YLE - Finnish news in English

Three Finns charged with plotting terrorist activities in Syria

Three Finns charged with plotting terrorist activities in Syria

Prosecutors have charged three Finnish citizens with plotting to commit terrorist acts. The accused are suspected of planning to participate in the conflict in Syria as foreign fighters about four years ago.

State Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen has laid charges against three Finnish nationals for plotting acts with a terrorist intent.

The suspects were not remanded into custody to await a trial, and a travel ban previously placed on them was lifted upon completion of the preliminary investigation.

In a release issued Wednesday afternoon, the Office of the Prosecutor General also indicated that one of the accused is also suspected of providing training to commit terrorist acts and another is suspected of recruiting others to commit terrorist offences.

The alleged offences are linked to the ongoing conflict in Syria and were committed between the end of 2012 and summer 2013. The suspects are believed to have plotted to participate in the Syrian conflict as foreign fighters.

They are also believed to have bankrolled their activities by engaging in financial crimes. The financial offences will be dealt with in separate legal proceedings before the terrorism offences are heard.

The accused have denied all of the charges brought against them.

One suspect dead, another still at large

The prosecutor, due to lack of evidence, decided against prosecuting one of the suspects for planning to engage in terrorist activity.

The National Bureau of Investigation previously said that a group of Finnish men had decided to travel to the war zone in Syria and had set up an aid organisation, which was allegedly used to cover up the true intention of their intended trip.

The group of four eventually ended up in Syria in June 2013. Three of them are not facing charges for participating in a terrorist group and one was killed. Another suspect linked to the case remains at large and a warrant for his arrest has been issued.

Three of the men were arrested in and around the Helsinki region in 2014.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:30:00 +0300
Viking Line orders new ship from China for 100M euros less than local shipyard

Viking Line orders new ship from China for 100M euros less than local shipyard

The Finnish firm Viking Line has ordered a new cruise ship from China. The new vessel will serve the cruise operator's Turku-Stockholm route starting in 2020.

Viking Line has commissioned a new cruise ship from China, saying that the price of a Finnish-made equivalent was prohibitively higher. The Viking Line shipping company out of the Åland Islands has a fleet of seven cruise ships sailing to different destinations on the Baltic Sea. The new Turku-Stockholm route ship will replace the M/S Amorella, which is up for sale.

Viking Line CEO Jan Hanses says Xiamen Shipbuilding was able to offer a good price and early delivery date in light of the lack of capacity in Finnish shipyards.

"The only dockyard that would have been able to do this was the Turku shipyard, but they have such a packed order book that they could only offer delivery around 2024. The offer price was also a lot higher than what we got from China. In fact we're talking nearly 100 million more," said chief executive Jan Hanses.

Given that the value of the deal is some 194 million euros, it means that it would have cost nearly 300 million euros to commission the vessel from a Finnish shipbuilder. Viking Line noted that it was also easy to organise financing in China - Finnish and German banks are also on board alongside Chinese institutions.

A new mechanical rotor sail is due to be fitted on Viking's flagship Grace, next year. The new vessel will also have a fuel-saving rotor sail. For fuel, it will use Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and will be more energy-efficient than Grace, burning roughly one-tenth less fuel than Grace.

"We have optimised the machinery, the body and reduced energy consumption on the hotel deck," Hanses explained.

The vessel will employ many subcontractors in Finland. For example, the power systems and engineering company Wärtsilä will deliver the vesse'ls engines.

Order piques Chinese interest

Growing numbers of Chinese tourists are visiting Finland, including travelers arriving by sea. A ship order from China has also whetted Chinese appetites to visit Finland, something the company says would not have been the case without the cruise liner order. According to Hanses, the number of Chinese tourists has the potential to grow from 100,000 to some 200,000.

However the new liner will be used for traffic between Turku and Stockholm and will be designed to meet the expectations of Nordic travellers. The interiors will be designed by the Swedish architects Koncept Stockholm, selected from among a host of different contenders. Viking Line said that it chose the firm because it stood out from the rest with its ability to combine Scandinavian levity and playfulness.

Kocept Stockholm was responsible for the interior of the centrally located Scandic Haymarket Hotel near Hötorget city square in downtown Stockholm.

Hundreds of millions in state subsidies for shipping

Last year Finnish shipping companies received some 100 million euros in labour cost subsidies, a slight increase over recent years. The support has ignited heated debate in many quarters.

State aid to maritime transport companies complies with EU guidelines. Finland and 15 other seafaring states in the EU either comply with a net wage model, or they get returns on non-wage labour costs. In the net wage model, shipping companies do not have to pay withholding taxes on behalf of employees or employer contributions. This means that employers do not have to hand over money to the tax authorities.

Currently, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland, Greece and Luxembourg refund withholding taxes and non-wage labor costs to employers or apply them at a lower rate.

Options: Swedish flag or pack up

Hanses condemned the Finnish refund system, saying that it gives the impression that it is a form of corporate subsidy.

"It would be easier to argue if we too also reflected the basic purpose [of support]m so that we would not pass on taxes on behalf of employees nor pay additional costs," he elaborated.

If Finland were to eliminate state subsidies for the maritime industry and Sweden were to keep it, one option would be for shipping companies to either adopt a Swedish flag or go out of business.

"Of course the latter is not an option," Hanses said.

The Viking Line CEO saud that the state has been understanding about the existing subsidy regime so he is hopeful that it will continue.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 17:30:00 +0300
19-year-old Nokia man gets life sentence for girlfriend's murder

19-year-old Nokia man gets life sentence for girlfriend's murder

Pirkanmaa district court has sentenced a 19-year-old man to life in prison for murdering his girlfriend in Nokia in February. The man was 18 at the time of the deed.

Local police found the 17-year-old woman, whose mouth and nose had been covered with duct tape, under a bed in his flat. She later died of her ordeal in the hospital.

The court said the man had subjected his girlfriend to prolonged and brutal violence, which had caused her extreme terror and inhumane suffering.

The verdict can be appealed.

Edit: This story was updated at 5.25pm to indicate that the convicted man was 18 years old at the time of the murder and 19 years at the time of sentencing.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 16:43:34 +0300
Alcohol sales fall 2 percent in Finland

Alcohol sales fall 2 percent in Finland

The retail sale of alcohol dropped 2 percent in the first part of the year, even though grocery stores had 15 more days to sell their goods.

Retail sales of alcohol decreased by 2 percent in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2016.

Statistics released on Wednesday by Valvira, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, show that the volume of alcohol sold by state monopoly Alko and grocery stores fell both when measured in litres and when converted into pure alcohol.

The Finnish Grocery Trade Association (FGTA), which represents stores such as Kesko, SOK and Lidl, said alcohol sales dropped even though the deregulation of opening hours gave shops 15 additional trading days during January-June.

"More and more often people buy alcohol to enjoy it with food. Instead of quantity, they invest in quality," says Kari Luoto of FGTA.

The association wants the Finnish government to deregulate the sale of alcohol to allow grocery stores to sell mild alcoholic beverages, such as wine.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:48:48 +0300
Prosecutor General admits to official misconduct, claims actions were unintentional

Prosecutor General admits to official misconduct, claims actions were unintentional

Prosecutor General Matti Nissinen is facing a fine for charges of official misconduct for contracting services from a firm owned by his brother. Nissinen admitted to the charges, but said that his actions were not premeditated.

The High Court has begun preparatory hearings in the case against Prosecutor General Matti Nissinen, who is charged with official misconduct.

Leading the case against Nissinen is Deputy Chancellor of Justice Kimmo Hakonen, who is calling for a 60-day fine as a penalty for the offence. However Hakonen is not calling for Nissinen’s dismissal.

Hakonen argued Tuesday that Nissinen deliberately violated the duties of office by unlawfully participating in the procurement of services for the public prosecutor’s office.

Nissinen admitted to being guilty of a negligent breach of his official duties between autumn 2012 and spring 2015. However he claimed that his actions were not deliberate.

The charges centre on the procurement of training service for the Eastern Finland prosecutor’s office and the Office of the Prosecutor General from a firm owned by his brother.

Conflict of interest buying training services

The Deputy Chancellor of Justice charged that Nissinen had been aware of his brother’s position in the company, and must have understood that he would be deciding on matters from which the company would benefit.

