS and a downed police site Finland's tabloids talk about some of the knock-on effects the working visit had in Helsinki, in addition to the enhanced security presence and the closure of streets, markets and harbours. Ilta-Sanomat reports that GPS systems were apparently jammed for about a half-hour around the time of Putin's late arrival at roughly 4:30 pm. Readers told IS that while Putin's motorcade was en route from the Helsinki Airport to the Presidential Palace, map services on their phones provided inaccurate location data. One man said he checked both his work and personal phone at his home in the Helsinki district of Viikki, only to have one show that he was sitting in the neighbouring city of Espoo and the other pinpoint his location in the district of Itäkeskus, in eastern Helsinki. He said that once Putin had arrived at his destination downtown, the services once again worked accurately. The incident is not the first of its kind in Finland, as air navigation authorities detected GPS jamming in November 2018 during NATO exercises in northern Finland and Norway. Norwegian authorities said at the time that their data indicated that the signal disruption was coming from Russia. Meanwhile tabloid Iltalehti reports that the website of the Finnish Police crashed on Wednesday evening while the Russian leader was in Helsinki, although "there is no information yet if the disturbance is associated with Putin's visit". Worried about the planet's future The Lahti-based newspaper Etelä-Suomen Sanomat reports on a poll assessing climate change anxiety in Finland's population. Some 27 percent of the over 2,000 respondents to the Sitra-commissioned poll said anxiety is "very or somewhat good" descriptor of their feelings about climate change. For the subset of people between the age of 15 and 30, this percentage rose to 38 percent, or more than one in three. Finns in the survey also reported feeling frustration, inadequacy, powerlessness and hope in the face of climate change. 60 percent said they have noted scepticism of global warming in their social circles, but less than half a percentage point said they have encountered outright climate change denial in Finland. The poll also inquired after people's happiness levels. 55 percent said they felt very or somewhat happy, with about a quarter saying they were "a little or not at all happy".

Thu, 22 Aug 2019 09:56:32 +0300

Russian president's tardiness tests activists' patience in Helsinki

Russian President Vladimir Putin was about two hours late for his meeting with opposite number Sauli Niinistö.

After touching down at the Helsinki Airport just shy of 4.30pm, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally met his host Sauli Niinistö at the Presidential Palace in downtown Helsinki just after 5.00pm, around two hours behind schedule. The heads exchanged pleasantries as their meeting began, with Putin saying via an interpreter that bilateral relations between the two countries had developed positively. The Russian President’s arrival in Finland resulted in a major security operation in which the route between the airport and the city centre was closed to allow his motorcade to proceed unfettered. Tourists and other members of the public were prohibited from the market square area near the Presidential Palace in downtown Helsinki.Laura Hyyti / Yle Helsinki police also said on Twitter that mass transit had been suspended on Mannerheimintie, while the market square opposite the official presidential residence had been cleared out and sealed off to the public, catching many tourists off-guard. Activists with a message for Putin Meanwhile NGOs and activists took advantage of Putin’s visit to the Finnish capital to send messages about the country’s human rights record, among other things. Human rights organisation Amnesty said it wanted to use the opportunity to raise the issue of free elections while Putin was in Helsinki. Amnesty protesters with a message for the Russian President, "Putin, why are you afraid?"Laura Hyyti / Yle Three young activists, Jasmiina Salin, Iida Niva and Maria Kiiskinen of the National Coalition Party’s youth wing said that they wanted to draw attention to concerns about democracy and minority rights in Russia. Meanwhile demonstrators representing another organisation, Fee Russia (Vapaa Venäjä) called for the arrest of the Russian president. Members of the National Coalition Party youth wing turned out to see Vladimir Putin.Laura Hyyti / Yle On Tuesday President Niinistö told an annual gathering of Finnish ambassadors that he might raise the issue of ongoing demonstrations in Moscow with Putin. Protesters have been picketing and calling for free elections, following a decision to ban some opposition figures from local elections. Niinistö said that there are no special frictions in Finnish-Russian bilateral relations and he stressed the importance of maintaining open discussion channels. Niinistö and Putin arrive at Suomenlinna for dinner on Wednesday evening.Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva The presidents and their staff completed the working day trip with dinner at the historic former island fortress, Suomenlinna.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 20:23:15 +0300

Call for dialogue: Niinistö, Putin discuss recent US missile test at Helsinki meeting

The presidents expressed concern over a US missile test following its withdrawal from a decades-old arms control treaty.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has described as "worrying" US plans to locate mid-range missiles in Europe and called for dialogue on the matter. Speaking during a joint press conference with his opposite number from Moscow Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Niinistö said that the situation was not governed by any agreements, something that was especially troubling from the European perspective. "We hope that talks aimed at [negotiating] a new agreement progress," Niinistö told journalists while referring to the US government’s decision to repudiate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF treaty), followed by a recent test of a medium-range cruise missile weeks after scuppering the decades-old deal with Russia. Analysts worry that the breakdown of the treaty could spawn a new nuclear arms race. Responding a question about the US missile test from Russian media, Putin said that he was disappointed by the development, which he said threatened security and breached the terms of the INF. Putin added that the test came too soon after the treaty was abandoned on 2 August and suggested that plans for the missile launch had been developed before the US tore up the treaty. The Russian president said he was concerned that modified Tomahawk marine missiles could be deployed in Romania and Poland, where NATO already has missile defence systems. "We don’t know if the US will tell the Europeans where they are to be located. I agree with the Finnish president that we need dialogue. There is none now. We are ready to engage in dialogue with the US as well as with Europe," Putin said. Putin defends crackdown on protesters Host Niinistö trod a fine diplomatic line in response to a question from Yle’s Sanna Uosikainen about the return of full Russian voting rights in the Council of Europe and Moscow's perceived failure to comply with the Council’s mandate to honour human rights with respect to a crackdown on ongoing protests in Moscow. Niinistö said that it would be too easy to say that nothing similar happens in Finland. He noted that the Finnish government maintains active dialogue with civil society and that perhaps this is the reason. He also noted that membership in the Council of Europe is also important to Russian NGOs. Putin said that Russia respects human rights and noted that similar, sometimes more damaging demonstrations occur in other European countries. He explained that some local election candidates had been banned from standing for election because they had broken the law. He added that citizens have the right to demonstrate and noted that two protests had been lawful. However he said that if citizens did not have the required permit to demonstrate, then authorities would react the same as in any other European country. With respect to the Council of Europe, Putin said that if members were not satisfied with Russia, the country could pull out. But he noted that if Russia left, citizens would not have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. Free electronic visas for EU citizens Both presidents praised the state of bilateral relations and Putin mentioned a number of initiatives where Russia and Finland would step up cooperation. Tourism was one such area where he said he hoped to see increased activity. He noted that roughly 3.5 million Russians visit Finland while one million Finns travel across the eastern border. He said that he hoped the number of EU visitors would rise with the introduction of free electronic visas for EU citizens hoping to visit St. Petersburg. He said work is underway to resolve issues relating to traveller identification. The presidents continued Putin's working day trip with a dinner at Finland's historic former fortress, Suomenlinna.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 19:59:26 +0300

