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 Business and Economy News from Finland
Marimekko and UNIQLO Announce Collaboration for Special Edition Collection
Helsinki, January 10 (Marimekko)
Marimekko and UNIQLO, the Japanese global apparel retailer, announced on 10 January their partnership on a special edition collaboration collection which will be available for a limited time only. The new collection for women will comprise a complete line of items that brighten lifestyles by combining the timelessly bold and vibrant print designs of Marimekko with the quality and comfort of UNIQLOfs casual street style.

The collection will embody a shared commitment by the two companies to enhancing daily living. For Marimekko, this is through its mission of empowering people to be happy as they are and bringing joy to their everyday lives through bold prints and colours, while UNIQLO is committed to creating LifeWear – high quality clothing that is functional and reasonably priced – to suit everyonefs daily lifestyles.

"UNIQLO is known worldwide for its well-designed essentials that are made for all. The special edition Marimekko and UNIQLO brand collaboration collection allows us to share the joy of bold self-expression in print and colour with consumers around the world. We are very excited about this collaboration and canft wait to see how people will wear the pieces in the collection to reflect their own style and personality," says Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, President and CEO of Marimekko.

The Marimekko and UNIQLO collection will arrive at UNIQLO stores and at UNIQLO.com in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States on Thursday 29 March, in Asia on Friday 30 March, and in Russia in early April 2018. The nine-style collection will feature tops, dresses, pants, sneakers, and bags. The prints in the collection were inspired by nature and urban lifestyle, including also a new print design specifically chosen to celebrate the Marimekko and UNIQLO collection. All of the prints were designed by Maija Louekari, one of Marimekkofs world-renowned print designers.

The brand collaboration relates to the royalty income from a licensing agreement with a Japanese company referred to Marimekkofs January-September interim report in November 2017.

Consumers in Finland increasingly having trouble paying bills
Helsinki, January 8 (Yle)
Finland does not have a comprehensive consumer credit rating system which could prevent at-risk people from applying for too much credit.

Finnish financial data services firm Suomen Asiakastieto reports that people with problems paying bills in the company's register each received an average of about 15 payment arrears notices last year. People with difficulties paying their bills have often defaulted on payments in the past.

The firm said that this year's tally of bill non-payment warnings was roughly the same as last year.

In 2017 there were 1.65 million cases of bill payment defaults reported to Asiakastieto, an increase of about one-tenth from the previous year.

The firm says that one of the reasons for the increase may be that creditors do not have adequate information about people's incomes and credit histories.

No centralised credit rating system in Finland
Finland does not have a comprehensive credit checking system which takes into account all loans and income data — only Asiakastieto's payment default register.

This situation means that people who are swamped in paying back loans — but still have not yet received a non-payment warning via a creditor — are still able to take out new loans and increase the amount of debt they'll eventually face.

Asiakastieto's director of consumer information Jouni Muhonen said the problem is an acute one.

"But making new legislation to create a new credit registry from the ground up could take years. That's why we should improve the scope of the current system in order to improve the sharing of credit data between different parties," Muhonen said.

"Creditors need access to all information about a person's income and debt in order to make a responsible decision about approving a loan," he said.

Continued economic upswing expected
Helsinki, December 19 (Yle)
The latest survey from the Ministry of Finance forecasts that the Finnish economy will grow by 2.4 percent in 2018 which it says means an increase in employment, a decline in the general government deficit and slower growth in the state's debt burden.

The Ministry of Financefs forecast shows that Finland will post a GDP growth figure of 3.1 percent for the full year 2017, and that the growth rate will then slow to around 2 percent.

Foreign trade and domestic demand are expected to be the main drivers in the economy over the next few years.

Pay is forecast to rise more rapidly in 2018 and 2019.

Boost in employment
Employment growth will accelerate to 1 percent and the earnings level in the coming year is forecast to rise by 2 percent, assuming that the forthcoming pay settlements are in line with agreements already made.

The Ministry of Finance survey says that private consumption growth next year will be driven by higher earnings and a rising employment rate. Investment of all types will increase, and the boom in housing construction shows no signs of slowing down.

Prices will rise in 2018 in a broad range of different product categories, but the increase in the prices of services will continue to have the greatest impact on overall inflation.

In 2019, the Ministry expects Finlandfs GDP to grow by 1.9 percent. GDP growth will slow the rise in the statefs debt burden but will not eliminate the general government deficit.

The public-debt-to-GDP ratio began to decline in 2016, and the debt ratio is shrinking due to rapid growth in Finland's GDP. In 2019 the ratio is expected to fall to slightly below 60 percent.

Stronger beer comes to Finland's grocery stores in March
Helsinki, December 15 (Yle)
Parliament voted to approve the sale of stronger alcoholic drinks in supermarkets on Friday, lifting the limit to 5.5 percent from the current 4.7 percent.