Hakonen stressed that Nissinen had spearheaded the procurement projects. The charge sheet indicates that as the head of the Eastern Finland prosecutor’s office, Nissinen decided on the projects and approved related invoices.

As Prosecutor General, Nissinen is also believed to have fully decided on procurement matters, participated in handling them, and also made decisions alone.

According to deputy chancellor Hakonen the suspected offences took place between June 2007 and February 2017.

Hakonen has called for Nissinen to be sentenced for negligent breach of official duty. In such a case, the breach is not considered deliberate, but is seen as the result of negligence.

The prosecution services named in the case purchased training services valued at more than 74,000 euros from a management consulting firm known as Deep Lead. Nissinen's brother, Col. Vesa Nissinen, is chairman and majority owner of the firm as well as director of the Finnish Defence Research Agency (FDRA).

According to the charges laid, Nissinen participated in decisions relating to contracts worth over 32,000 euros. Nissinen previously denied the charges, but later admitted to acting inappropriately.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:00:00 +0300
One quarter of imported cosmetics rejected by Finnish customs officials

One quarter of imported cosmetics rejected by Finnish customs officials

More than half of the cosmetics checked by Finnish Customs turned out to be non-compliant for reasons of poor or inexistent labelling or for containing banned ingredients. One quarter of cosmetic products are rejected outright before they reach Finnish store shelves.

Finnish Customs are noting an increase in the number of cosmetics samples that are deemed to be non-compliant or rejected by its labs. So far this year, 35 of the 145 products examined did not meet labelling or ingredient standards, and less serious errors were detected in 30 more.

Package labelling often does not meet EU legislation criteria, as some products' ingredient listings have errors, are misleading or are missing altogether. Several products contain prohibited ingredients, like colorants or preservatives, or have ingredients that are allowed, but should come with a warning that is missing on the item in question.

Customs inspector Anna Järveläinen says that this year's statistics reflect a long-term trend in the cosmetics sector, as many brands aren't aware of the strict EU standards.

"Figures show that cosmetics are being rejected at a higher rate than any other product. Toys come in second, and childcare paraphernalia is third," she says.

Järveläinen says the range of cosmetics that fail to make the grade is quite diverse; no one product stands out as having a bigger share. Skin creams, shower gels, lip glosses, lipstick, eye shadow and mascara are all represented.

Around half of the cosmetic products controlled by Finnish Customs this year were imported from countries outside the European Union. The most common countries of origin were the US, UK and China.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 14:00:47 +0300
Green Party member says Stockmann’s Crazy Days sale trivialises mental health disorders

Green Party member says Stockmann’s Crazy Days sale trivialises mental health disorders

The member of Rovaniemi's city council asks the Finnish department store chain to stop mocking psychological problems and to rename its sales campaign.

Miikka Keränen, a member of the Rovaniemi city council, has put out a call for Stockmann to give up the name Hullut Päivät (Crazy Days).The department store chain has used the name to represent its biannual sales campaign for the last 31 years. According to the Green Party member, the name belittles mental health problems and stigmatises patients.

Keränen, 26, published an open letter in his blog in the _Uusi Suomi _paper on Wednesday, where he asks that Stockmann as an "influential and well-known business bear the responsibility for the effects of its rhetoric."

Keränen says that many young people in Finland in particular suffer from psychological problems which exclude them from employment.

As a result, he asks Stockmann to rebrand and rename its campaign.

"Laughing about mental health problems should not be part of a corporate image in the 21st century," he adds.

Stockmann responded by sending Keränen a link to an article published in Uusimaa in 2016, where representatives of Finnish mental health associations said they did not consider Hullut Päivät an insulting name.

In the piece, Olavi Sydänmaalakka, executive director of the Finnish Central Association for Mental Health, said "there are no wrong words to avoid when talking about mental health."

"What matters is that we do talk about it."

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:37:46 +0300
More water damage detected at new housing blocks in Helsinki

More water damage detected at new housing blocks in Helsinki

A new rental housing block in Helsinki's Jätkäsaari district has fallen prey to water damage just one month after the occupants moved in. Construction company NCC says the flooded stairwell is due to faulty sheet metal work on a glass wall. This new case is close to another brand new property in the area that made headlines for the same problem a short time ago.

The tenants at the Altantinkatu 7 housing block had just barely moved in when heavy rains made the new building's stairwell fill with water. The housing block is a stone's throw away from the famous Pitsitalo housing block that made the news for the same reason just a year ago. Both are located in Helsinki's Jätkäsaari peninsula, the home of the western port serving cruise boats bound for Estonia.

This season's abnormal precipitation also left marks in the building's walls, which have since bubbled and cracked. The property is owned the student union of Aalto University, and was built by the Swedish-owned firm of NCC Building. The new property offers rental accommodation for 122 students.

"The water entered the stairwell and drained down. It is a completely fixable problem. The contractor took the matter very seriously and contacted the residents accordingly," says Esa Markkanen, who works as the location's property manager.

NCC says the problem can be traced to faulty sheet metal work around the stairwell's glass wall that can easily be repaired, and a temporary solution to the problem is already in place.

"The enclosure was incorrectly installed and water entered the building. It is a construction error, which is absolutely our responsibility. We will repair it properly next week when the new sheet metal parts arrive," NCC Building's Mika Soini says.

Two similar mistakes within sight of each other

This new water-logged property is just a short trip from the Pitsitalo property, with its distinctive lace-like cladding, which suffered the same fate about a year ago under the same NCC contractor. In this case, water seeped down through seams on the roof terrace because a sheet metal casing was missing.

Pitsitalo (Lace House)Ronnie Holmberg / Yle

NCC's Mika Soini says it's just a coincidence that the two buildings are so close.

"There are a lot of buildings going up there now, representing very ambitious architecture. Unfortunately several of these kinds of errors have occurred. We are very sorry about the inconvenience to the residents and building owners," he says.

He says a well-constructed building should never have issues with rainwater seeping in or causing flooding.

"We build about 2000 dwellings in Finland each year, and we receive about 20 complaints about insufficient roof or façade waterproofing. Our goal is to get this number to zero, and we are constantly striving to reach this. This kind of thing shouldn't happen," Soini says.

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 12:10:08 +0300
Wednesday's papers: Finland's deceptive alcohol import policy, results of municipal mergers, and homelessness

Wednesday's papers: Finland's deceptive alcohol import policy, results of municipal mergers, and homelessness

Finland's print press discusses a proposed all-out ban on alcohol imports, disappointing financial and social results of 2009 municipal mergers, and successful programmes tackling homelessness.

Helsingin Sanomat takes a look this Wednesday at the government proposal for a New Alcohol Act, which among other things will supposedly prohibit all 'distance sales' - the purchase of online and mail order alcohol products from abroad - if approved by Parliament.

Lawyer Petteri Snell tells HS that the whole thing is a snow job, as the bill's wording says that no amendments would be proposed to the current provision on cross-border distance sales of alcoholic beverages, so "distance sales would still be prohibited".

"In reality, Finland's current Alcohol Act does not prohibit distance sales. The ban simply reflects the decision of a few civil servants to gradually impose a stricter interpretation of the law," he says.

Snell recently defended an Estonian entrepreneur who was given a half-year suspended prison sentence for tax fraud. In his preparation for the so-called 'Alko Tax' case, Snell examined 20 years of paperwork on the law and found no evidence of a ban on distance sales.

"The corniest thing about it all is that the [social affairs and health] ministry has known this the whole time. Their interpretation of the situation has just slowly become more prohibitive, so now the bill states that it has always been banned," Snell tells HS.

Finland's current Alcohol Act came into effect in early 1995, the same year the country joined the European Union. One of the most important principles of the union was the free movement of goods and people, and so the European Commission soon had a bone to pick with Finland about its strict alcohol monopoly. In 1996, the ministry told the EC that Finnish legislation did not prohibit Finns from buying alcohol from other EU countries, and a later 2001 working group confirmed this freedom.

But then things started to turn, until the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health Valvira took it upon itself in 2006 to interpret the law to mean a total ban. "Import for personal use" was now understood to mean only transactions in which consumers bring the drinks back from abroad themselves. Now the cross-border purchase of alcohol products is allowed only if the consumer pays for the pre-paid products' transfer to Finland.