Barely legal faux-snus products gaining popularity

The Swedish manufacturer denies that the colourful, flavoured nicotine products are specifically targeted at women.

A new tobacco-free nicotine product imported from abroad is quickly gaining popularity in Finland, according to Finnish Customs. These "nicotine pouches" come in multi-coloured packaging and are flavoured with extracts such as ginger, orange, blackcurrant and rhubarb. They do not contain tobacco and are smaller than classic snus packets, and thus easier to insert and use. Customers use both types of product by inserting the pouches between their gums and cheek. "It's kind of like snus for women," said customer Kaisa Laurila from Kokkola next to a candy-coloured snus display at a store in the border town of Haparanda (Haaparanta in Finnish) in northwest Finland. Health care professionals have noted that girls and women are using snus or similar tobacco products more often than before. Dental hygienists say they have seen a clear rise in young use of snus.Jutta Marjakaarto / Yle Dental hygienist Annica Marjamaa from private sector healthcare provider Mehiläinen has worked with children for more than two decades. "When I visit schools I ask whole classes of kids whether they've used snus. These days more and more girls are raising their hands. It used to be unheard of for girls to try these products," Marjamaa said. "We have to take this trend seriously." Communications manager for snus manufacturer Swedish Match, Johan Wredberg denied that his company is marketing its products specifically to women – or to underage customers. "Our products are marketed to adult people regardless of their gender," Wredberg said. "We feel that men and women alike are able to make sensible decisions about what products they use." Fimea: Nicotine pouches "medicine" Apart from marketing strategies for the tobacco-free nicotine pouches, the products also fall into a grey area when it comes to their classification in Finland. The Finnish Medicines Agency (Fimea) considers the nicotine pouches a form of medication based on the effects the chemical ingredients have on the metabolism. "Nicotine is a well-known medical compound, which affects users in a medicine-like way," said Fimea head pharmacist Kristiina Pellas. However, the legality of the nicotine pouches is very difficult for consumers to determine ahead of time due to inadequate labelling on snus packages. The flavours of the snus products vary greatly.Antti Heikinmatti / Yle Fimea equates tobacco-free snus with non-prescription medicines whose nicotine content per sachet is 4 mg. This is the official legal limit in Finland for all snus-like products; anything stronger is considered a prescription drug and thus illegal to import from abroad without a license. "In terms of Customs, it's simple: the nicotine pouches are treated as a medicine and their import status is regulated by the applicable laws," Finnish Customs inspector general Anne Pullinen said, adding that a rise in imports of the flavoured snus is likely. The import limit for four-milligram sachets from ETA countries such as Sweden corresponds to an estimated 12 months of personal use. Customs calculates that this adds up to about 8,500 doses or hundreds of cartons of the product. However, many of the products contain no information about the quantity of nicotine they contain. In such cases Customs seizes the contents for study in its laboratories. So far only a handful of analyses have been conducted though, Customs said.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 18:25:00 +0300

Cash sales to end on Finnish trains

From September passengers will need a payment card to buy tickets from conductors or ticket machines on long-distance trains.

Finnish state railway firm VR is to end cash sales of tickets on long-distance services. The company says ticket machines and conductors will from 1 September only accept cards or contactless payments. In addition to VR's online shop, mobile app and ticket machines, tickets can also be purchased in advance from VR service points, Matkahuolto branches and any R-Kioski outlet. According to VR some 99 percent of passengers already buy their tickets in advance or using a payment card on the train. "If a passenger gets on a train after 1 September without a ticket or possibility to pay by card, the situation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis," said Julia Stolp of VR via email. "Our conductors cannot fine passengers, but they can remove travellers with no ticket from the train." Stolp stressed, however, that the conductor is required to ensure the welfare of any passengers removed from the train and would not take this action against unaccompanied children.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 17:30:00 +0300

Finland to use UK vote as Britain pulls out of EU meetings

The UK government has said that it wants officials to focus on Brexit preparations.

UK officials announced on Tuesday that starting 1 September, Britain will no longer send representatives to most EU meetings, effectively halving the country's representation at EU forums. The UK government said in a letter to EU diplomats that it will hand over its vote to Finland, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union. "The UK government remains committed to the duty of sincere cooperation and will not stand in the way of the conduct of EU business during this time," the Guardian reported the letter as saying. "We are very grateful to you as presidency [sic] for agreeing to exercise our vote, if necessary, at meetings which we do not attend," it continued. Focus on meetings with national significance According to the announcement by the UK government, the country will only participate in meetings that have national significance, including issues relating to Brexit, internal government, international relations, security and the economy, a spokesperson told The Guardian. "From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours. This will free up time for ministers and their officials to get on with preparing for our departure on 31 October and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead," said Brexit minister Steve Barclay. Opposition lawmakers responded against the decision by declaring that it would leave the UK in the dark with respect to many important matters. "How do you know if important things are discussed if you are not there? Whilst we are still full members all decisions will affect us, from fishing quotas to digital markets," Liberal Democratic MEP Catherine Bearder told the paper. Finland to honour UK's wishes Johannes Leppo, senior ministerial adviser for legislative affairs in the Prime Minister's office, confirmed to Yle that the government had received the letter from the UK and that Finland intended to conform to its wishes. Leppo described the procedure as compliant with EU rules, which he said did not require any special formalities and is widely used. Finland cannot use the UK's voting right to adopt a position that runs counter to the UK's wishes. The UK can notify Finland of its position on issues on a case by case basis. He explained that it was not unusual for a country's minister to be unable to participate in an EU meeting or to have to leave before it ends. In such cases the country in question may notify the meeting chair of its position on an issue in advance and to have this stance noted in the decision-making. In addition EU member states' postures on various issues are often known in advance or permanent representatives in Brussels often agree on specific questions in advance of formal meetings. "So in meetings they do not always formally vote by 'pressing a button'," Leppo explained. Loss of influence for UK Leppo pointed out that if an important and potentially divisive matter arising in a meeting seems probable, a UK representative will likely show up to participate in the discussion. In practice, as holder of the rotating EU Council presidency, Finland will, if needed, indicate the UK's position on specific issues. However the current UK decision to cede its vote to Finland puts Finland in the position of 'representing' the departing member state. Ultimately, by skipping EU meetings, the UK will lose the right to speak out. Sidebar meetings in particular involve a great deal of debate and discussion in which the contents of draft resolutions may be heavily edited – something that the UK will no longer be able to influence. On Tuesday, the EU rejected an attempt by the UK government to re-open the existing Brexit agreement by re-negotiating the backstop issue.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 16:37:47 +0300