Finland's parliament on Friday voted to approve the sale of stronger alcohol in grocery stores. From March, supermarkets will be able to sell alcoholic products up to 5.5 percent in alcohol strength, up from the current limit of 4.7 percent.

Stronger drinks will continue to be sold exclusively by Alko, but the new law allows the state-owned alcohol retailer to extend its opening hours to 9 pm on weekdays.

The reform also eases the bureaucratic burden of restaurants, allowing them to remain open till 4 am without a separate application and to serve alcohol on the terrace in the night.

Finally, small breweries will be permitted to sell their products on-site, as long as the alcohol content does not exceed 12 percent.

102 MPs voted for the proposal and 89 against. Seven MPs were not present, including prime minister Juha Sipilä.

Finance Minister Orpo predicts debt level drop
Helsinki, December 9 (Yle)
Finnish Finance Minister Petteri Orpo appeared on Yle's morning talk show on Saturday with a positive message: he says Finland's economic situation is looking up – even more, in fact, than his ministry had earlier predicted – and this means the state hasn't had to take on as much debt as it had anticipated.

Orpo says unemployment figures were worse one year ago, when this year's budget was being negotiated, than they are today.

"Now the indicators look different. In the autumn it was still estimated that the [2017] debt forecast would be 4.5 billion euros. But we currently find ourselves in a situation in which the State Treasury has issued a three-billion-euro estimate for the sum required," the minister told the public broadcaster.

"It looks as if the drop in the necessary debt load will be quite significant. Next year's budget has been built on the idea of taking on three billion euros more in debt, but I believe that by supporting economic growth and more jobs, we could stand a chance to lower this," Orpo said.

Despite the signs of an economic upswing, the Finance Minister nevertheless says it is wisest to stick with his centre-right government's strict cost-saving economic policies for the time being. He says this way Finland could get back on its feet well enough to potentially stop the need to take on more debt all together.

Slush startups bet on Bitcoin
Helsinki, December 1 (Yle)
Out of the roughly 2,600 firms at Finland's biggest startup event Slush this year, more than 150 were in the crypto space.

Observers could be forgiven for thinking that Finland, with its history of high tech know-how and sizeable population of computer nerds, might be at the bleeding edge of cryptocurrency. There are a handful of Finnish players in the crypto scene, and Yle News went to this yearfs annual startup-investor meet up Slush in Helsinki to find out how they are doing.

Bitcoin is the original and most popular form of the computer-produced money, and it has been rocketing in value since the beginning of the year, but the currency itself is less than a decade old.

Rising values have seen cryptocurrencies gain attention — positive and negative — from governments, banks and regulators as well as the media.

Whatfs all the hype?

In what could be described as a stereotypical outburst of Finnish modesty, Slush chief operating officer Teemu Laurikainen requested to be referred to as a gcrypto hobbyist,h in lieu of gexperth when asked to discuss the topic.

In any case, the Slush COO is cautiously optimistic about the future of crypto and blockchain technologies, and acknowledged that people who want to know how it all works face a major learning curve.

Aktia ups estimate for Finnish growth this year, warns of slower times ahead
Helsinki, November 27 (Yle)
A leading Finnish bank has slightly raised its forecasts for economic growth this year and next, but says job creation and consumption will remain sluggish.

One of Finland's biggest banks, Aktia, has raised its estimate of the nation's GDP for this year to 3.1 percent. However it predicts that pace to slow to 2.6 percent next year and 2.2 percent in 2019.

"Everything points toward 2017 becoming an economically good year in historic terms," Aktia's chief economist Heidi Schauman said on Monday.

She notes that the bank upgraded its forecast for next year, as it expects positive developments to consumption, investments and foreign trade to continue.

Aktia expects the employment rate to improve further, but not sufficiently in the bank's view, which it says dampens the consumption outlook. The number of people with jobs is not rising hand-in-hand with the employment rate, it notes, as the working-age population is shrinking.

Last week, Statistics Finland said that the jobless rate dropped in October to 7.3 percent, compared with 8.1 percent a year earlier and eight percent in September. The employment rate meanwhile stood at 70 percent.

On the global level, Aktia Bank foresees growth continuing at an annual rate of around 3.6 percent over the next two years, adding the caveat that such prognoses include much uncertainty.

Paradise Papers: Yachts and gambling linked to typical Finnish-owned Malta businesses
Helsinki, November 19 (Yle)
Yle asked some of the 350 Finns with registered businesses in the tax haven country of Malta to explain their business dealings there. Many respondents had difficulties remembering or explaining what their company is up to, but yachts and gambling are often involved.