"This means that the consumer has to pay taxes twice: once in the country of purchase and then again in Finland. This double taxation is against EU principles and prevents the unfettered movement of goods," Tomi Salonen, editor of Finland's Wine magazine, tells HS.

Mergers bring no savings

The newspaper Keskisuomalainen out of Jyväskylä in central Finland examines the result of a string of municipal mergers that came into effect in 2009. It says that a new VATT Institute for Economic Research study concludes that the mergers did not affect total municipal expenditures, but did bring major changes to local service networks.

In 2009, 32 municipal mergers took place involving 99 cities and towns in Finland. Six years on, the VTT researchers found that the consolidation did not cut costs as had been hoped, as the expenditures in the merged areas were almost identical to control areas without the change.

Instead the report found rising inequality in social and health care services, as jobs in these areas were moved to the larger municipalities in the mergers. This development was linked to poorer political representation on the local councils affected.

Research leader Tuukka Saarimaa tells KS that VATT's finding should be taken into consideration in the government's plan to create large regional administration bodies as part of its flagship social and health care reform.

The VATT report found that the increasing heterogeneity in social and health care services was not reflected in the overall wellbeing of the local residents, however.

“This somewhat surprising result could be explained by the fact that although the social and health care services of smaller municipalities were moved further away, the services are now available in larger and perhaps higher quality units. In addition, the mergers did not affect the accessibility of services used on a daily basis, such as the location of schools,” Saarimaa said.

Homelessness awareness

And the tabloid Iltalehti reports on homelessness in Finland, on the heels of Finland's "Night of the Homeless", an event arranged on Tuesday by several charities to call attention to the problem.

The tabloid visits the Hietaniemenkatu service centre in Helsinki, and meets Jouko, who has lived there since April. IL says Jouko ended up homeless in the same way many Finnish men end up on the streets: after a divorce. As of September 2017, 520 people without a home were queuing in Helsinki for a housing allowance. 172 more homeless were receiving services at various mental health facilities.

Governments in Finland have included the fight against homelessness in their programmes since 1999. By 2008, most people sleeping rough had been given permanent housing, based on a successful Housing First model, but long-term homeless with difficult social and health problems are still hard to reach.

Eero has come out for the Night of the Homeless event at the Hietaniemi centre. He is one of the lucky ones, because he was just offered city housing. "I used to live in Vantaa, but then my relationship ended and I came here," he tells IL.

Eero first came to the centre in March of 2016, where he slept in one of the 52 beds in the basement. The ground floor of the facility features temporary apartments, where Jouko now lives. Eero says the toughest part about being homeless is finding the motivation to turn things around and get a place to live. Jouko says growing numbers of angry young people on the streets are a worry.

"Those kids in their twenties are ruining their life," Jouko tells the paper. "They're always spoiling for a fight, too. That's why I'm missing a couple teeth; I tried to give them some advice."

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 09:29:32 +0300
Finns Party members switch to Blue Reform in Imatra – racism cited as reason

Finns Party members switch to Blue Reform in Imatra – racism cited as reason

A new local branch of the Blue Reform group has been founded in the eastern city of Imatra. One ex-Finns Party member says that the party's racist tone is what drove him to switch to the other newly forming populist party.

A large number of former members of the Finns Party in the Karelian city of Imatra have left their now-struggling party in favour of the breakaway Blue Reform association, which itself is actively gunning to become a fully-fledged political party.

The local, unofficial Imatra branch of Blue Reform handed in its founding papers some time previously, but news of the move came late Monday.

All of the local ex-members have switched to the branch, named Siniset ry ("The Blue Ones" association). The soon-to-be association is chaired by Petri Mutikainen and includes five full members and three deputy members.

Erkki Saarimäki, one of the new group's members, says that many other Imatra Finns Party supporters have also jumped ship but are unwilling to announce their change in allegiance publically. Saarimäki adds that many more abdicators should be expected.

"I won't say how many, but it's a lot," he says simply.

The new group announces that it is actively seeking new members.

Racism reason for switch

Saarimäki, the de facto spokesman of Siniset ry, describes himself as anti-immigration and yet cites widespread racism within the Finns Party as the straw that broke the camel's back and made him decide to leave.

"These few weeks after the party conference have made it clear to everyone who left: this is no longer the same party, which I joined more than a decade ago," Saarimäki says.

Blue Reform delivered its boxes of member cards to the Ministry of Justice for registration on Monday.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 19:00:57 +0300
Government rolls back property tax hike plan

Government rolls back property tax hike plan

A government proposal to raise the lower limit of the property value tax on dwellings was called off Tuesday, according to daily Helsingin Sanomat. The government said it already reached its target for property tax income.

Heads of government parties decided on Tuesday that they would cancel a proposed hike on property taxes, daily Helsingin Sanomat reported on Wednesday.

The decision to drop the tax increase rests on the fact that government's goal for property tax income has already been reached.

Another plan to raise the upper limit of the tax, however, remains in place.

Had government stuck to its original proposal, 55 municipalities would have been forced to hike property taxes on residential properties, and 170 municipalities would have had to raise their property taxes based on land area.

The original idea was to raise the lowest band of the property tax from 0.41 percent to 0.45 percent, and the tax on land plots from 0.93 percent to 1.03 percent.

If implemented, the change would have amounted to 49 million euros in added tax earnings for 2018, and some 16 million for the following year.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 18:00:00 +0300
Into the wind: Finland playing catch-up with Nordics in wind turbines

Into the wind: Finland playing catch-up with Nordics in wind turbines

Finland lags behind the rest of the Nordics in terms of energy use from wind turbines. The country hopes to construct 200 new wind turbines by the end of this year, which would bring the country's total to over 700. Denmark already boasts more than 4,000 onshore and offshore turbines – while Sweden has more than 3,000.

Finland's Wind Power Association says there were 552 wind turbines in the country at the end of 2016. Estimates put the number of new generators scheduled to be built in 2017 at between 150 and 200.

This means Finland will soon boast a wind turbine fleet of over 700 turbines, with a combined capacity of approximately 2,000 to 2,200 MW, but even then, the country will still lag behind other Nordic countries in wind energy production.

Anni Mikkonen, executive director of the association says that even though Finland was one of the largest investors in wind power in Europe last year, Germany increased its capacity ten-fold during the same period.

The Swedish wind power firm OX2 has been building four wind turbines in western Kokkola, on the shoreline of the Bothnia Bay. They should be complete by the end of October. It usually takes another two weeks or so to hook the new turbines up to Finland's grid.

One new turbine per week - if it's not windy

Project leader Pasi Tammivaara says that it takes about one week to erect a single turbine, if the winds cooperate. Building work has to be called off every time the winds get too strong, for safety reasons.

"The wind limits when we are building the steel tower is 10 metres per second. When we install the blades, this falls to 8.5 m/s. It is normal to have wind delays in this work, because most wind farms are located in areas with windy conditions," he says.

Work at the site ranges from periods of frantic activity to standstills due to windy conditions. If weather conditions permit, assembly work continues for up to 10 hours at a time.

Still contributing less than 5% energy

Once finished, the new wind farm in Kokkola will have a 14.4 MW capacity, with a projected annual production rate of 556 Wh. The finished hub height, the distance from the platform to the rotor (not including the turbine blades) is 134 metres.

Before the erection of the tower, extensive excavation on the site is necessary to shore up the foundation and build service roads, for example.

Kokkola's groundwater situation has made this site in particular more of a challenge, in that the surrounding terrain needed to be protected before the work could begin. It also required that the foundation for the soaring structure be partially enclosed above ground, as it couldn't be completely buried underground to protect the water supply.

Last year wind power accounted for 3.6 percent of Finland's total energy consumption.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 16:59:50 +0300
Guano from gigantic goose gaggle costs Finnish farmer 60K euros

Guano from gigantic goose gaggle costs Finnish farmer 60K euros

Millions were enchanted by the sight of hundreds of thousands of barnacle geese descending on a field in Elimäki, southern Finland last weekend. But the field's grain-farming owner now faces 60,000 euros in losses caused by massive amounts of guano air-dropped by the gigantic gaggle.

An unusually large number of barnacle geese ruined 68 hectares of crops with a sizable amount of droppings in Elimäki, Southern Finland, resulting in one local farmer's financial losses of some 60,000 euros.