Up to €1m for schools to combat online child predation

The funding can be used to hire teachers, counsellors and special assistants to help develop kids' media literacy skills.

The Ministry of Education and Culture has launched a special funding programme to help protect young people against online predators. The initiative will see the ministry provide up to one million euros for primary and pre-schools for media literacy training for their youngsters. The ministry said that it hopes the funding will be used to support programmes that train children to operate safely and prudently online, and specifically to examine the terms of use and privacy settings of different services. "Online predation and abuse is a worrying trend that must be fought decisively. It is the responsibility of us adults to offer children and young adults enough support and information so they can operate safely in social media and elsewhere online," Education Minister Li Andersson said in a statement. Schools can use the funding for purposes such as hiring teachers, teaching assistants and counsellors. At the end of 2018, police in Oulu had warned of online predators follow reports of a series of child sexual abuse allegations.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 15:15:16 +0300

Parties open to tighter restrictions on slot machines

All groups except the Finns Party say stricter ID rules should also be brought in sooner.

Finland's political parties are amenable to tighter restrictions on slot machines and gambling, according to a survey of political parties by Yle. The parties responded to a brief Yle survey on Wednesday after weeks of talks and controversy over the ethics of gambling monopoly Veikkaus' advertising practices. Some restrictions are already on the way, while a citizens initiative is also looking to slash the number of slot machines Veikkaus operates and restrict their locations. By 2022 gamblers in Finland will be required by law to digitally identify themselves to prove they are over 18 before accessing gambling services and slot machines. All parties except the populist Finns Party told Yle that they would be prepared to move that date forward in order to better monitor underage gaming. Minister of Local Government and Ownership Steering Sirpa Paatero from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) said she would be working to advance the identification timetable with Veikkaus this autumn. "I'll be meeting with Veikkaus earlier than originally planned," Paatero said. "We need to figure out how to technically implement this ID reform." Veikkaus estimated that bringing in the new ID rule in 2022 would mean the monopoly would see losses of anywhere between 17 million and 170 million euros. At the same time, however, costs from addiction and problem gaming would decrease. Gambling in Finland is a closed shop, with only Veikkaus officially allowed to operate and all Veikkaus profits used to fund culture, sports and social policy. That means politicians are both in charge of regulating Veikkaus and dependent on it for revenue to fund government spending. Removal from shops Yle asked parties whether gambling machines should be removed entirely from shops and kiosks and moved into dedicated arcades, as a popular citizens' initiative with more than 28,000 signatures is fighting for. Of the official parties the Green Party, Left Alliance and Christian Democrats said they would support a ban on gambling machines in any spaces other than specified gaming halls. Unregistered political group Movement Now also answered that they would be for a public ban. Green Party chair and Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo stuck to her hard line, saying that arcade gaming would be enough for non-addicted enthusiasts. "Designating a certain facility for these games would most likely bring problematic playing habits down. Monitoring age limits and preventing severe drawbacks would be more effective," Ohisalo said. How many is too many? The Finnish government allows gambling monopoly Veikkaus to operate a maximum of 18,600 slot machines nationwide. The current number of machines is just 100 units below that. Five of the registered political parties – namely the SDP, Centre Party, Finns Party, National Coalition Party (NCP) and the Swedish People's Party – declined to comment on the appropriate number of machines. Many politicians and citizens are calling for the removal of gambling machines from shops.Marja Väänänen / Yle NCP chair Petteri Orpo said he would leave the number of gambling units to be determined by Veikkaus; but the Left Alliance holds a stricter stance. "Studies show that low-income earners play these games the most, and lose the most money," said Left parliamentary group chair Paavo Arhinmäki. "We have to seriously consider reducing the number of these games and where they should be placed." Harry Harkimo from Movement Now said the correct amount of machines would be however many can be realistically monitored within designated Veikkaus gaming halls. Panic button, user-specific limits One feature of the identification process is that players can set a maximum game limit, such as how many minutes or euros he or she is allowed to spend at the slots per day or month. Veikkaus online gambling now includes a prominent red "panic button" that players can press if they feel they cannot stop on their own. After the button is clicked, the game will no longer respond. Veikkaus promised in mid-August to establish an ethics board to control problem gaming. Elderly gamblers studied The Turku University Hospital announced that it is researching the brains of elderly gamblers. Pension-age women are one of the main problem gambling demographics, along with young adult men. The university study aims to develop a new medication that could help treat gambling addiction along with talk therapy. The challenge in medicating a gaming addiction is that the active ingredients need to be isolated from the brain's reward system, the university said. Statistics from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) show that one in five people in Finland knows someone in their close contacts who gambles too much on Veikkaus machines.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 12:28:07 +0300

Wednesday’s papers: Russia, Mediterranean migrants and a shorter working week

Coverage of Putin’s visit was plentiful, but there was also space for other stories.