Paradise Papers is the latest international leak of data on tax haven improprieties, this time in the small European island country of Malta. Among other things, the documents reveal that some 350 Finns are shareholders in or directors of Maltese companies.

Among the Finns with money in Malta, there are several familiar names. The wealthy families of von Rettig and Berner have companies there, as do the actor Jasper Pääkkönen and major investors in Finland's lucrative gaming company Supercell.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle asked several Malta business owners to explain their investments in the island country, but many had troubles remembering why or with whom they had entered into the ventures.

Owning a business in a tax haven like Malta is not illegal, as long as any profits from businesses there are duly reported to the tax authorities. Corporate tax on businesses in Malta is 35 percent, compared to 20 percent in Finland, but there are several deductions available to business owners there. Figures show that most shareholders in Malta take advantage of the numerous loopholes, making the average corporate tax on firms just five percent in reality.

Metro extension finally launched – commuters rejoice, experts cautious
Helsinki, November 18 (Yle)
After years of development and a number of false alarms, the first leg of the so-called Länsimetro or Helsinki metro extension into Espoo was launched for commuter traffic early Saturday morning. One researcher says a new metropolis may begin to broaden outward, but only if the work is put in.

The metro's woes have included several launch date postponements, vandalism, electrical errors and water damage. But social media filled up with photos and updates on Saturday, with some people dressing up specially or sipping sparkling wine early on the launch day.

The researcher says that on this historic day it is worth remembering that the metro line itself shouldn't necessarily be the focus on attention. Rather it is the developments in the metro station areas and environments that will change the face of the cities for the next century, she says.

"Building this extension was a political decision intended to steer local urban life in a certain direction. Espoo will certainly see positive changes thanks to the new stations, but the metro has also failed to spruce up nearby areas before."

Futurologist and co-founder of think tank Demos Helsinki, Aleksi Neuvonen, says he sees a new capital region centre forming around the Espoo areas of Otaniemi, Keilaniemi and Tapiola.

He also estimates that all of Southern Finland including the cities of Tampere and Turku may one day be seen as a single sprawling Finnish metropolis.

"The metro extension has drawn in a great deal of construction and investment contracts, on a national scale," says Espoo City Council chair Markku Markkula. "This was at one time the largest construction site in the country. The investments in the metro region's development are sure to be ten times bigger than the cost of the Länsimetro itself."

The final stage of the full metro project is set to continue in the 2020s, when further new expansions will be constructed.

20 minutes from Helsinki to Tallinn in five years?
Helsinki, November 14 (Yle)
Construction could, just possibly, begin next year on a rail link between Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn that would be ready for traffic in the early 2020s. Peter Vesterbacka, formerly of Angry Birds gaming company Rovio, has big plans for a tunnel running under the Gulf of Finland that he laid out in an interview published on Monday in the Helsinki newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet.

After leaving Rovio in the summer of 2016, Peter Vesterbacka has been involved in countless new projects, among them the creation of a rail link between the Finnish and Estonian capitals.

Drawing on financing and technology from China, he says that construction could start next year.

"Technically, it's no problem. It can be built in five years. We are talking about a tunnel that would be completed in the 2020s and not the 2030s," Vesterbacka told Hufvudstadsblad.

"We have not yet encountered any insurmountable problems," he added.

Twelve tunnel drilling machines for the project are estimated to cost 30 million euros. Vesterbacka has a vision of creating what he calls a sort of "tunnel factory" that the rest of Europe and the world could turn to for other projects. His plan is for the equipment is to be contracted from China.

"China is implementing major infrastructure initiatives throughout the world, so it's no wonder that they're interested in constriction here, too," he points out.

In order to hit a five-year deadline for completion, work on two parallel tunnels would be carried out at six sites simultaneously. Under this plan, each of the tunnels would be 17 meters in diameter.

"It's bigger than needed, but it will be made for any future needs," he explained to the paper.

The project being promoted by Vesterbacka includes four stations: one in Tallinn, one on an artificial island to be built just off the coast of Helsinki, one at Keilalahti-Otaniemi in eastern Espoo, and one at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.

This tunnel project is estimated to cost 15 billion euros. Vesterbacka says he is not looking for tax money.

"It's a completely private project, we are not looking for money from the state or the EU. We are trying to optimize everything in order to be as fast as possible, which is also a way to save money."

According to Vesterbacka, with ticket prices averaging 50 euros, the tunnel would pay for itself within 37 years. The travel time between the two capitals would be around 20 minutes.

"The line would be operated by high-speed trains running at 350 kilometers per hour. The technology already exists in China and Japan, so it is no technological risk," he says.

Finland joins the Silk Road
Helsinki, November 9 (Yle)
Top circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat features an article on a new cargo train connection linking the south-eastern city of Kouvola to the famed "Silk Road" route into China.

