Friday, December 30, 2011

Finland: A state worthy of emulation

Finland has one of the  most modern and democratic Constitutions in Europe.  It is a state worthy of consideration by Ukraine.  Finland along with its Scandinavian neighbours played a significant role in the development of Estonia and Latvia both of which are successful EU member states

Source: Kyiv Post

The embassy of Finland and International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv present Finland: A country of only five million people with a strange language, notorious drinking binges and folk songs that are mostly in a minor key.

But it’s also a highly successful country of considerable creativity and innovation—not all of it related to cell phones. On Nov. 28, “100 Innovations from Finland” was presented in Kyiv by its author, Ilkka Taipale—a politician, doctor, activist, pacifist and an icon of Finnish social policy—and professor Vappu Taipale, a renowned physician and CEO of the Finnish National Research and Development Center for Welfare and Health—STAKES in Finnish—from 1992 to 2008.

Taipale has roots in Ukraine. His great-great-grandmother was born in Balta, Vinnytsia Oblast today, and, for her wedding, she was given a serf as a gift. The serf was later freed in Finland and buried near the family grave.

Taipale is, in his own words, “a specialist on the lumpen proletariat, the dropouts of society.”

Initially, he says, “nobody was interested in this book in Finland. It’s like clear water: you can drink it everywhere from all the lakes in Finland. But after Nokia City made a mistake, combining the clear water pipe and the waste water pipe and making thousands of people sick, they really appreciate clear water now.”

Today, the book is available in 11 languages with 6 more on the way, including Arabic “for Arab revolutionaries.”

The secrets of Finland’s success:

#1 is consensus, togetherness. “We don’t have a two-party system, we actually have a three-party system,” says Taipale. “One party is always out of government, and the other two share power. And they change around. In city councils and executive bodies, ever party is proportionally represented. Even the labor market is trilateral—employers, workers and the state—and together they make agreements.” This approach began during the Winter War against Russia in 1939. Torn apart by a very bloody civil war in 1918, the country understood that it had to unite to fend off its aggressive neighbor.

#2 is open democracy. Finland has a unicameral parliament but its communities and municipalities are strong. They have tax power. Helsinki gets 18.5 percent of its residents’ salaries as a city, making it half independent of the state. “The principle of openness, that all you are governing, all your documents have to be open to everybody, came from Finland more than 200 years ago,” says Taipale. “And it went into the Swedish Constitution around 1770.”

#3 is equality. Today, the country has a woman as president, a woman as mayor of Helsinki, and a female speaker in its parliament. “Maybe a little too much equality,” Taipale chuckles. “I was on two parliamentary commissions, civilization and the constitution, and the chairs were both women. And at home, there’s a woman. But I have to say that we, the men, made the laws to establish equality with the help of women. And we’re happy.”
Gender equality has always been strong in Finnish society: on family farms, the wife and husband traditionally worked together. “My grandmother never went to school because they were too poor,” says Taipale, “but she taught all the girls in the family, ‘Educate yourselves! This is the way to stand on your own feet.’”

During World War II, many European women entered the labor market to keep the factories going, but when the war ended, they were pushed back into their homes. In Finland, however, women stayed on the labor market, which meant that something had to be done with their children. The Taipales, for instance, had four children and their mother worked constantly.

By the late 1980s, Vappu Taipale had been appointed Minister of Social Affairs. This was when the first serious social innovations began. For the first time, families with children could choose whether they wanted to have a home care allowance, to be paid to be stay-at-home parents, or to have their children placed in a high-level kindergarten. This benefit has been universally available in Finland for 20 years now. The result? Nearly all children under two are taken care of at home. And nearly all children between two and school age are in kindergartens. Moreover, the public services are strong in Finland, they are trusted, and there’s no real competition with the private sector.

“This makes our labor market more effective because mothers and fathers don’t need to worry about their children,” says Taipale. “Young children are very important for our society and our birthrate is one of the highest in the European Union—although it is not very high, about 1.8 children.”