Increasingly, huge flocks of barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) – widely considered pests – stop to rest in southern Finnish fields during their migration south. The birds cannot land in fields where the standing crops have not been gathered, and neither do they eat the harvest; instead the geese prefer to touch down in flat areas where crops have already been threshed.

It is during the flocks' flight that the problem arises.

Lasse Hannola, the farmer who grows wheat and oats in the field, says the geese defecate as they fly above the fields.

"Wherever the geese went, harvests were lost. We had high hopes for this year's yield. Those crops can't even be used as animal feed."

The enormous gaggle has temporarily settled in an area nearby, adjacent to fields owned by a number of other local farmers.

Adding insult to injury

The most recent guano fallout only adds insult to injury, growers say, as the wet summer had already caused heavy flooding in some parts of the region.

Threshing machines cannot be used in flooded fields and persistent heavy rains mean that pumping the water out will not necessarily help. The geese do not need to leave the submerged area even to roost for the night -- they gather in water to protect themselves from predators.

A small portion of the 300,000-strong gaggle of geese.Juulia Tillaeus / Yle

"The areas that weren't already soaked were spoiled by the geese," Hannola says. "At least the EU farming subsidies will make up for part of my losses."

Hannola says he does not want to evict the feathered troublemakers using pest-control methods.

"I don't think it would do much good at this point. I'll leave the ruined crops, droppings and all, as the mulch will serve as fertiliser for next year."

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 14:35:00 +0300
Britain’s Prince William, Sweden's Prince Daniel to visit Finland in November

Britain’s Prince William, Sweden's Prince Daniel to visit Finland in November

Britain’s Prince William is due to visit Finland in November on a two-day trip hosted by President Sauli Niinistö.

The office of President Sauli Niinistö said Tuesday that Britain’s Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, will visit Finland in November. Niinistö will host the Prince during the trip.

The visit will take place on 29 and 30 November. According to the President’s office more detailed information about the visit will be provided at a later date.

A tweet from Kensington Palace indicated that the Prince would be travelling alone. Next year, he is expected to visit Norway adn Sweden accompanied by his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Sweden’s Prince Daniel also due in Finland

Sweden’s Prince Daniel, husband of Crown Princess Victoria will also visit Finland in November.

Prinssi Daniel
Prince Daniel of Sweden.Henrik Montgomery / EPA

However the Swedish Royal Court announced that he will attend the annual technology and start-up carnival, Slush.

Prince Daniel is expected to arrive in Finland for his two-day stay on 29 November, according to tabloid daily Iltalehti.

Edit: Story updated at 5.15pm to include information about a visit by Swedish Prince Daniel.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:31:38 +0300
NGO: Wärtsilä still falling short on wages, subcontractor oversight in India

NGO: Wärtsilä still falling short on wages, subcontractor oversight in India

Finnish power systems company Wärtsilä needs to pay greater attention to ensuring that workers are paid a living wage and managing its supply chain in India, according to corporate responsibility watchdog Finnwatch. The NGO said that while the company has improved in some areas, it’s still got work to do.

The corporate responsibility watchdog Finnwatch has commended power systems company Wärtsilä for gains made in improving its operations in India since a previous report in 2015.

However in its latest review of the firm’s India business, the NGO said that Wärtsilä still has work to do – specifically with respect to ensuring workers are adequately paid and monitoring its subcontractor network.

Finnwatch based its latest set of recommendations on Wärtsilä’s Khopoli factory, where it said the most significant improvement had been the establishment of an independent trade union. The NGO had reviewed operations at the plant last summer as well as two years ago.

Back in 2015, workers had told Finnwatch that a union at the plant had been formed in a bid to shut out other labour unions from the facility. According to Finnwatch, Wärtsilä management had invited the union to the factory.

In its new follow-up report, Finnwatch said that Wärtsilä had been able to improve in the intervening two years and that an independent union now operated at the plant.

"The new union at Wärtsilä's Indian factory has intervened, among other things, in problems with overtime payment in previous years," said Finnwatch researcher Anu Kultalahti.

The previous Finnwatch report claimed that overtime compensation had been incorrectly paid for years. It noted that unpaid claims were being retroactively paid from the beginning of this year.

Finnwatch applauded the company for its openness during the investigation. Wärtsilä allowed researchers free access to the factory to speak with workers last summer. The plant is situated in the state of Maharashtra near to Mumbai. The factory manufactures modules and tube modules for engines and power plants.

Insufficient supervision of working conditions

In spite of offering some praise, the NGO criticised Wärtsilä for continuing to pay low wages. Workers with short-term contracts in particular may not be earning enough to live on. When researchers visited the plant in 2016, half of the workers – some 108 -- had permanent jobs and the other half were on fixed-term contracts.

Finnwatch also slammed the power systems company for failing to tighten up oversight of its supply chain. Two years ago the organisation identified major problems with the operations of one contractor, Echjay Forgings.

Kultalahti said that Wärtsilä had attempted to address the problems with the subcontractor, but Echjay Forgings was not prepared to change its ways, following which Wärtsilä terminated the relationship.

In the report on its last field visit, Finnwatch focused on the Wärtsilä plant exclusively and did not visit subcontractor facilities.

Wärtsilä has indicated that it will strengthen its supply base especially in Asia, but the company's assessment of human rights risks and monitoring of working conditions are still not transparent and credible, the NGO said.

"In many Asian countries, operations involve human rights risks," Kultalahti added.

In India, there is a risk that wages are insufficient for workers to live on and do not have the freedom to organise in unions.

"Companies require a minimum wage from contractors. According to human rights principles, workers should be able to demand an adequate living wage," Kultalahti noted.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:35:45 +0300
Tuesday's papers: Measuring air pollution, police body cams, dolphin transfer memories and neo-Nazis in Tampere

Tuesday's papers: Measuring air pollution, police body cams, dolphin transfer memories and neo-Nazis in Tampere

Our Tuesday press review looks at the revolutionary OMI satellite, police plans to introduce the widespread use of body cameras, a 2016 midnight dolphin transfer, and a neo-Nazi group rally planned for Saturday in Tampere.

Finland's largest-circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat reports on a Dutch-Finnish invention that is revolutionizing the measurement of air pollution.

The Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) is a joint project of the Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes (NIVR), the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA).

OMI has been orbiting the planet in space on board NASA's Aura satellite for the last 13 years. It uses ultraviolet and visible radiation to produce daily high-resolution maps of the planet that are so accurate that mathematicians can distinguish between different aerosol types, such as smoke, dust, and sulphates. It can also measure cloud pressure and coverage.

FMI's Johanna Tamminen tells HS that the world's largest cities are easily distinguishable, as large amounts of people go hand-in-hand with pollution. The updates also show if a country has really implemented promised climate change initiatives, as changes are clearly visible over the 13-year span.

"You can even trace the routes of ships at sea," she says.

The device combines the satellite images to pinpoint where the skies are most polluted. Results show that, over the last decade, air quality has improved considerably in the US and only slightly in Europe. In Helsinki, nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by 20 percent.

One for every department

The Satakunnan kansa paper out of western Pori continues this Tuesday with a story about police body cameras in Finland. The National Police Board is currently preparing guidelines that they hope will presage the widespread use of police body cameras.

Finnish Police currently have 30 body cams being trialled by the Helsinki Police department. The pilot began in October 2015, and currently gives officers 24 hours to delete the material that was recorded after it has been uploaded to a computer, or cut and archive footage for use in an investigation. The Board is now considering extending this period to 96 hours, meaning that the video material must always be stored for four days before it is erased.

Finland's top law enforcement body says that current legislation allows them to use the cameras in their work, especially in public places. Technical devices that help them do their work fall under their mandate to provide general surveillance.

"You have to remember that we have always used video, whether it is in our hand, on our uniform or shot from a helicopter," Superintendent Sami Hätönen tells the paper.

Of course the situation is different if the police are actively seeking information about a certain individual or are infringing on people's personal space – like entering homes - with their cameras. Hätönen says that these kinds of operations require permits and police training to know the basic rights of Finland's residents.

The Finnish Police hope that police body cameras will become an everyday tool in Finnish law enforcement. Plans are underway to purchase them for every department in the country, if the money can be found, SS writes.