HS writes that if all goes according to plan, on Friday a cargo train with 41 large containers (a small batched compared with the 10,000 that fit on massive cargo ships) will be pulled by engines into St. Petersburg and onward through Kazakhstan to Xi'an in northern China. It is the first of a total of five trains that are set to make the long trip, hauling Finnish machinery, timber and workwear textiles.

Transporting goods by train is more expensive than shipping by sea, but much faster. Director Jari Grönlund from cargo operator Unytrade says that the direct land connection will be used largely for products that are needed quickly along the trade route.

"Goods take 45 days to reach China by ship, whereas the train gets there in just 10 days," Grönlund says in HS.

The Kouvola station is optimal for the long-distance cargo network, Grönlund says, due to its effective loading bays (constructed for busy Russian-bound traffic), its proximity to the Russian border and Kouvola's own initiative in contacting Kazakhstan over the cargo deal.

"There's still room for exporters in our containers," Grönlund says.

Net payments plummet: Finland drops to bottom of EU contributor list in 2016
Helsinki, November 4 (Yle)
Last year Finland paid 1.8 billion euros to the European Union and received 1.5 billion euros in EU money in return. This means that Finland's net payments to the European Union fell to below 300 million euros in 2016, placing the Nordic country at the bottom of the EU member states contributor list for the year, alongside Italy.

Finland's net payments to the European Union fell by more than half last year, from what European Commission statistics estimate was 570 million euros in 2015 to 294 million euros in 2016.

This means that, once the books were balanced, the per capita contribution from Finland to the EU fell from 104 euros per person in 2015 to 54 euros per person in 2016.

This puts Finland in last place, alongside Italy, in a ranking of the 28 member states in terms of their net balance contributions for the year. Finland's net payments were much smaller in 2016 than Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Austria and the UK, for example.

The net payments figure is derived from difference between the money Finland pays into the EU and the revenue the country receives from the institution.

Finland's top 3 earners in 2016 from game firm Supercell
Helsinki, November 1 (Yle)
Finlandfs top three income earners in 2016 all come from the successful game firm Supercell, according to tax and income data released Wednesday by the Finnish Tax Administration. Altogether seven of the top ten highest-paid individuals came from the Helsinki-based game firm.

Founder and CEO of the game firm Supercell, Ilkka Paananen, emerged as Finlandfs top earner in 2016. According to data released by the Finnish Tax Administration Vero, Paananenfs taxable income last year came in at 46,634,395 euros.

The countryfs second-biggest earner was another Supercell luminary, creative director Mikko Kodisoja, who pocketed 40,851,040 euros for the year. Another Supercell millionaire, John Nicholas Derome came in third with earnings of 13,450,909 euros. Like other Supercell employees, all three are also part owners of the thriving game studio.

Lead programmer Visa Forsten took home 13,429,174 euros, product lead Lassi Leppinen pocketed 12,646,518 euros, game designer Lasse Louhento earned 11,111,696 and CFO Janne Snellman followed up with 5,678,652 euros.

Representatives of traditional sectors rounded out the bottom of the top ten earners. Metsä Group director general Kari Jordan came in eighth on the list with a taxable annual salary of 5,678,652 euros.

Meanwhile Kari Stadigh, CEO of the Sampo financial groupfs annual pay packet was 5,440,778 and Henrik Ehrnrooth, chief executive of the lift and escalator firm Kone was paid 5,062,724 euros for the year.

Finnish pension funds at all-time high of 200 billion euros
Helsinki, October 29 (Nokia)
Finnish pension funds have reached a record high of 200 billion euros, largely due to profitable investments in the stock market. However, spending on earnings-related pensions for the municipal and state sector is set to outpace contributions for the first time this year.

Finnish pension funds now stand at its highest level to date – around 200 billion euros, according to the organisation representing earnings-based pension fund companies.

"Some information is still missing, but it looks like we will reach around 200 billion euros," said Tela analyst Peter Halonen.

The return on pension fund investments is becoming increasingly important for financing pension payments, he added. He noted that the pension contributions paid in by employers and employees is not enough to pay future old age benefits.

Back in 2015, just under one billion euros representing pension funds and profits from fund investments was used to pay out old age pensions. Last year the sum was 1.2 billion euros and this year the amount is expected to rise even further.

"Itfs impossible to estimate precisely how much we will use from the funds and their returns but the amount is expected to increase," Halonen commented.

The growing outlay in annual pension payments is due to an increase in Finnish citizens claiming pensions as the population continues to age. On the other hand, the number of working age people paying into the system is decreasing.

In addition to private pensions companies, Keva, the organisation responsible for managing pensions for municipal and state employees, will for the first time be forced to dig into its profits to pay out pensions.