Vladimir Putin arrives in Finland on Wednesday off the back of protests in Moscow over candidates for upcoming local elections, possibly radioactive fallout from a new cruise missile and a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron this week at which the two compared notes on domestic protests. Putin’s summer visit to Finland has become something of a tradition, with the Russian leader heading west each year since 2016. In 2018 he even met US President Donald Trump in Helsinki. Finland is rarely on the world stage, and so Ilta-Sanomat basks in the spotlight in an editorial replete with potshots at those who criticised Finnish President Sauli Niinistö for meeting Putin in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. IS singles out Sweden for special mention, noting with satisfaction that Sweden and the other Nordics have ‘followed Niinistö’s example’ and met Putin anyway when the Nordic prime ministers assembled in Moscow this spring. Iltalehti goes for a recap of previous meetings, warning Niinistö of the Putin propensity to surprise. Helsingin Sanomat has an analysis piece that outlines in some depth the countries' relations and motivations, concluding that relations are ‘as good as they could be nowadays’. Running through the IS and HS pieces is the fact that Finland has always wanted to keep a line open to Moscow, as discussions with Russian leaders are important in achieving diplomatic goals. IS recalls that Niinistö told Sweden’s then-Foreign Minister Karin Enström in 2016 that Finland has a longer border with Russia than all other EU countries combined. So the consensus it is important to stay on good terms with the neighbours. Refugee polling Agrarian paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus publishes a poll that suggests opinion is split on whether Finland should take in refugees attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean. The poll suggests that 47 percent said Finland should not accept such refugees, 37 percent said it should, while 16 percent declined to offer an opinion. The paper reports this as ‘nearly half oppose’ taking in refugees, and also divides the poll by party support to state that supporters of the Centre Party and Finns Party are most opposed to accepting these migrants. Over the summer Finland said it would accept 13 asylum seekers rescued from the Meditarranean. Parliament’s Grand Committee, which sets the parameters of Finnish EU policy, made clear this was a one-off gesture and not a policy shift--so the issue is likely to return to the political agenda soon. Marin’s four-day week Should Finland look at cutting working hours? That’s the debate started by Transport and Communications Minister Sanna Marin, who suggested that four days a week or six hours a day might be more appropriate than the current 40-hour week most workers perform. The Social Democrat’s idea did not get a warm reception from those on the right of Finnish politics or employers’ organisations. The Juha Sipilä government had pushed through an increase in working hours across the economy in order to improve competitiveness in export industries, so some commentators are asking whether this is a step backwards. That’s what Kauppalehti thinks, asking if Finnish working life is so terrible after all. “A six-hour day is too much if every minute is full of anguish,” suggests the paper’s op-ed. Iltalehti, meanwhile, takes a more positive if slightly condescending view: Marin is right that technology could well reduce the number of working hours people perform, but 'completely wrong' in thinking this is something central government or labour organisations can mandate. That line, that Finland must change its tripartite labour negotiation system and move towards local pay bargaining, is a key talking point for employers’ organisations and one that may become more prominent now the union-backed SDP and Left Alliance are in government.

Wed, 21 Aug 2019 09:20:23 +0300

Helsinki preps schools, NGOs to spot FGM, forced marriage trips

A working group survey revealed that at least 10 children had "disappeared" from Helsinki primary schools in 2017.

The city of Helsinki has announced a programme to help schools and children’s NGOs better recognise situations where planned trips by migrant-background families might endanger children’s safety. According to a report by tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat, the guidelines will advise adults working with immigrant-background children (in Finnish) how to ensure that when youngsters travel abroad they are not subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) or forced marriage and that their studies are not interrupted for extended periods. The guidelines were cooked up by a working group that attempted to determine the scale of such phenomena as well as suggest measures to combat them. "The issue first came up in a relationship violence working group. I began to investigate whether or not anything had been done at the city level and then set up a working group," said Mirjami Silvennoinen, a specialist with Helsinki’s security and preparedness unit. The expert group comprised representatives from the city, the foreign ministry, Helsinki police department, the National Education Agency, the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, youth organisation Children of the Station and NGO Fenix Helsinki. 10 minors go off grid in 2017 A survey by the working group revealed that at least 10 children had "disappeared" from Helsinki primary schools in 2017. The survey was sent to roughly 100 Helsinki primary schools last year, with 22 responding. Silvennoinen said that the number of missing children reported does not necessarily reflect reality and that the working group's pointers indicate how to operate in situations where care givers and teachers encounter foreign-background children about to travel abroad. She told Ilta-Sanomat that if a child misses more than 50 hours of school, authorities usually file a child welfare notification. However she said that notifications should be lodged well before that threshold if concerns arise about a child's wellbeing or safety. "We developed an operational chart where everyone can quickly see what can be done in the case of children travelling abroad, perhaps not in their best interests," she added. She noted that the guidelines will be directed toward all adults working with children, but will also be shared with children and teens as well as their families. "So if a child is to travel [it tells] what they can do if they feel it’s not in their best interests," the specialist explained. Boys and girls sent abroad Silvennoinen said that it is common for older teens to be sent to their parents’ homelands to learn the culture and to spend time with relatives for a year or two. However she claimed that the purpose of such trips could also be child marriages. "If it’s known that [children could face] circumcision or a forced marriage, then people should intervene. These things are crimes in Finnish law, but of course they do not fall within the city’s jurisdiction," she noted. The city worker said that boys as well as girls are sent abroad and added that the focus of the initiative is children who travel abroad without their parents. "However families travel overseas on vacation so it is difficult to comment on that but if children are sent abroad for several years without their parents, then there might be something else to it," Silvennoinen concluded.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 18:40:00 +0300

Finnish-Turkish family in fatal car crash in Lithuania

A Finnish woman and her Turkish husband were killed and their three children were injured when their car hit two trucks.

A Finnish-Turkish family was involved in a severe traffic accident on a motorway in the north of Lithuania late on Monday night, which claimed the lives of the family's Finnish mother and Turkish father. According to local police, the man was 39 and the woman was 33. The couple's three children, two boys aged 11 and nine and a three-year-old girl, were also injured in the crash and are currently being treated in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. Authorities have not yet confirmed the children's nationality. Tuomas Sottinen, communications officer with Finland's Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said the ministry is aware of the incident but because of the privacy issues involved, cannot make any comment at this time. Sottinen told Yle that the ministry will offer assistance through the local consulate. Local media in Lithuania reported that the BMW car involved in the accident was registered in Finland, and that it was being driven at the time by the father of the family. According to Lithuanian police, the accident occurred just before midnight on the Panevėžys-Pasvalys-Riga motorway, when the family's car collided with a semi-trailer truck which propelled it into the path of a second semi-trailer.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 17:35:00 +0300

Finland, EU reject UK PM’s bid to re-open Brexit deal

A spokesperson for the Finnish PM Antti Rinne said that the EU would not re-negotiate the existing agreement.