A major covert operation

Next, the paper Helsingin Uutiset takes a look back at a controversial midnight run that took place in 2016. Jyrki Similä was the truck driver in charge of a massive transport operation to move four dolphins from the defunct Särkäniemi dolphinarium in Tampere to the airport in Helsinki.

Animal rights activists had been demonstrating against the attraction for years, and the amusement park administration made the decision in October 2015 to shutter the facility and transfer the remaining dolphins to the Attica Zoological Park in Athens, Greece.

Similä says the stressful stealth operation to move the dolphins was planned a year in advance, in secret, to avoid the press and protestors. He says every detail was ironed out with a team of veterinarians, Särkäniemi's animal trainers and Tampere city leaders.

"People reacted to the transfer in so many ways, even though there was no way the dolphins could stay in Finland any longer. There would have been a terrible backlash if the transfer would have failed," he tells the paper.

An exceptional number of people were involved in the operation. A vet accompanied the animals on the trip and in the cargo plane to monitor and hydrate the dolphins. A fire brigade supplied the water at the right temperature, and the police were on hand to see that there was no trouble. Similä says he stayed at the airport until he saw the plane's wheels leave the ground.

News outlets reported this January that Delfi, one of the four dolphins that had been transferred from Finland to Greece, had died at the age of 37 of heart failure in Athens. He had been captured in the Gulf of Mexico when he was about six years old.

Still no permit

And a paper out of the southern city of Tampere Aamulehti caps off our Tuesday paper review with a story about a neo-Nazi group protest planned for this coming Saturday in Tampere.

The Nordic Resistance Movement white supremacist group says it will demonstrate in Finland's second largest urban area on October 21. Two counter-protests are already being assembled.

The neo-Nazi group's demonstration coincides with a court case that will be heard in the Pirkanmaa District Court next week on banning extremist groups like the Nordic Resistance Movement in Finland. Although the event has been advertised on the group's website for weeks already, Tampere Police say they have still not received an application for the right to assemble.

"Two counter-protest applications have been submitted to the police, but the resistance movement has still not informed us about their intention to demonstrate on that day," Chief Inspector Harri Nojonen of the Tampere Police tells the paper, adding that the group must inform the police six hours before the demonstration begins at the latest, if they wish to convene in a public area.

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 09:23:06 +0300
Leaked Centre Party emails call for PM to quit moaning to media

Leaked Centre Party emails call for PM to quit moaning to media

Members of the media and other parliamentary groups got their hands on two internal Centre Party email messages Monday, calling for party chair and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä to stop whining to the media.

The messages, emanating from the leadership of the Centre Party parliamentary group, called for Prime Minister Juha Sipilä to give up his tantrums to the Finnish press.

The secretary of the parliamentary group urged Sipilä to instead focus on politics and to forget his alleged poor image and attempts to combat it.

A similar message came from the party’s communications team as the communications secretary spoke of her health.

"Sipilä should now stop whining and talking about a leadership change and focus on politics," wrote secretary general Seija Turtiainen in a message that inadvertently reached other parliamentary groups.

Turtianen’s note was a response to communications secretary Pirkko Määttälä, encouraging her to overcome mobility issues. In the exchange, she responded briefly to comments made by Määttälä about the PM’s run-in with an Iltalehti reporter during a party cruise on Sunday.

Double slip by Centre Party members

Other parliamentary groups first got wind of the internal Centre Party discussion when Määttälä’s email was erroneously sent to other email addresses besides the Centre. The same occurred with Turtiainen’s response.

Määttälä said that Sipilä should not continue down the path he had chosen of trying to influence media reporting. She noted that the media’s work rankled with the PM.

"Whatever the situation the media’s view is and always be that the fault is Sipilä’s. You can complain about it, not explain it," Määttälä wrote in the message that Yle saw.

As Prime Minister, Sipilä has clashed with the media more than once. He has taken a dim view of Yle’s reporting on his role in a decision to grant millions in additional funding to the cash-strapped mining operation Terrafame, which later handed a lucrative contract to a firm owned by his relatives.

Most recently, on Sunday, he once more tore into the media, calling journalism "the world’s most sensitive profession".

Media surveys showing Sipilä’s Centre Party slipping in voter popularity polls have also heightened tensions within the party.

Turtiainen’s response calls on the party to put greater effort into communications. She said that it was good that the party’s presidential election candidate, ex-PM Matti Vanhanen, had opened up about his stuttering. The secretary general said it helped create a sense of compassion.

The leaked emails were first reported by tabloid daily Iltalehti.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 18:28:36 +0300
Finnish biotech firm creates new quick test for Lyme disease variation

Finnish biotech firm creates new quick test for Lyme disease variation

A Finnish company says it has developed a quick test to help diagnose the tick-borne disease, Lyme neuroborreliosis. According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL, health officials diagnosed nearly 2,000 cases of Lyme disease or borreliosis in 2016.

Health officials in Finland detected some 1,900 cases of borreliosis or Lyme disease in Finland last year. The infectious disease is spread by ticks and people are most often at risk during the spring and early summer. If untreated, infection can result in paralysis of facial muscles, joint pains, and severe headaches with neck stiffness or heart palpitations.

Neuroborreliosis is a neurological manifestation of Lyme disease that affects the central nervous system and can manifest in varying forms, including paralysis of facial nerves.

Diagnosing neuroborreliosis usually requires examination of cerebrospinal fluid - which requires a spinal tap procedure - and analysis currently takes anywhere from days to up to weeks and samples must be sent to a central laboratory for testing.

Now, Reagena - a small biotech company based in Siilinjärvi, eastern Finland - says it has developed a speed test that will help with a diagnosis in just 20 minutes, without sending samples to a lab for processing. The new quick processing method still requires a spinal tap, and is better suited to health care units that have the capability to take a sample of spinal fluid, making it mostly unsuitable for smaller health centres.

Faster diagnosis, speedier treatment

Jukka Hytönen, a specialist in clinical microbiology and the company’s scientific advisor, said in a release that neuroborreliosis can be extremely invasive, making speedy diagnosis even more critical.

"The faster we have a diagnosis, the sooner we can begin treatment and the faster it will work," Hytönen added.

Hytönen is a deputy professor at Turku University’s biomedical institute. His research team is expected to publish a scientific paper dealing with the effectiveness of the speed test.

The company has begun test marketing the product and is currently looking for customers in the Nordics and Central Europe. It is expecting to sign its first deals this autumn and is looking to expand sales next year.

Reagen, which has a staff of just 20, has become known as a developer of rapid tests for bacterial diseases. It already provides speed tests for Puumala virus or vole fever and tick-borne encephalitis.

The breakthrough test was first reported by daily Helsingin Sanomat.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 17:40:00 +0300
Watch: Largest-ever 300,000-strong gaggle of barnacle geese arrive in Finland

Watch: Largest-ever 300,000-strong gaggle of barnacle geese arrive in Finland

Bird watchers in the southeast village of Elimäki were treated to an amazing sight over the weekend, when an estimated 300,000 barnacle geese landed for a migratory pit stop in a local field.

Even though experts say barnacle geese have been gathering on Finnish fields in ever-growing numbers as they fly south for the winter, the 300,000-strong gaggle that arrived in southeast Kymenlaakso over the weekend was exceptionally large.

Geese have been arriving to the country in larger numbers since 2010, but this most recent avian invasion is the largest to date, according to Markku Mikkola-Roos from the Finnish Environment Institute.

"It's an exceptionally large gaggle. We've never seen 300,000 barnacle geese arrive to the exact same spot," Mikkola-Roos says, adding that estimation of the number of birds is difficult.

He says experienced bird counters' estimates are usually lower than actual numbers.

Mikkola-Roos says that the geese are in the middle of their migration south. They came from their nesting areas in the Russian tundra by the Barents Sea, and headed towards the coasts of the Netherlands, Denmark and southern UK.

Suuri lauma valkoposkihanhia.
An estimated 300,000 barnacle geese landed in the southeast village of Elimäki over the weekend.Tuula Nironen

He says the huge numbers of geese arriving to Finland is a relatively new phenomenon.

"Since the beginning of the 2010s, large gaggles have arrived to eastern and south-eastern areas of Finland in October. Previously, they flew right over Finland after they first stopped on the Russian side. But now there are so few open fields in Russia that the geese prefer Finnish ones," Mikkola-Roos says.