"The situation is historic for Keva. For the first time, pensions to be paid out will be slightly larger than pensions contributions paid in. But we are well prepared for this," said Keva CEO Timo Kietäväinen.

Nokia and Sendai join to improve safety and security of residents, bolster local businesses
Helsinki, October 18 (Nokia)
Nokia and the City of Sendai have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to deliver technology solutions for local businesses as they recover from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, while contributing to improvements in the quality of life for citizens. The agreement covers public safety management, including disaster recovery, activities to improve the safety and security of local citizens, and the testing and development of Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and 5G applications within the city.

The memorandum will establish Nokia as a long-term strategic partner to the city, which continues to recover from the major natural disasters of 2011. The two parties plan to stage a joint disaster exercise in 2018, and will collaborate further on public safety innovation and development. Nokia will also offer its Nokia Innovation Platform and other innovation programs to universities and startups in Sendai to help the city to establish a local ecosystem and support business opportunities outside of Japan. Finally, Nokia and Sendai will co-establish a test bed for MEC and 5G applications to accelerate related use cases.

The first joint activity will be to show public safety solutions such as the Nokia Ultra Compact Network, Nokia Group Communications push-to-talk and push-to-video application with ruggedized devices, as well as a drone at the International Disaster and Risk Conference (IDRC) 2017 to be hosted in Sendai on 25-27 November.

The partnership between Nokia and the City of Sendai builds on the strong ties the city has with Finland through working on many healthcare projects since 2003; Sendai also has cooperated with the Finnish city of Oulu since 2005 on projects including gaming.

Viking Line orders new ship from China for 100M euros less than local shipyard
Helsinki, October 18 (YLE)
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.

Finland plans personal ID number overhaul, may add biometrics
Helsinki, October 9 (YLE)
Finland is exploring ways to renew the country's personal identification number system. The head of the government working group on the issue says biometrics - like fingerprints - could be incorporated into the new ID scheme.

The Finnish government has set up a working group to assess how the country should update its personal ID number system. The group will also examine whether all current and active ID numbers of millions of residents would be replaced with new ones.

Korpisaari, who is a communications law professor at the University of Helsinki and chair of the working group, says that Finland hasn't quite run out of ID numbers just yet - but because of the way the current system is set up - they could run out if a very large number of people would need to be registered on the exact same day.

According to the current system, introduced in 1964, the first six digits indicate the ID-holder's date of birth and the three-number series that appears after the birth date identify the ID-holder's gender. Odd numbers are men, even numbers are women.

Korpisaari says that having the gender identification hard-wired into the ID number has proven problematic in light of Finland's expanding transgender community.

US icebreaker investment could bring 2 bn windfall to Finland
Helsinki, October 8 (YLE)
The US is planning to acquire several new icebreakers for its Arctic fleet. Although rules prevent it from importing the ships directly, the Finns are counting on US manufacturers needing plenty of expert consultation and parts.

As its Polar-class icebreakers reach the end of their effective lifetimes, the United States is looking to quickly build a new fleet of heavy icebreakers. The state of Finland and over a dozen private Finnish companies are hoping the investment will be profitable for them as well, as suppliers and designers. A campaign is underway to convince the Americans to employ their services.

The US plan at present is to build three heavy and three medium polar icebreakers, with more built at a future date. The total cost of the first phase of the investment is estimated to rise to 4 billion euros.

The US has a law that prohibits the Coast Guard and Navy from buying certain vessels from foreign countries. The plan is to build each of the new high-tech ships at a single port somewhere in the United States, but it is also clear that the US will need help in this process.

Another law says that 51 percent of the vessel's parts must be made domestically, leaving 49 percent of the equipment, motors and design work free to be imported.

"If Finland were to win the entire share, it would be a deal worth two billion euros," says Ulla Lainio, an expert at Finland's export trade promoter Finpro, who is responsible for the organisation's maritime and offshore growth programmes.

Joy, dignity and karaoke to ring in Finland's 100th Independence Day
Helsinki, September 25 (YLE)
Finland's government has announced its plans for events to celebrate the country's 100th Independence Day on December 6th this year. Official descriptions of the plans indicate that they will be filled with joy, dignity — and karaoke.

Finland's centenary celebrations and campaigns have gone on all year, but they are set to culminate around the country's hundredth Independence Day on December 6th.

The government published detailed plans of the festivities on Wednesday, with events planned featuring flag-waving, war memorials, ice hockey and even karaoke.

"This year there's a good reason to celebrate our Independence Day over several days," general secretary Pekka Timonen says in the campaign's release. "The official celebrations start on Independence Day Eve, December 5th. Moments that will be built together will bring new, great tones together with strong Independence Day traditions."