#4 is free education. Not only is education itself free, but the state pays students to study, through a student allowance. “This really is very important because it develops all talents by providing all children with opportunities to grow where they are talented,” says Taipale. “For instance, in the OECD’s PISA competition, Finland has stayed in the top three since 2006. One reason is that teachers’ education is at a very high level—university degrees. Many people complained, saying ‘Oh it’s not possible, it costs too much,’ but it’s not true. Finland’s social budget is below the EU average.”

Add universal social and health policies, then if you break your shoulder and go to the hospital, you will only pay 100 euros, 50 euros of that for surgery. In the small private sector, the same treatment would cost 7,000 euros. “We are happy taxpayers,” says Taipale. “I pay 47 percent of my pension and salary in taxes, but our four children got a free university education.”

Stricken after the soviet invasion in 1939-40—indeed, one of the key clashes was the Battle of Taipale—, the country began a policy of sharing what it had. It started with very small child allowances, very small universal pensions, and residence-based social security, meaning that anyone living in the country got something. “This created the dynamics of our society,” says Taipale, “and if you listen today, the ILO and the UN both say that you have to start with small allowances to poorer people and children.”

#5 is Finland’s nongovernmental organizations—some 70,000 of them. But this is where Finland parts ways with other countries: its NGOs are financed, not just by the state, but by gambling. All gambling and all Finnish casinos are in hands of the “NGO mafia,” as Taipale calls it, not the underworld mafia, and their profits go to NGOs. Finland also has a tradition of subsidizing political parties, even at the local level, while parties have to inform the Minister of Trustees about how they collect money for elections and all donations over EUR 2,000 have to be reported, along with their source.

“And the last secret? We don’t have any enemies,” says Dr. Taipale with a smile. “We’re not afraid of the Russians. The Winter War was enough.”

The downsides facing Finland

#1 is the unemployed—young people who have no education and no work. “That’s our time bomb,” admits Taipale. “It’s over 10 percent of young Finns. The lowest group in our social hierarchy is single men: unmarried and divorced men. Men without women. So I’ve been looking for new innovations for the second edition.”

When asked why so many young people, despite the opportunity of a free university education and highly qualified teachers, still choose not to study and engage in socially aggressive behavior, Taipale responded, “Partly because those youngsters have problems in their home, in their environment. They may not have support or may have some difficulties with learning. Learning abilities among adults have been only discussed in the last two decades. When we had agriculture and we had simple industrial work, you needed muscles. Now all those jobs have been automated. We don’t have enough simple work. It’s a self-service society. In Japan, you can still see people pumping gasoline. Not in our country.

“So these people are left out because our educational system is a bit too theoretical, people cannot work with their hands,” continues Taipale. “There’s nice 3 percent theory in my book. We have about 3 times more murders than England or Holland, but 3 times less than in 1930s. One man made a study of murders in Finland and concluded that most of the murderers are unemployed single men. 3% of our population, 40,000 men, cause most of the problems. So if we offer strong social incentives to get them into a better situation, we could cut our murders in half.”

How about corruption?

Before the current party system was set up, 5 percent of all public construction money went to political parties, in the late 1950s and 1960s. Nowadays, say the Taipales, there are few instances of bribery and kickbacks and most of them are fairly small-scale.

Although laws are strictly enforced, the mentality of Finns matters more. Salaries for doctors and teachers are quite good. “We don’t have state hospitals, we have municipal hospitals,” says Taipale. “It may not have been called corruption but it used to be that 10% of money went to sales promotion, that meant travel for doctors. We had 1,000 psychiatrists and 100 of them attended congresses of the American Psychiatric Association, paid for by the pharmaceutical industry. That’s nearly over. Now you have to publish in medical journals.”

Stopping for a moment, Taipale muses: “The next the book you should provide in your language is Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better? They compared all OECD countries and all the US states and showed that, if you have more equality in salary levels, then you have fewer social problems. That’s the most important book I have read—after mine, of course.”