Finland has poured cold water on a bid by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to re-negotiate a deal brokered by his predecessor Theresa May to manage the country’s departure from the European Union. On Tuesday, Finnish premier Antti Rinne said through a spokesperson that the EU has no intention of revisiting the separation agreement that May finalised in November 2018, following UK citizens’ 2016 vote to leave the regional bloc. The spokesperson indicated that the matter had been discussed on Monday. Finland began its presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July. European Union Council president Donald Tusk said that a letter Johnson had sent to the EU outlining his new proposal did not contain a realistic alternative to the so-called "backstop" element of May’s deal. "The backstop is an insurance [sic] to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found. Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it," Tusk tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. The Johnson plan: Ditch the backstop A key element of Johnson’s proposal to re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement on the table involves abandoning the backstop, which he described as undemocratic and impossible to implement. The arrangement is a fundamental part of the separation agreement negotiated with May and an essential criterion for Ireland to accept the UK’s withdrawal from the union. The backstop refers to a system by which the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – which is part of the UK – remains as open as possible, according to the BBC. The arrangement is also seen as important factor in preventing a return to instability in Ireland. The parties to the Brexit deal have agreed not to introduce physical borders or border arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The backstop arrangement would come into the picture in the event that there is no agreement on an open border. It requires close ties between the EU and Northern Ireland and in practice would require the latter to abide by certain EU regulations. The UK PM believes that British lawmakers could be persuaded to accept a Brexit withdrawal deal if the backstop provision is eliminated from the current agreement.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 17:05:00 +0300

Asylum decision appeal case load approaches pre-2015 levels

Finnish administrative courts have whittled down a backlog of over 10,000 appeals on negative asylum decisions to 1,800.

Courts in Finland have made significant progress clearing a backlog involving thousands of asylum decision appeals. The caseload had been generated in the Finnish court system after 30,000 asylum seekers arrived in the country in 2015-2016 and over 10,000 appealed their negative asylum decisions. The public broadcaster Yle has established that only 1,800 appeal cases are still pending in June of 2019, significantly fewer than in 2016-2018, but still more than existed before the substantial influx of migrants began in 2015. "Now we are now working through appeals lodged in 2018 and 2019. We have gotten through the worst of the backlog, but I doubt that we ever will be able to get the number much lower again," says Liisa Heikkilä, a senior judge with the Helsinki Administrative Court. In 2016 alone, ten times the normal number of appeals, or 10,418 cases, were lodged with Finland's administrative courts. Authorities decided to dispense with the backlog by splitting up the appeals among four of the six courts, which are located in Helsinki, Hämeenlinna, Eastern Finland, Northern Finland, Turku and Vaasa. Advocacy group says changes undermined legal protections The Finnish Refugee Advice Centre says subsequent legislative changes to hasten asylum decisions did not bring the intended benefits. It says factors like shortening the time window for appeals from 30 days to 21 days in administrative courts and just 14 days in the Supreme Administrative Court weakened the legal protections of asylum seekers considerably. "It is the only group of people made subject to shorter appeal times, and it hasn't shortened the total appeal processing times at all," says Hanna Laari, a lawyer with the centre. Laari welcomes plans from Antti Rinne's government to reinstall the 30-day limit for all appellants. A project to rewrite the law in this area will begin at the interior and justice ministries this spring. The Refugee Advice Centre's lawyer also says that the appellate court process currently doesn't provide enough opportunities for oral hearings, as it prefers less costly and time-intensive written options. "Oral hearings are almost exclusively used for assessing the credibility of people who say they have converted to Christianity or identify as a sexual minority. This sends a special kind of message that no other reasons are considered relevant in Finland," Laari says. The Ministry of Justice has granted administrative courts funding for 50 additional employees this year, and 20 more judges are expected to be appointed to the bench by 2020. The goal is to keep the caseload spread out among four courts until the number of appeals falls back to between 1,200 and 1,000 and average processing times are cut to six months from the current rate of one year.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 15:30:00 +0300

Finland's OP finance group looks to cut 250 jobs

The OP Financial Group will begin co-determination talks with 3,000 employees at the end of August.

OP Financial Group announced on Tuesday that it would slash its headcount by up to 250 due to planned changes in its operating model. Co-determination talks are due to begin on 26 August and will affect 3,000 employees altogether. According to initial information from the company, the introduction of the new operating model will also lead to the creation of new roles within the company, which are to be offered to current members of staff facing redundancy. OP's plans include an expansion into corporate banking and insurance, which will bring about changes in the structure of the company as well as the redefinition of certain roles. OP Financial Group's member banks will not be affected by the negotiations. "We noticed during the spring how big the change in the operating model will be. Our goal is to reduce bureaucracy, lighten the organisation and and delegate decision-making power to self-directed teams," says Hannakaisa Länsisalmi, the OP Group's Vice President of Human Resources. The new model has fewer levels of hierarchy, meaning that there will be less middle management, according to Länsisalmi. "Operations will be based on a team structure, where each team has a team leader, and there are development officers and coaches for a particular product or service, who will help teams learn flexible practices and continually improve their operations," she explains. Employee representative wary The OP Financial Group also conducted co-determination talks in October last year, amid a full corporate restructuring that aimed to cut costs by 100 million euros. At that time, the restructuring led to 700 roles within the organisation being cut, while 1,000 new ones were created. At the time, workers' representatives were delighted with the result of the restructure. "I was calmer last autumn than I am now", says chief shop steward Eija Laurila. "That's because now we cannot estimate how many new work responsibilities will be created. The fact that we are doing well financially makes me calmer, however." Laurila added that she is also concerned by the challenges some personnel may face adjusting to the new roles. "The biggest challenge is how well the skills of the staff will meet the demands of the new tasks, or how to get the balance right. That's what's uppermost in my mind right now. But I'm trying to approach things with an open mind," she said.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 14:27:23 +0300

Supreme Administrative Court hikes fine in long-running bus cartel case

The court ruled that the bus and coach companies and their lobby group ran a cartel from 2010 to 2015.

Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court KHO has imposed heavier fines on seven bus companies found to be operating a cartel that stifled competition between 2010 and 2015. The Market Court had previously penalised each of the firms involved in the cartel to the tune of 100,000 euros. However the Court threw out this decision, noting that it did not take into account the varying sizes and turnovers of the companies involved. The Competition and Consumer Authority, KKV, challenged the ruling and called for million-euro penalties for the bus companies, with the inter-city bus and coach company, Matkahuolto expected to shoulder an eight-million-euro fine. The Court ruled that given the nature, scale, duration and reprehensible nature of the anti-trust behaviour and Matkahuolto’s role in the enterprise, it would increase the market court sanction to 4.3 million euros. Lower penalties for smaller firms The Court ordered Koivisto Auto, one of Finland’s largest bus companies, to pay 2.3 million, while smaller firms such as Väiniö Paunu and Vainio were sanctioned smaller sums such as 600,000 and 500,000 euros respectively. The Savonlinja group instead was required to fork out 400,000 euros and Pohjolan Matka and Pohjolan Liikenne both paid 300,000-euro fines. The Court upheld the 100,000-euro sanction imposed on Turku-based Länsilinjat and the Finnish bus and coach association Linja-autoliitto. The KHO found that in 2010 seven bus firms and the bus sector lobby group Linja-autoliitto excluded new providers from Matkahoulto’s schedules and ticket sales services as well as parcel delivery services. The intention was to prevent or at least make it more difficult for competitors to enter the market and to maintain the status of players already in the market. The court found that the anti-competitive behaviour prevented and delayed the liberalisation of the market and delayed opening it up to competition. It noted that the infringement of competition law and union anti-trust regulations continued from 2010 to 2015.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 13:41:43 +0300

Report: One-fifth of ninth-graders in Finland lonely

Research study finds that loneliness creates anxiety, affects sleeping patterns, and is more common in girls than boys.

One in five year nine student in Finland is lonely, according to the results of a World Health Organisation survey carried out in Finland by the University of Jyväskylä. The WHO's global school-based student health survey (GSHS) "is a collaborative surveillance project designed to help countries measure and assess the behavioural risk factors and protective factors in 10 key areas among young people aged 13 to 17 years," according to the WHO's website. The research also found that loneliness is particularly prevalent among ninth-grade girls in Finland, with one in four reporting that they are "very or fairly often lonely". Lonely school children are more likely to experience pain, anxiety and difficulty falling asleep than other school children, the research discovered, and are also more likely to take medicine in an attempt to deal with their isolation. "If you have a headache, you are just as likely to take a painkiller, whether you are lonely or not. However, lonely schoolgirls are more likely to take medicine to cure anxiety or to help with falling asleep," researcher Nelli Lyyra explains. Adults responsible for safe environment The researchers suggest a number of options for combatting loneliness. Previous research has demonstrated that developing social skills and being involved in activities specifically directed at younger people helps to reduce isolation in children and adolescents. "The school can provide a safe social growth environment that the student feels a sense of belonging and acceptance. However, creating a socially safe school environment is always the responsibility of adults," Lyyra says, adding that schools can have an influence on how students treat each other. "The skills and behaviors learned at home are also of great importance such as, for example, treating everyone with respect and knowing how to empathise with others," Lyyra says.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 11:46:34 +0300

Tuesday's papers: EU funding disparity, NCP congress, Putin preparations and Bond bikes

Finland's press covers regional differences in employment subsidies, party meetings, market closures and superbikes.

The Oulu-based paper Kaleva carries a story on unequal distribution of EU unemployment subsidies in Finland. Analysis by the Uutissuomalainen news service found that in the current 2014-2020 funding period, jobless residents in the east and north of Finland received five times more EU structural fund programme money (9,688 euros per capita) than people without work in the west and south (1,875 euros per capita). The paper points out that Finland's east and north receive 70 percent of the total 1.3 billion euros in European Union funding, despite being home to only one-quarter of the population. Kaleva writes that municipal leaders in areas receiving less funding are lobbying for a change in the subsidy's distribution criteria. "The criteria should in future not just be based on population, but also things like GDP, climate change and migration. Things like unemployment, youth unemployment, low education levels and social exclusion should also be factored in," Jaakko Mikkola, municipal director of Kymenlaakso, tells the paper. The municipality of Kymenlaakso has one of Finland's highest unemployment rates, at 9.1 percent. NCP meets to plan opposition strategy Lahti-based Etelä-Suomen Sanomat reports on the party leadership congress of Finland's conservative National Coalition Party, being held today and tomorrow in the southwest city of Turku. Currently the second-largest party in Finland, the NCP meeting will begin this morning with an address by party chair Petteri Orpo. He has said he is willing to continue in his leadership role, and a delegate vote today will see if he receives a mandate to continue. ESS writes that a poll in late August in the paper Maaseudun Tulevaisuus found that only 17 percent of respondents would vote for Orpo, while party members Elina Lepomäki and Antti Häkkänen both attracted 19 percent support. Neither Lepomäki nor Häkkänen has come forward to challenge Orpo for the position, however. The NCP was relegated to the opposition after Finland's elections in April, after government negotiations with Social Democrat Prime Minister Antti Rinne were unable to find enough common ground. ESS reports that this is the first government term in twelve years where the NCP has not been a part of the ruling coalition. Putin's visit to shut down Helsinki market The tabloid Iltalehti talks about Russian President Vladimir Putin's upcoming working visit to Finland on Wednesday. Putin will meet with Finland's President Sauli Niinistö for official discussions in the Presidential Palace, where they plan to cover several bilateral and international issues. After a joint press conference, the visit will conclude with a dinner at the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. This last item on the agenda will force the Market Square, a tourist mecca in the heart of the capital city, to close for the day. IL asked some of the stand owners how they felt about the market closure. Some were disappointed not to be able to sell their souvenirs, fresh fruit or fish during the height of the tourist season, but others were glad to have the luxury of a day off. Traffic in and around the Market Square will be redirected starting at noon tomorrow, and maritime activity in the harbour will also be limited. No private boats will be allowed in the area, and tourist boats to the zoo and the fortress, for example, will be re-routed to depart from piers in Hakaniemi and Katajanokka. Superbikes hit capital streets And finally, the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat has a feature story on a new brand of "jet-propulsion" city bikes capable of speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour that are coming to the capital city. The Swiss company Bond Mobility will soon roll out a fleet of 100 bicycles that will have a range of up to 100 kilometres. Like with the controversial electric scooters, users simply need to download an application to use the shared battery-powered "Bond" bikes. In the same way, they can also leave them anywhere when they are done using them. The app warns its customers to use the fast-moving bikes with caution and use a helmet. Traffic safety police superintendent Konsta Arvelin has responded to the new bike sharing scheme with apprehension about the danger they present, and with an important clarification: The fast electric bikes are categorised as mopeds, not bicycles. They might look like a bike, but closer inspection will reveal that they have small license plates, as they are registered in Finland as mopeds. "The same traffic laws apply to them as apply to mopeds: the same blood alcohol content limitations and the same legal requirement to wear a helmet. They are banned from pavements and footpaths," he said. Arvelin adds that Finnish traffic laws also prohibit mopeds from using regular bike paths, with the exception of certain paths that have a special mention that mopeds are allowed. He says the only place the Bond bikes can be used is in the city is in traffic, on the right side of the road.