Aktia Bank shutting 10 branches, cutting 100 jobs
Helsinki, September 25 (YLE)
Finnish bank Aktia has announced that it is cutting staff by 100 people and shutting 10 of its branches around the country. The bank said employer-employee negotiations about the restructuring plans wrapped up on Monday.

Aktia said that after codetermination talks at Aktia Bank and Aktia Life Insurance, 260 positions were eliminated while 160 new posts were created, resulting in 100 employees losing their jobs.

The bank said it is merging office branches at Espoo centre, Espoonlahti, east Helsinki, Kannelmäki, Bromarv, Tenala, Kerava, Solf, Oravais and Nykarleby with nearby branches.

The changes at Aktia will be carried out in stages, the bank said, and the affected branch offices would close during this year.

The bank said 10 branches would serve as competence centres in the future: Karjaa, Espoo Tapiola, Helsinki Kolme Seppää, Vantaa Tikkurila, Porvoo, Turku, Tampere, Pietarsaari, Vaasa Torikonttori and Oulu.

The bank also announced that it is rebranding their branches as customer service units.

Think tank, finance ministry upgrade Finland's 2017 economic growth forecast to 3%
Helsinki, September 19 (YLE)
The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy ETLA says Finland's GDP will grow by 2.9 percent this year, followed by more two percent growth in 2018. The Ministry of Finance proposed the same figure, 2.9 percent growth in 2017, in its own economic survey released later that same day.

ETLA predicted three percent growth this year in the Finnish economy on Tuesday, in one of the most positive economic forecasts for the near future to be released. A few hours later, the Finance Ministry followed suit, predicting 2.9 percent growth in 2017 and 2.1 percent growth in 2018. Still this summer, the ministry's estimate was 2.4 percent growth for the current year and 1.6 percent for next year.

The economic research institute bases its prognosis on several factors. Preliminary data from the national accounts show that Finlandfs GDP has grown by more than three percent in the first half of the year, compared to last yearfs figures, while the volume of total exports increased by nearly 10 percent.

Private consumption increased by two percent, and there was also low inflation, slight improvement in employment figures and strong consumer confidence.

The economic body predicts a further two percent rate of growth in 2018, falling to 1.8 in 2019. This latest ETLA prognosis for 2.9 percent growth in 2017 is a drastic improvement on its spring forecast of 1.7 percent improvement.

ETLA continues its sunny assessment of the future by saying that investment will continue to increase in Finland by 6.6 percent, largely due to several projects that are substantial in size. It also forecasts that unemployment will fall to 8.5 percent in 2017, decreasing by 0.3-0.4 percentage points a year until it reaches a rate of 7.2 in 2021.

Nordea moves headquarters to Helsinki
Helsinki, September 6 (YLE)
The Nordic region's biggest financial group, Nordea, announced on Wednesday evening that it will move its headquarters from Stockholm to Helsinki. The decision made by the board of directors in Copenhagen ends months of speculation.

The group says that the move will not affect operations in its four Nordic home markets or in day-to-day functions from customers' perspective. It adds that "only a limited number of employees" will be affected.

The move will be carried out by merging the Swedish-based Nordea Bank AB into a new Finnish subsidiary. This is expected to take place in the second half of 2018, subject to approval from regulators and shareholders.

Nordea Bank suggested that the main deciding factor was Finland's membership in the European Union's banking union, which was set up in 2012 after the eurozone crisis. Finland is so far the only Nordic country that has signed on to the agreement. This summer Sweden and Denmark indicated that they would consider joining the union.

"The level playing field and predictable regulatory environment offered by the banking union are, we believe, in the best interest of Nordeafs customers, shareholders and employees," said Finnish board chairman Björn Wahlroos in a statement.

Nordea CEO Casper von Koskull – also a Finn – pledged that the company "will keep on working with the Nordic operating model in the same way as we do today" and that it remains "relentlessly committed to all of our four home markets".

The company was originally formed in 1995 through the merger of Finland's Merita Bank with Nordbanken in Sweden and two others in Norway and Denmark.

When Donald met Sauli
Helsinki, August 29 (YLE)
Sauli Niinistö's trip to meet Donald Trump dominates the media on Tuesday morning, with Finnish journalists working feverishly through the night to cover Niinistö's time at the White House. The consensus was broadly that the Finnish president did very well indeed, holding his own in discussions with his US counterpart.

Turun Sanomat took a look at the content of their discussions, noting that Niinistö brought up climate change and particularly the issue of black carbon in the Arctic. In the press conference it appeared that trump had said the US would halve emissions of black carbon but, noted TS, he did not at any point use the words 'climate change'.