Lidia Wolanskyj is with the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kyiv.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chornovil Insights into Tymoshenko

“There are rumors that Liovochkin was utterly opposed to the arrest of Yulia Tymoshenko. It is hard to su­spect me of being Liovochkin’s fan, but he is no fool, unlike many other individuals. Moreover, there is no way back for him. Medvedchuk’s people in the Administration must have some escapeway or another. This group, apparently, has none. There are also some Russian influences over the president, albeit latent.”
What do you mean by “Russian influences”?
“First of all, Medvedchuk. I think there are two key persons in Tymoshenko’s case, and Pshonka isn’t one of them. They are Medvedchuk and Khoroshkovsky. Pshonka became a hostage in the game, but he has been playing by its rules. Now he simply cannot quit.”
What role is Yanukovych playing then?
“The decision to arrest Tymo­shenko could have never been taken without Yanukovych’s personal involvement, under no circumstances. Who pulled the strings, prepared the soil, and put him in the right mood, is a different question. I do not even mean the very moment of detention, I mean what followed.
“The decision was rooted in Yanu­kovych’s phobias and in his lack of responsibility. I don’t think he really meant to arrest her at the start. But later everything fell together.
“There have been several phrases, said by Tymoshenko, which hit the bull’s eye. First, there were very harsh, straightforward insults related to his past criminal records (Yanu­ko­vych would never forgive that, even when he was negotiating with her). Then, she began to threaten him saying that times would change, and she would put him in jail. This in fact decided her fate. Just like in 2001, Tymoshenko is now tried for being a rival, and for her sharp tongue. And then the other factors played their role: the escalating of this situation, its turning into a deathtrap, and the abovementioned characters.
“As far as I know, Yushchenko, too, did his best to help get her behind bars. They say that a day or two before her arrest he contacted Yanukovych. Azarov complained that when he was being examined at the trial, Tymo­shenko threatened him explicitly. After all, these are secondary issues. The main thing is that Yanukovych himself got messed up, and then others helped implicate him even further.”
Who then can release her? The European Court?
“The European Court cannot release anyone. But it can rule that human rights were violated in the process of her conviction, and adjudge a compensation.
“If they had left her free, she would quarrel with everyone, and eventually turn into a marginal old lady in politics. This would mean an end of the project. But now she is a political project again. She can again win elections. We sympathize for the insulted and humiliated, and her ratings, which had plummeted, are now steadily climbing.
Under such circumstances nothing will make Yanukovych release her. The threats of being banned from Europe, or having to face his worst nightmare, Putin, are not the reason. He will not release her as long as he knows that she is a rival. Therefore the only way for her to be released is Europe giving up demands that Tymoshenko continue her political career. Amnesty or pardon, as an act of humanity, that is all.”

Several hundred people are crowding outside the Court of Appeals. Perhaps if a few dozen thousand came, this would influence the decision?

“No, Ukrainians will not believe anyone anymore. The most they will do is, in case of having to choose between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych, vote for Tymoshenko – without having a grain of faith in her. People do not trust anyone.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Europe's dilemmia.. Say yes and hope or say just say sorry but no?

From the pages of Foreign Notes

German ambassador to Kyiv Dr. Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth posted a significant article in today's 'Ukrainska Pravda'

Here are a few quotes:

"Today the EU finds itself before the question - Will it be possible to conclude an Association Agreement with Ukraine before the end of the year..and this at a moment when serious doubts have sprung up in the EU whether the Ukrainian leadership is truly sincere in its statements on European integration? Doubts are growing daily...

Trials and increased application of arrests of former members of government, are just the tip of the iceberg...other concerns are daily being added: pressure on enterprises from security organs, searches of lawyers' offices, pre-trial detentions, fabricated trials, placement of loyalists into all possible positions etc.