The geese also remember good rest stops and tend to gather at the same place the following year, he adds.

The geese have been migrating since September, and when ground frost weather arrives to Finland, they will continue onwards towards coastal areas of the North Sea.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 16:52:20 +0300
Fire in northern Helsinki sparks public warning, rail delays

Fire in northern Helsinki sparks public warning, rail delays

A former wallpaper factory burst into flames on Monday alongside the main rail line heading north out of the city, causing delays and possible cancellations of rush hour trains. Local residents are advised to stay indoors with their windows shut due to the smoke.

The Helsinki City Rescue Department has advised residents around the city's Tapanila district to stay indoors due to smoke from a large factory fire.

Around 6.00 pm Monday evening firefighters had managed to bring a blaze under control at the former Sandudd wallpaper plant on Viertolantie, northern Helsinki. Its roof burst into flames on earlier in the afternoon. The fire caused thick smoke, which was drifting toward the east.

"A warning has been issued [for areas in] an easterly direction, including Fallkulla, Tattariharju and Jakomäki. People are urged to stay out of the affected area and to avoid being outdoors," says fire chief Markku Ahola of the City Rescue Department.

He says that those indoors should close their doors and windows and shut off air conditioning. The area around the factory has been closed off due to noxious gases.

Although fire officials had managed to control the blaze, a hazard notification was still in effect.

Trains affected

The fire is also hampering rail service, as it is adjacent to the main railway line heading north out of the capital.

The Rescue Department says that trains are moving slowly past the site, and are not stopping at the nearby Tapanila station at all.

State rail operator VR says that the situation may also cause some cancellations of commuter trains, just as the evening rush hour is getting underway.

The site is about three kilometres north of the small Helsinki-Malmi Airport, and about 12 km south of the main Helsinki Airport.

Edit: Updated at 6.21pm to indicate that the fire had been brought under control.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 15:52:52 +0300
PM Juha Sipilä blames media for Centre Party’s sliding voter support

PM Juha Sipilä blames media for Centre Party’s sliding voter support

Centre Party chair and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has blamed his portrayal in local media for the party’s current low voter support of just under 16 percent. The PM took aim at the Finnish media at a party cruise during which participants discussed relations with members of the local press.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä found himself on a collision course with Finnish media during a party cruise last weekend, where participants raised the question of the Centre Party’s relations with the press.

Party representatives asked what could be done to prevent what was perceived as continuous attacks on the Centre by Finnish media.

Sipilä responded by saying that he personally had bad experiences getting journalists to correct factual information.

"It is the world’s most sensitive profession, it’s not worth asking them to make corrections," Sipilä declared.

Sipilä: Media portrayals affecting party

During the open discussion, the name of Iltalehti journalist Tommi Parkkonen was mentioned. Sipilä later noted that Parkkonen did not correct a clear factual error when asked to do so.

He also said that media portrayals of his personality had affected the party’s voter approval ratings, which stood at just shy of 16 percent, according to Yle's latest political barometer published in early October.

"If a party chair has suddenly become greedy and self-interested and does nothing in this job but favour his relatives, then of course that will affect the entire party," the PM told Yle during a previous interview.

Sipilä called on party faithful to discuss the situation.

"Can a chairperson with this kind of image lead this party after next summer’s party convention? That is now up to you to discuss during the winter ahead. Otherwise I won’t hang around by force, this job is too tough for that," he commented.

Journalist asks for clarification

Following Sipilä’s outburst, Iltalehti journalist Parkkonen requested the floor and called on the PM to clarify his comments about factual errors that had not been corrected.

"If I’m accused of something before such a large crowd, then I’d like to hear what I’m accused of," Parkkonen added.

Sipilä responded by saying that he would continue the discussion after the event.

Parkkonen later told the Finnish news agency STT that he had discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, who had referred to two instances where factual errors had not been addressed.

The journalist said that in one instance, a correction had already been made, while in the other, the contested claim had been written in an opinion piece. In the latter case, Parkkonen had not received Sipilä’s request for a rectification.

PM: No drama in media relations talk

The Prime Minister denied that the discussion about the party’s relations with the media involved any drama.

He said that the advertised headline in question implied that he had lied, something he said was untrue. He noted that the headline did not correspond with the substance of the story. He said that despite his request, the headline had not been corrected.

"When we speak about perception, if such a headline is visible at a petrol station, [where it asks] why the prime minister doesn’t speak the truth, then of course if the story behind it does not justify it [the headline], then one should have the right to a correction. But in this case, for example, the [request for] correction was not accepted," Sipilä continued.

The Prime Minister also commented on his discussions with Parkkonen.

"He said that for his part there was no issue. The headline claimed that I’d lied but that was not the case and Parkkonen admitted that it [the headline] did not correspond with the contents of the story," he told STT.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:30:00 +0300
Temps rise to 15C in southern Finland as Ophelia looms

Temps rise to 15C in southern Finland as Ophelia looms

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia won't have much impact on Finland, but many other weather phenomena are at play early this week, from snow to flooding and stormy seas.

Unseasonably mild weather prevails in southern and western Finland on Monday, with temperatures set to rise to 15 degrees Celsius in some spots, says Yle meteorologist Kerttu Kotakorpi.

"A warm air mass is flowing over Scandinavia, which is bringing this mild breeze. In the south, temperatures may hover around the 10-degree mark for several days," she says.

The warm air is coming in from western and central Europe, where it has been very warm recently. As it heads toward Finland, the Föhn phenomenon is also raising temperatures. This is a dry, warm, down-slope wind experienced on the downwind side of a mountain range, such as the one that crosses Norway and Sweden.

Little impact from Ophelia

Former Hurricane Ophelia, which is hitting southern Ireland on Monday, is not likely to have much impact on Finland though.

"The remnants of Ophelia will bring strong winds and rain to the Norwegian coast. But they will not affect us beyond normal rain and wind," predicts Kotakorpi.

Indeed, a much stronger low pressure area is speeding across central Finland on Monday. The Finnish Meteorological Institute has issued warnings of winds with gusts of over 20 metres per second for much of Ostrobothnia, Savo, Karelia and southern Lapland.

Further north there's a traffic advisory of slippery roads due to snow or sleet. Central and northern Lapland may receive as much as 15-20 centimetres of snow.

"Power outages and other damage are to be expected," says Kotakorpi.

Other alerts warn of minor flooding around the Espoo River and of strong to gale-force winds on all maritime districts, as well as rough waves exceeding 2.5 meters on the Northern Bay of Bothnia.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 13:42:13 +0300
Ukrainians lead applications as officials ease rules for non-EEA builders in southern Finland

Ukrainians lead applications as officials ease rules for non-EEA builders in southern Finland

Moves to facilitate the hiring of construction workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) in the Uusimaa region have not so far led to a dramatic upsurge of work permit applications. Such applications are up by around one fifth this year, with Ukrainians and Russians leading the pack -- but officials say that is partly due to the general economic recovery.

Last spring officials in the heavily-populated Uusimaa region of southern Finland made it easier for companies in the construction sector to hire workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) for certain tasks. However the move by the Uusimaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centre) has not seen a major influx of foreign builders. The number of job applications in Uusimaa is up by roughly 20 percent so far this year.

Firms in the cleaning, hospitality, logistics and construction sectors cannot hire people from outside the EEA unless they can prove they cannot find any unemployed residents of Finland to fill the positions. The 31-member EEA includes all EU and Nordic states plus Liechtenstein. EEA citizens do not need work permits in Finland.

Unions oppose looser rules

Last week five MPs, mostly from opposition parties, proposed moves to make it easier for companies throughout Finland to recruit workers from outside the EEA. Unions have attacked the proposal.

Kari Koivisto of the Uusimaa TE office (employment office) says that some firms in the building trade have begun recruiting non-EEA workers.

The rising number of applicants includes rejected asylum seekers who came in the surge of late 2015 and are now seeking work-based residence permits.

Hospitality sector next?

The ELY Centre is considering lifting similar restrictions in the hotel and restaurant branch next.

"There seem to be unemployed people in this sector, but employers say they have a hard time finding staff," Koivisto says.

Olli Sorainen, a senior adviser at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, suspects that the overall return to economic growth after many years of stagnation is the biggest reason for the rise in job applications, which began back in 2015.