Finnish media were also somewhat perplexed by the 45th president of the USA declaring that Finland was buying F18 fighter jets from Boeing. This has been a protracted, difficult procurement process, and there is no certainty at all that Finland will actually order the planes from Boeing. That claim was quickly denied by Niinistö via Trump's preferred medium, Twitter: "The news about purchasing f-18 fighter jets is fake".

Twitter also went wild over the memorable moment when Trump confused two female Finnish journalists: Yle's Paula Vilén and the Finnish news agency STT's Maria Annala.

All in all, Finns were pleased and proud of their president even if, as Aamulehti complained, American journalists weren't interested in Finland as they were more focused on pressing news topics (like the flooding in Texas and the pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio).

Ilta-Sanomat reported Foreign policy expert Mika Aaltola's comment that many Americans would probably be glad to swap their head of state with Finland--a claim with some foundation, if reaction on social media is anything to go by.

Iltalehti decribed the visit as a 'great success', while Ilta-Sanomat's comment piece said Niinistö did good--but Trump's 'scary side' must have also brought a bit of a cold sweat at times.

Immigration boosts Finnish population to 5.5 million
Helsinki, August 24 (YLE)
The population of Finland has risen to just over 5.5 million, according to advance data from Statistics Finland. However data crunchers attributed the population growth to immigration, since there were 2,000-odd more deaths than births in the first seven months of the year.

According to preliminary data from Statistics Finland, the population grew by roughly 5,400 to reach just over 5.5 million.

The state agency noted however, that there were around 2,000 more deaths than births between January and the end of July and that 29,558 babies were born during this time – 1,691 less than the same period last year.

Parsing the numbers, the number crunchers said that Finland's population growth was due largely to immigration, with a little over 15,000 people taking up residence in the country since the beginning of the year.

The number of people who left Finland to settle elsewhere was 7,608. The number of Finnish citizens who returned home was 4,652, while close to 5,000 Finns relocated abroad. Finns accounted for one-third of immigrants, while they represented two-thirds of the group who left the country.

Is your pension secure? Nobel laureate says no, Finnish experts say yes
Helsinki, August 19 (YLE)
Nobel Laureate Bengt Holmström caused a stir last week when he said Finland's pension funds might not be able to pay the pensions to which they're committed. According to a new assessment from the Finnish Centre for Pensions, however, there's little to worry about.

Economist Bengt Holmström's stature has grown since he won a Nobel Prize in 2016, so when he said last week that Finland's pension system was based on overly optimistic assumptions about the return on investment, there was some concern. Holmström is now Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he has been since 1994.

At a centenary seminar organised by the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, he suggested that Finland should change the law now to allow occupational pensions to be reduced. Holmström said that while the baby boomer generation would receive their pensions, younger generations might find the system unable to pay what it promises when they retire.

At present the pension promise of a certain level of income-related pension is regarded as guaranteed by the constitution, so no government is able to reduce the pensions paid out.

Optimistic expectations
The pension funds currently assume a return of 3.5 percent each year on their 181 billion euros in investments, which Holmström views as overly optimistic.

In his view, as the population ages and fewer workers have to pay for the pensions of more retirees, the system will start to buckle and pension contributions will rise—perhaps forcing many of them to leave the country and work elsewhere.

Heikki Tikanmäki of the Finnish Centre for Pensions does not share Holmström's concern. He says that projections from the centre and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra show that there's little to worry about.

The projections look at scenarios where economic growth grinds to a halt, and return on investments is around half a percentage point lower than currently expected. That situation would cause an increase in the so-called 'sustainability gap' by 3-3.5 billion euros, bringing the government's annual budget deficit to 10 billion euros.

The 'sustainability gap' is the sum by which government income is projected to trail outgoings as baby boomers retire, start receiving pensions and require more health and social care as they age.

PTT: Housing costs will rise for next 3 years
Helsinki, August 16 (YLE)
Housing expenses will account for a growing part of monthly income in future, according to new economic research from the Finnish think tank Pellervo Economic Research (PTT). Their study of 21 cities in Finland forecasts that housing costs will go up by an average of 2.5 percent over each of the next three years.

The increase will be most pronounced for people who own their flats instead of renting, as they will have to contend with higher maintenance and repair costs, PTT says.

Expenses are predicted to go up by 2.9 percent on average for owner-occupied apartments, 2.5 percent for rental occupants and 2.1 percent for owners of single-family detached homes.

Capital city dwellers hardest pressed
The PTT economic think tank, founded by agrarian interest groups in 1979, says that Finnish house owners will not be as sharply affected by the trend, due to the prevailing low interest rates and sluggish house price development across the entire country. Increases in electricity and oil prices are also predicted, however, which would strain homeowners' finances.