Germany and its partners cannot close its eyes to the development of such events.

All the major political forces in Ukraine wish to conclude an Association Agreement. But those who know the European Union can see that desire itself is not enough to open the way to an Agreement...

If the leadership of Ukraine continually treats with contempt the concerns of the EU and leading European politicians then the country cannot count on success in the EU. This applies both to Kyiv and to other European capitals.

Only after the decision of the Council of Ministers, that is by a consensus of all members of the European Union, will it be ready to sign the Association Agreement and implement procedures for ratification in its parliaments.

For this [to happen] there should again be a dominant conviction that Ukraine is really striding along the path of European integration. And there should be clear steps [made] in this direction.

Every Ukrainian should understand: the path to the EU along which Ukraine will either set out or not set out, entirely and totally depends on the Ukrainian authorities and Ukrainian people.

If the Association Agreement won't be signed, the reasons for this should be sought in Ukraine and in the political authorities."

Foreign Notes Commentary


Thursday, December 08, 2011

Emergency Resolution adopted by the EPP Congress, Marseille (France), 7th-8th December 2011

Source: European Parliament
Recent political developments in Ukraine

Since its independence Ukraine has been a priority partner country for the EU within the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership because it is perceived as a key regional player, which exerts considerable influence on the security, stability and prosperity of the whole continent, and which should therefore bear its respective share of political responsibility.

On its tough path towards democracy, Ukraine has made important steps with regards to its economic and political development. However, new Ukrainian authorities have started to reverse the democratic transformations of the Orange Revolution. With the sentencing on 11th October 2011 of the former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, serious concerns have arisen with regards to political freedoms, the rule of law and the state of democracy in Ukraine. The European People’s Party stands by the position that this will have serious negative consequences for Ukraine's future relationship with the European Union and for the Association Agreement (AA); it pushes the country further away from the European perspective.

Therefore, the European Peoples Party:


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Experts calling on Ukraine to cancel hryvnia's pegging to US dollar

Source: Interfax-Ukraine; Published by Kyivpost

LONDON – Ukraine under conditions of instability in the financial and economic situation in the world, so as better to react to external shocks, should cancel the hryvnia's pegging to the U.S. dollar, experts have advised.

The topic was discussed at the Inside Ukraine conference organized by the Economist magazine with support of the Foundation for Effective Governance (FEG) in London on Tuesday.

"Ukraine should think of a floating exchange rate, especially when the country faces a deficit in the balance of payments… I'm sure that if the changes take place, we'll see a lot of export growth, and the growth model will change," Troika Dialog Senior Economist Evgeny Gavrilenkov said.


Winners are grinners: Losers protest

Allegations that the Russian parliamentary election is fraudulent just does not stack up to scrutiny.  Yes there are always going to be some errors in the conduct of any election,  But in Russia's case the allegation of corruption and suggestion that the overall election results do not reflect intention of the Russian people are dubious at best a US lead conspiracy at worst.   The results of Sundays Duma election are in line with expectations, public opinion polls and all exist polls.  The difference between United Russia who was on 49.5% and the next highest political party the Communist Party (19.9%) is too big of a gap to be claimed to be as a result of vote rigging.   Those that are protesting about the results of the election have a hidden agenda and Hillary Clinton is very much connected as she plays to the US electorate.

As you can be seen from the above graph of Levada polls, United Russia remains head and shoulders above the KPRF (Communists) and LDPR (populists). Fair Russia is on the 7% threshold

The Official Election Results are reflected in the Opinion Polls and also supported by Exit polls undertaken by independent election monitors.  If there was outright corruption than the results of the election would differ from Opinion polls and the exit polls.  They don't. If there were discrepancies in the conduct of the election they have not effected the overall result.

Which raises questions of doubt about the veracity of allegations now being waged by a group of dissidents in the Moscow streets and who is behind this civil unrest? Much of this has more to do with the 2012 Presidential elections then any concern  of civil unrest.