Helsinki (10.11.2000 - Juhani Artto) Archbishop Jukka Paarma and SAK President Lauri Ihalainen have made a historic appeal to policymakers and all influential people in Finland. They are calling for Finland to increase its development co-operation expenditure to 0.7 per cent of GNP, in line with UN recommendations.
Archbishop Paarma is the leader of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. Some 85 per cent of Finland's population belong to this denomination. With member organisations representing 1.1 million workers SAK, led by Mr. Ihalainen, is the largest trade union confederation in Finland.
Although Finland achieved the 0.7 per cent level in 1991, development co-operation aid suffered worse than any other item in the Finnish State budget during the recession of the early 1990s. The level of aid slumped to well below 0.4 per cent of GNP. Since then the nominal sum has risen, but the proportion has stayed at around 0.34 per cent. In its draft budget for 2001 the government has even reduced this still further to 0,335 per cent, despite the fact that this is already the seventh consecutive year of sustained economic growth.
Public support for increased development co-operation aid has grown recently. Last Spring almost half of Finns polled favoured an increase and only a small minority supported a cut.
Next year's draft budget reveals the iron hand of the conservative Finance Minister Sauli Niinistö. The development co-operation aid, as with social programmes in general, are victims of his fiscal policy focused strongly on reaching two goals: a rapid reduction in the State debt of nearly FIM 400 billion and in rates of taxation which are high by international standards.
Now it is up to the Finnish Parliament to decide whose vision will carry the greater weight: that of Mr. Niinistö or that of the established Church and SAK leaders.
Archbishop Jukka Paarma argues for more aid by reminding us of the Christian obligation to help the have-nots. He also alludes to the moral basis of the Nordic welfare model and wonders why Finland should remain at a much lower level than Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
SAK president Lauri Ihalainen says that it is high time that Finland rejoined the club of civilised nations by gradually increasing its development co-operation aid expenditure to the UN recommended level. In Ihalainen's vision more aid will also help to defend the welfare system in Finland, because the more unequal the world becomes the more problems arise in all parts of the globe.
Ihalainen objects to the way in which opponents of increases in development co-operation aid seek to construe an opposition between domestic social needs and international human needs.