He notes that the rule requiring companies to try to find residents of Finland to fill positions has been lifted before on a regional basis when firms complain of labour shortages.

Ukrainians lead the pack

Between January and September, TE offices in Uusimaa have processed more than 6,100 work permit decisions, with nearly 5,200 being partially or fully approved. Last year TE offices partly or fully approved more than 7,000 applications out of around 8,200.

The largest group of non-EEA work permit applicants this year are from Ukraine, totalling more than 1,400. Nearly 900 Russians have applied during the same nine-month period.

TE offices have also processed more than 300 applications each from the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Thailand.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:03:52 +0300
Blue Reform applies for official party status from Justice Ministry

Blue Reform applies for official party status from Justice Ministry

The Finns Party splinter group Blue Reform submitted proof of sufficient member support to the Justice Ministry on Monday. The Ministry is expected to confirm the new political party's official status once the data is processed. 

This summer saw the election of hate speech offender Jussi Halla-aho to the top position in Finland's populist Finns Party. This set in motion an immediate surprise exodus of several high-profile ministers and MPs from the party ranks. Dubbing themselves the New Alternative at first, the group later changed its name to Blue Reform.

On Monday, Blue Reform – currently made up of 19 MPs, five of whom are ministers – submitted 5,000 supporter cards to the Justice Ministry in order to be registered as an official political party.

"While it is being processed, we will start accepting membership applications and wait for things to come together. Then we'll work on establishing party districts around the country. We've already got districts established at the grassroots level that account for half the country," Minister for European Affairs, Culture and Sport Sampo Terho said on Yle's morning programme.

"Once we have an overarching organisation, we'll start thinking about the elections and build up our support so it is even stronger," Terho said.

Bleak expectations

But what kind of election success can Blue Reform expect? Yle's latest poll measuring voter leanings put Blue Reform support at a mere 1.5 percent. Terho says there is hope that his fledgling party will succeed, as long as the team performs well and believes in what it is doing.

"When you embark on this kind of political start-up, from a small base, you have to believe in the ideals that you are promoting – what it is that you are selling to the people, so to speak, and what you want to be," Terho said.

Director of the Centre for Parliamentary Studies Markku Jokisipilä points out that history has not been kind in Finland to political groups that strike out on their own.

"Splinter groups like this have historically met an unfortunate fate. Jumping ship on this measure is a very rare phenomenon in Finnish politics," he says.

A unique profile is key

Jokisipilä says the new party will have to profile itself effectively if it wants to succeed.

"How will Blue Reform stand out from the other parties? For example, how is it a better choice than the National Coalition Party for entrepreneurs, or how is it a better part than the Left Alliance for blue-collar workers? And how will it serve rural voters better than the Centre Party?"

"Then there's the competition from their former ideological home. Why would a nationalist-leaning Finn choose Blue Reform over the Finns Party? These are all questions that must have answers by the time the party starts campaigning for municipal and parliamentary elections," he says.

Terho said in his interview that he is reluctant to compare the Blue Reform group to any existing party.

"We are a new kind of party in many ways. We want to believe that Finns will manage just fine if the system works and we move forward with a positive attitude, making changes where changes are due. We can achieve the same things any other country can," Terho said.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 11:16:24 +0300
Monday's papers: Young people who don't want to work, growing illicit employment and a break for school kids

Monday's papers: Young people who don't want to work, growing illicit employment and a break for school kids

Our Monday paper review includes continued coverage of a story that broke on Friday about millennials that shirk jobs. It also looks at illegal workers in Finland and the annual autumn break from school.

The tabloid Iltalehti starts out the week with more coverage of a topic that exploded on the scene Friday.

39-year-old Ossi Nyman told the country's leading daily Helsingin Sanomat he has never worked and has no intention of ever finding work. He makes a living off of his unemployment allowance – well, at least he did until the authorities read the HS story. The Uusimaa TE employment office soon announced that the aspiring author's benefits would be suspended while they investigate.

Public backlash to his choice to live off of state money instead of find gainful work has been heated. Unemployment benefits in Finland are intended as stopgap measures for people who intend to return to the job market. If the recipient has no intention of finding work, it is considered an abuse of the system to take the money, IL writes.

An affront to human dignity

Over the weekend, the tabloid contacted several other "ideologically unemployed" young people, who say they sympathize with Nyman. Kokkola resident Sonja Hakala is 30. She has been unemployed her entire adult life. She dropped out of upper secondary school due to illness, and gets by on her labour market subsidy and housing benefit. She says she hasn't even tried to get work for a long time, as she knows she can count on either the subsidy or sickness allowance to pay the bills.

She says the "rehabilitative work activity" she has been assigned over the years has made her not want to do any more. One position had her licking envelopes all day.

"You're paid eight euros a day. They are humiliating places that are an affront to human dignity," Hakala tells the paper. "If they paid people a minimum wage or even 80 percent of the standard salary, and there was a chance for advancement, it might encourage people to work more."

Like Nyman, she tells IL that she doesn't want to use all of her free time for work, because then she won't have time to do the things she likes to do.

"I'm not 'normal employee' material, but I could work temporarily somewhere if the pay was better," she says.

Not enough free time

A 30-year-old man who wishes to stay anonymous tells IL that he has been unemployed for 10 years. He started studies at a vocational college, but lost his motivation. Like Hakala, he makes ends meet with his state-granted labour market subsidy and housing benefit. He has never worked full-time.

"I don't want to go to work. I have never sent in a job application for a position and the employment office has never steered me towards a job I could apply for, probably because I don't have training," he tells the tabloid.

He says that if he was to work, he would prefer a part-time job. He says a full-time job would not necessarily improve his life quality, and would leave him with too little free time.

15% of monitored work sites in the south use illicit labour

Continuing on the work theme, the southwestern paper Turun Sanomat reports this Monday that the percentage of illicit work taking place in Finland has grown. According to the Southern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI), the construction, hospitality and cleaning sectors have seen the largest increase.

Illicit workers are people that can be either legally or illegally in the country, but have deficiencies with regard to their work or residence permits. Citizens of most European countries are not required to have a work permit in order to work in Finland.

Although there has been a lot of talk about rejected asylum seekers staying in the country and working illegally, the AVI study did not find evidence of large numbers of these kinds of workers.

"On construction sites, the most abuses occur from people who are working in Finland with work permits from other EU countries: for example, people with an Estonian residence permit who come to Finland to work," Southern Finland's AVI inspector Katja-Pia Jenu tells the paper.

AVI carried out 161 inspections in Finland last year that resulted in fines for illicit workers, accounting for less than 6 percent of all of the workplaces that AVI monitors because of foreign labour use. In southern Finland, this percentage jumped to 15 percent.

A welcome break from school

And the newspaper Kaleva out of Oulu reports that today is the first day of a week-long autumn break for many school children in Finland. The larger cities of Helsinki, Tampere, Vaasa, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, Joensuu and Rovaniemi all begin the break now, while students in Turku, Porvoo and Kirkkonummi, for instance, have to wait until Thursday, and only have a two-day break.

Cities in the other regions of Finland begin their week-long or two-day break next week.

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 09:14:10 +0300
IL: Records reveal new shortcomings at troubled psychiatric hospital for seniors

IL: Records reveal new shortcomings at troubled psychiatric hospital for seniors

There are new, significant shortcomings in how patient care is carried out at a geriatric hospital in Turku, according to the evening tabloid Iltalehti. Earlier this year the hospital made headlines when a former nurse was convicted of assaulting a patient. A number of the hospital's former nurses also faced a range of charges including patient neglect and others.

Iltalehti reports that it has seen documents about new shortcomings in patient care at a geriatric hospital's psychiatric ward in Turku.

The hospital, located in the city's Kupittaa district, has been in the news in recent years after reports surfaced about alleged abuse and neglect carried out by of some of the institution's nurses.

The hospital's current alleged shortcomings were reportedly listed in documents from HaiPro - a web-based system for reporting patient safety incidents across Finland - and mainly related to how staff handles the medication of patients.

The report said hospital staff had given medications incorrectly and that some patients had received the wrong types of medicine, according to the paper.

The HaiPro report states that hypodermic needles had been found in patient rooms, the paper reported on Sunday.

The paper writes that there have been nearly 90 reports of close-call incidents at psychiatric care clinics in Turku since the beginning of this year. Six of those incidents that involved placing patients at risk were considered to be severe, according to the paper.

