Finns must end squabbles over Greece and fix own woes, Rehn says

Finland’s election is a clear call for politicians to stop arguing over the fate of Greece and instead turn their attention to their own economic troubles.

That’s according to Olli Rehn, the former European Union economics chief and a member of the Center Party that won Sunday’s election.

“It’s important in Finland how the country can be fixed again,” Rehn said in an interview in Helsinki. “Parties have to now concentrate on fixing Finland’s economy and not arguing over Greece.”

Voters on Sunday propelled the Center Party back into power after Juha Sipila, its self-made millionaire chairman, pledged to deliver a business-led recovery that will create 200,000 private-sector jobs over the next decade. He now needs to start coalition talks that will include the euro-skeptic The Finns party, which has railed against bailouts and argued in favor of Greece leaving the euro zone.

Unlike the 2011 election, which saw a groundswell of support for The Finns, the euro area’s crisis played a less prominent role in this year’s campaign. Instead, voters acted on concerns over outgoing Prime Minister Alexander Stubb’s failure to revive Finland’s economy after three years of recession and double-digit unemployment.

Finland has a history of hampering euro-zone rescue efforts. It threatened to stall talks on Greece’s second bailout, insisting on receiving collateral in exchange for its contribution to the package. Timo Soini, leader of The Finns, said he will try to influence the new government’s stance on European rescues, including talks with Greece.

Finnish Mire

Rehn said it was still too early to say what kind of stance the future government would have on Greece and that all parties will have to compromise.

“It’s clear that The Finns or any other party can’t dictate,” he said. “All parties must be able to compromise on their non-negotiable questions and with a strong will build cooperation and get Finland out of this mire.”

The Center Party expects the Greek government “to get serious about implementing reforms so that Greece could avoid drifting outside the euro,” Rehn said. It’s too early to talk about a third program for Greece, he said.

Rehn, who could become a minister in the next government, said that Finland must focus on boosting “competitiveness of labor and production, which is a more serious question than the sustainability gap in public finances.”

Magic Tricks

Finns ousted Stubb’s government as the the country suffers its worst economic slump in more than two decades, hurt by the demise of a consumer electronics industry once led by Nokia Oyj and the decline of paper manufacturers made redundant in a digital age.

Stubb, in congratulating Sipila, urged him to “prepare” himself. “This job isn’t easy,” Stubb said on YLE television.

“There are no magic tricks,” Sipila said Sunday. “It’s a 10-year project to fix the economy, get the economy competitive again. Balancing public finances is a second priority.”


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