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:51:47 +0300

Climate, Arctic on the agenda as Prime Minister Rinne visits Iceland

The five Nordic prime ministers are to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a working lunch.

On his first visit to Iceland since taking office in June, Prime Minister Antti Rinne meets on Monday evening with his Icelandic counterpart, Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Besides bilateral and Nordic issues, the two are to discuss the Arctic Council. At a meeting in Rovaniemi in May, Iceland took over as chair of the eight-nation organisation after a two-year Finnish term. Besides the five Nordic states, it includes Russia, Canada and the US. On Tuesday Rinne and Jakobsdóttir join the other three Nordic prime ministers for their annual informal summer meeting in Reykjavik. Besides Nordic cooperation, they are to discuss climate policy and other current international issues such as the fate of the families of ISIS fighters now in a refugee camp in Syria. Left-leaning PMs As Finland's MTV news notes, four of the five premiers are leftists, including Rinne's fellow Social Democrats Stefan Löfven of Sweden and Mette Fredriksen of Denmark. Jakobsdottir represents the Left-Green Movement while Norway's Erna Solberg is the only conservative among the group. Also attending are representatives of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She is to join the premiers for a working lunch. Measures to combat climate change will again be on the agenda along other global issues and German-Nordic cooperation.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 18:38:00 +0300

Police investigate oil leak in waters off Helsinki

Oil was first seen along the shores of Ullanlinna and Kaivopuisto late Sunday.

Police are looking into a minor oil spill that was detected late Sunday in sea water off the coast of Helsinki, between the Merisatama harbour on the mainland and the small island of Liuskasaari. Fire chief Timo Ustinov from the Helsinki Rescue Department says the oil is believed to have leaked into the water from land. Earlier another rescue official, Paul Nyberg, told Yle that the oil floating near the Kaivopuisto park shore may have come from a vessel anchored at a nearby guest harbour or from a mishap at a maritime filling station on Liuskasaari. As of Monday evening, officials had not yet pinpointed the type of oil or how much was spilled. Inspector Ismo Siltamäki of the Helsinki Police says it is also so far unclear what criminal charges might be brought if the culprit is identified. Three rescue services vessels were on the scene by 11pm Sunday evening. They worked to set up over 150 metres of containment booms, or floating barriers, to keep the oil within a confined area. The Border Guard is taking samples and rescue personnel reported a strong fuel oil smell, but as yet there is no information as to the type of oil or how it got into the sea. Officials say the nearby boat harbour has several dozen berths for visiting boaters.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 17:59:53 +0300

Second quarter sees year-on-year rise in health, education job openings

The number of job vacancies were slightly higher during the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year.

Health and social services, education and public administration were the sectors with the strongest growth in job vacancies between mid-2018 and mid-2019, the state statistics agency said on Monday. Statistics Finland reported that there were 12,000 jobs advertised in these sectors in the second quarter of 2019, up from 10,300 in the same period one year ago. There were fewer jobs available in the construction sector, down from 6,400 open positions last year to 4,800 this year. In total, Statistics Finland reported 50,900 job vacancies in Finland in April, May and June, only slightly more than the 49,500 positions advertised during the same months last year. In the second quarter of 2019, 37,700 or 74 percent of the job vacancies were in establishments owned by private enterprises, almost the same share as one year earlier. There were likewise 4,500 more job vacancies available in workplaces with fewer than five employees. Year-on-year, the number of job vacancies was down overall in most of southern Finland, but up in Helsinki as well as northern and eastern parts of the country. Job vacancies slightly up on last year Despite the slight increase in overall open positions, the number of fixed-term and part-time jobs were down six percentage points from 2018 figures for the same period. In this year's second quarter, 13 percent of all job vacancies were part-time positions and 33 percent were fixed-term. Of all the posted job vacancies, employers estimated that 60 percent (30,400) were hard to fill, up from the 2018 percentage of 52 percent (26,000). Sectors with the most jobs labelled hard to fill were the wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, and health and social work. In the second quarter of last year, employees were being sought for 9,300 part-time jobs, while this year the number dropped to 6,600 in the same three-month time. Temporary positions on offer fell from 19,200 to 16,900.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 16:49:00 +0300

Minors among hundreds suspected of drug-related offences during Blockfest

Most of the 200 crime reports from Tampere city centre over the weekend were related to the hip-hop festival.

Police officers in the southern Finnish city of Tampere were kept busy over this past weekend as the annual hip-hop music and cultural festival Blockfest took place in and around Ratina stadium in the centre of the city. More than 200 crime reports were recorded over the course of the weekend from the central Tampere area, of which about 160 were directly linked to the Blockfest event, a figure which police say is remarkably high when compared to previous events in the city. Most of the suspected crimes were drug-related, and almost all were committed near the festival grounds. According to the Central Finland police department, they recorded two serious drug offenses, as well as 22 offences involving the sale of drugs and 103 incidents of drug abuse. Twenty-one of the suspected offenders were minors. In addition to narcotics offences, police recorded a number of other suspected crimes including aggravated assault, assault, possession of a dangerous weapon, a minor firearm offence, and an aviation violation, among others. Furthermore, dozens of minors were taken into custody by police after allegedly attempting to barge into the venue, apparently to avoid paying. American rapper A$AP Rocky performed at Blockfest on Friday night.Jussi Mankkinen / Yle The two-day festival also marked the second performance by American rapper A$AP Rocky since he received a suspended prison sentence in Sweden for an assault committed in Stockholm city centre on June 30. The musician's conviction was not popular with the Tampere crowd, as chants of "F* Sweden" were heard between songs.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 15:52:00 +0300

Supreme Court dismisses Client Earth objection to Nord Stream pipeline

Lawyers from the Polish group claim the environmental impact of the 1,200-metre gas pipeline has not been properly assessed.