Earlier this summer three former male nurses faced charges ranging from abuse to neglect in Turku District Court. One of the former nurses was found guilty of assaulting a patient and received a fine of 560 euros.

The other nurses also faced charges including professional misconduct and abuse but the court said that they would be handled later.

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 17:33:00 +0300
Rugby history: First female referee presides over international match in Helsinki

Rugby history: First female referee presides over international match in Helsinki

On Saturday, after 146 long years, rugby history was made in Helsinki when Spaniard Alhambra Nievas became the first woman to ever referee an international men’s game, as she took charge of the Rugby Europe Conference 2 North encounter between Finland and Norway. In another first, Nievas was assisted by Emmi Laine of Finland and Severine Lescoffit of Norway - making the trio the first all-female refereeing team to officiate at a men’s international game.

Prior to the game, Nievas told Yle News that the historical weight of the occasion would not have any impact on her.

“I am very calm because for me it’s just another game of rugby. I’ve heard that the Nordic (club) teams are used to being refereed by a woman, and they are very respectful. The Nordic culture is more equal in its mindset. So this is a positive.”

However, she does recognise the importance of putting in a good performance.

“I know I'm responsible for opening the door for other colleagues. If this doesn’t go well, that door can close.”

Finnish native Emmi Laine was especially pleased that Helsinki would be the location for this landmark occasion.

“Finland is a small country in rugby, but despite that we and the other team Norway, from the northern countries, we can give this example. I am very proud this is happening in Finland.”

Alhambra Nievas became the first female to referee a men's rugby international in Helsinki on Saturday.
Alhambra Nievas became the first female to referee a men's rugby international in Helsinki on Saturday.Yle News / Ronan Browne

Laine is also hopeful that this can set a precedent for how international referees are chosen in the future.

“I think the next thing is that this is not a big deal any more. That it’s normal. That referees will be selected on their skills and abilities, and not based on their gender.”

Finland just discovering rugby

The appointment of Nievas, Laine and Lescoffit to officiate at this game has brought some very welcome attention to Finnish rugby. The sport is still largely unknown in Finland despite some modest growth in recent years, as Finnish team captain Thomas Finell explained:

“Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of new clubs established and a lot of new young players coming through, so the level of Finnish players in teams has grown. But still the clubs and all the players need to bring more people in and get more visibility for the game in Finland.”

Norway began the game stronger and were rewarded for their efforts when Finland conceded a penalty deep inside their own half, which was converted to put Norway into a 3-0 lead. Finland however came storming back and scored a try through Mika Takala to take a 5-3 lead, and were unlucky not to extend that lead when Jussi Viljanen’s conversion kick hit the post.

Norway then scored a try but again Finland responded, with Eetu Lahtivuori crossing the try-line just before half-time. Viljanen’s conversion was successful this time to give Finland a 12-8 half-time lead. The second half was tight and low-scoring, but Viljanen added a penalty to make the score 15-8, a lead which Finland held onto until Nievas blew the full time whistle.

After the game Nievas was pleased with how the game, and the occasion, went:

“I really enjoyed it. It was a tight game, which is always a challenge because you need to be really focused. But we are proving that there is nothing different, if we referee as women. I think people in other countries are now starting to realise that they need to open this door for us.”

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 16:45:10 +0300
Paper: Lufthansa to examine new German route via Turku

Paper: Lufthansa to examine new German route via Turku

German airline Lufthansa is weighing whether to begin flying routes to Germany out of Turku Airport in south-west Finland, according to daily Turun Sanomat.

German airline firm Lufthansa is considering whether to begin flying routes to Germany from Turku Airport, Turku newspaper Turun Sanomat reports.

The paper writes that Lufthansa started looking into the possibility after it was contacted by the Turku Chamber of Commerce.

Several firms with German connections which operate in the area requested that the chamber send the airline a letter indicating interest in a local connection to Germany.

The interested companies include German-owned Meyer Turku shipyard and pharmaceutical firm Bayer, as well as Valmet Automotive, a Finnish firm that also has operations in Germany.

Lufthansa's head the Baltic countries Christoph Zimmer told the paper he would bring the topic of starting a route to Germany via Turku to the company's top officials and vowed the airline would carry out a thorough evaluation whether such a route out would be viable.

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 13:08:31 +0300
Two Finns discovered dead in boat off Estonian coast

Two Finns discovered dead in boat off Estonian coast

Two Finnish nationals were discovered dead in a boat near the Estonian coast, in Muuga Bay, just east of Tallinn, according to the country's national broadcaster. Local law enforcement said the cause of death was uncertain, but that the victims had likely been overcome by fumes from the boat's engine and that no crime is suspected.

Two Finnish men - born in 1986 and 1993 - were found dead inside the cockpit of a 10 metre, fibreglass motorboat off the Estonian coast in Muuga Bay, just east of country's the capital city Tallinn.

Estonian police told national broadcaster ERR that the victims had likely died after being overcome by fumes leaking from the vessel's engine and that no crime is suspected of having taken place.

Kartta Tallinnan vesialueista.

The vessel was discovered by another boater who alerted authorities at about 10 o'clock Saturday morning.

Police said the boat, which is registered in Finland, was found a couple of kilometres from the Muuga Bay shoreline. The boat's lights were still lit when it was found.

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 11:49:44 +0300
Proposal to ease recruitment of foreign workers riles Finland's unions

Proposal to ease recruitment of foreign workers riles Finland's unions

A proposal from five MPs to do away with a restriction on the recruitment of non-European workers has provoked a heated response from Finland's blue-collar unions. The ensuing recriminations have led the bill's primary backer, Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula, to say that the heads of Finland's largest union SAK should "learn some manners".

Saatavuusharkinta (Availability deliberation) is a legal Finnish requirement that obliges cleaning, hospitality, logistics and construction sectors businesses that are searching for workers to first assess whether local applicants are available before they can hire people from outside Europe. A work permit is only granted to foreign recruits if the company can prove they could find no unemployed Finnish residents to do the job.

A proposal to do away with the requirement has been introduced in the Finnish Parliament, sponsored by the Left Alliance MP Anna Kontula, centre-right National Coalition Party MP Juhana Vartiainen, Swedish People's Party MP Veronica Rehn-Kivi, Green MP Emma Kari and Social Democrat MP Tytti Tuppurainen.

A solution to sector-specific labour shortages

The bill has already received the support of over 100 MPs, many of whom feel the requirement makes it too difficult to bring foreign labour into the country. Proponents argue that no one has been able to prove that providing employment to immigrants has had an effect on the employment opportunities of people already living in the country.

Kyösti Suokas, Deputy Chair of the Finnish Construction Trade Union, has devoted several blog posts to attacking the proposal, saying that Kontula has no idea what the implications of her move will be. He has called the idea to introduce cheap labour a "plot of the far-left and far-right" and accuses Kontula of "bowing to immigrants" due to a need to stay in the headlines.

Kontula responded by saying that many of the union representatives' statements about the proposal are false and misleading. Among other things, directors of Finland's largest union federation SAK reportedly said that "Kontula's bill aims to help undocumented people get work so they don't have to leave the country. This presents security problems and the risk that [Finland's system of] work terms and conditions will be completely destroyed."

She says this statement is a clear distortion and wonders why the real issue can't be discussed without hyperbole.

Rational discussion elusive

Left Alliance party chair Li Andersson says it's regrettable that the union representatives' responses to the proposal have attacked Kontula personally.

"They have even questioned her motives. It goes without saying that no one in the Left Alliance would do anything to weaken the position of Finnish workers," she argues.

She says her party doesn't have an official stand on dismantling the requirement, but posits that it is equal foreign workers' rights that is at issue, as the assessment is not required if the recruited workers are from the 31 countries in the European Economic Area.

"A rational discussion on this issue has been buried under a war of words," she says.

Jarkko Eloranta of SAK agrees with Andersson's appraisal, but says he understands why the Construction Trade Union has taken such a strong stand. He says the union and the building sector in general have worked hard to ensure that there are fair game rules in play within the EU.

"I haven't contacted MP Kontula yet, but on Monday I thought I would ask her to itemise the mistakes we made in our statement, so we can discuss them," says the union boss.

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 17:44:07 +0300
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