Finland's Supreme Administrative Court has upheld a lower court decision to go ahead with construction of a 374-kilometre-long section of the Nord Stream 2 AG pipeline that will traverse the country's exclusive economic zone under the Baltic Sea. The decision was in response to a complaint from the non-profit Client Earth group in Poland. Client Earth's environmental lawyers argue that the construction documents are incomplete and inaccurate, as they fail to consider the impact the pipeline will have on marine wildlife. The Polish organisation appealed against the decision to the Vaasa Administrative Court after the Finnish authorities gave a green light to the project in April 2018. The court in Vaasa decided not to consider the case, however, as the Polish organisation's remit did not extend to the Finnish territory in question. ClientEarth has also filed a complaint to Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court to halt a section of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will cut through Swedish waters. Worries about Russian energy dependence The Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the lower court's decision had been carried out in accordance with international agreements and Finnish legislation. The natural gas pipeline project has faced opposition and criticism from a number of different quarters, with Finland's Baltic neighbours in particular voicing concerns about whether the pipeline will increase the EU's dependence on Russian gas. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also sought clarifications on Ukraine's role in the project when approvals were first sought last year. In May this year, United States secretary of energy Rick Perry said the US was considering sanctioning firms involved in the construction project, which includes majority-state-owned Finnish energy company Fortum. The 1,200-kilometre pipeline will run from Russia to Germany.Ilkka Kemppinen / Yle The Nord Stream 2 AG pipeline is owned and operated by the multi-national energy consortium Nord Stream AG, of which the Russian gas company Gazprom is a majority shareholder. The pipeline is scheduled for completion by the end of 2019 and commercial use is expected to begin next year. The pipeline is intended to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Vyborg in Russia to central Europe via the German port of Greifswald. The total length of the two parallel pipelines is approximately 1,200 kilometres, of which about 374 kilometres will be located in Finnish waters.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 14:45:00 +0300

Haavisto pledges crackdown on harassment at Foreign Ministry

Employees say they fear that their careers may come to a halt if they report harassment or other problems.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto says he plans to stamp out the harassment reported by staff members including some posted at Finland's embassies and other overseas missions. "There is no place for any kind of discrimination, harassment or bullying at the Foreign Ministry or any other workplace," Haavisto told an annual meeting of Finnish ambassadors in Helsinki on Monday. He spoke just after returning from Sudan and before hosting his Iranian counterpart. Haavisto said he had raised the issue of harassment at an employee meeting in early summer, but that he wanted to reiterate his message publicly. According to a study published last spring by the previous government, one in six ministry employees reported having experienced harassment. However many reported a reluctance to discuss the matter openly and a fear that managers might block the career advancement of those who speak out. "Immediate intervention" Three years ago the Finnish ambassador to Stockholm was issued a warning and recalled due to sexual harassment allegations. Still, some workers say the old culture remains deeply seated in the ministry. Haavisto says he plans to change the working culture in regard to speaking out, and condemned efforts to conceal and hush matters up. "I will ensure that reporting such matters is [considered] a service to the Foreign Ministry and its atmosphere," he told the envoys. The foreign minister stressed that responsibility lies with managers. "If I hear of any kind of inappropriate behaviour, there will be immediate intervention," Haavisto said. Sudan transition and Iranian human rights Haavisto took over as foreign minister from Finns Party founder Timo Soini in early June. Last month Haavisto was appointed as the EU negotiator in the Sudan crisis, helping to broker a political agreement between the Transition Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change. This past weekend he was in Khartoum to sign the agreement on a transitional period on behalf of the EU, expressing praise "first to the people of Sudan, in particular the women and youth, who stood firm but peacefully to have their voice heard." Also on Monday, Haavisto hosts a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, who is also meeting with President Sauli Niinistö. According to the Finnish Foreign Ministry, discussions will include human rights and Finland's EU presidency term, which began in July.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:42:57 +0300

Rise in salmonella infections on Finnish farms

After a decade or so of only about 20 reported cases annually, 2018 saw 43 cases detected on cattle and pig farms.

The number of salmonella infections reported from Finnish farms roughly doubled in 2018 to 43 cases, reports the Kuopio-based newspaper Savon Sanomat. In previous years, between 10 and 15 cases were reported on average annually on cattle farms, along with about 10 infections on pig farms. The paper says that this year has also seen a higher tally than average so far. No particular reason for the higher infection rates has been established. Veterinarians from the ETT animal health inspection group says the most common cause of salmonella infections in the past have been feed stores and drinking basins that have been contaminated by faeces from birds and rodents. In calf rearing stations, salmonella infections usually originate from one of the dairy farms selling calves to the facility, ETT says. Salmonella bacteria are found in intestinal tracts and can be transferred from animals to other animals and humans, leading to various illnesses such as diarrhoea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Finland has been touted as "virtually salmonella-free" A May report from the Finnish Food Authority found that Finnish beef causes the highest percentage of salmonella infections among domestic food products. It states that a statistical model it has devised to analyse data from 2008-2015 also shows that imported beef "might cause" even more infections than domestic beef, although less imported meat is sold in Finland. Poultry farming causes only a very small percentage of the country's salmonella infections, the authority says. When compared to the rest of the world, Finland, Sweden and Norway have traditionally maintained very low salmonella infection rates. This is due in part to the cold climate. Each of the countries also runs a Salmonella Control Programme that imposes strict standards for the control of salmonella in production animals and foods of animal origin. If salmonella is detected, the farms are immediately put under restrictions until the infection is eradicated.

Mon, 19 Aug 2019 12:37:13 +0300