Research shows that it is clearly more expensive to live in the capital city vicinity, where prices are surging the most. Whereas the average cost of housing as a percentage of income in Finland now stands at 27 percent, a single-occupant residence in Helsinki accounts for 37 percent of a resident's average take-home salary.

Competitiveness boost
Helsinki, August 16 (YLE)
Business daily Kauppalehti has happy news for the government: Finland's unit labour costs are dropping steeply. That is thanks in large part to Finland's competitiveness pact (Finnish acronym: Kiky), which cut pay and extended working hours for most employees in the Finnish economy.

It was a tough sell, with Finland's tripartite wage bargaining system of unions, employers and government tested almost to breaking point. Now the results are in and, if the goal is to narrow the gap between Finland and similar EU countries in labour costs, the pact has worked.

KL reports that German unit labour costs are forecast to rise by 1.8 percent between 2016 and 2018, while in Finland they will drop by 0.3 percent. The government hopes that will make Finnish exports cheaper and help boost the economy.

KL does remind readers, however, that competitiveness is to some extent in the eye of the beholder. Unions and some economists criticised the pact as it focused on labour costs rather than productivity or management and sales competence which are--according to professor Pertti Haaparanta at least--particularly weak in Finland.

Time outside primes brains for learning
Helsinki, August 15 (YLE)
Aamulehti out of Tampere starts this Tuesday with news of a possible new explanation for Finnish school success.

Neuroscientists have discovered that a quick break with exercise activates the brain for 45 minutes of optimal learning, the traditional length of a class in Finland, indicating that the Finnish tradition of a short recess in the fresh air in between classes may be one reason why Finnish children have demonstrated high levels of aptitude on international tests.

The short break was found to have the most benefit for school children that did not move very much as a rule, and who struggled with learning difficulties, AL reports.

Teacher Hannele Rintatalo from the Isokyrö primary school has learned that if her small pupils get too restless during class, it is time to head outside.

"A few rounds of 'Simon Says' or something like it, and they are ready to learn again. If kids can move around a bit in between classes, they are able to concentrate better during instruction," she says.

Helsinki University's cognitive science professor Minna Huotilainen says she believes that the short breaks between classes are one reason Finnish schools have performed so well in the past.

"Finland's school breaks are now the subject of international attention. Many countries admire our ability to get outside no matter what the weather. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a factor in the Finnish school system's learning outcome successes," she says.

First exhibition opens at Tampere's new Moomin Museum
Helsinki, August 9 (YLE)
The first temporary exhibition at the new Moomin museum in Tampere opened on Wednesday August 9, presenting classic pieces by Moominvalley creator Tove Jansson. The opening coincides with an inaugural opening concert at Tampere Hall - and Jansson's birthday.

Stepping into the brand new Moomin museum is like stepping into a completely different universe, complete with the soft, dreamlike atmosphere of Moominvalley.

A two-metre tall recreation of the blue Moominhouse stands proud in the centre of the exhibition. The Tampere Hall is the proud host for the worldfs first and only Moomin museum, which opened in June.

The museum displays nearly 400 original Moomin pieces by the creator of the beloved hippo-like creatures, Tove Jansson. The exhibit also shows around 30 three dimensional pieces by her partner, graphic designer Tuulikki Pietilä.

The exhibition boasts classic pieces by Jansson, and rare gems on display in public for the first time. Each work of art has gone through hours of painstaking restoration.

Constructing the museum cost 3.6 million euros, and is expected to attract over 200,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

Moomin fans have embraced their new pilgrimage site. Yoko Inaba and Fumika Nonaka from Japan were up early and waiting outside the museum a few hours before opening time. The duo was in Finland on a week-long Moomin tour.

Can Finland's cool weather be a future tourist draw?
Helsinki, August 6 (YLE)
Finland's residents may not think much of the country's weather, but several event organisers and tourism advocates are starting to use the cool temperatures and stark changes of the season as selling points.

"Nobody in their right mind would come to Helsinki in November. Except you. You badass. Welcome." Paavo Virkkunen, head of Finpro's tourism promoter Visit Finland says the banner at last November's Slush start-up event in Helsinki was a stroke of genius.

Slush CEO Marianne Vikkula says the text was on the event's website for ages, but a random photo of the banner once the event was underway set a viral snowball of free PR in motion. She says tweets and posts about the banner's slogan reached 270 million people in just two weeks, if she calculates the number of news agencies that covered it and the 20 million or so who reacted to it directly on social media.

"That's what Slush is all about, being honest about who we are. It is dark and wet in Finland in November, and we can be proud of it," she says.

Helsinki set to become world's busiest sea passenger port
Helsinki, August 3 (YLE)
Port of Helsinki CEO Kimmo Mäki says that once the year's data is in, Helsinki may reach top of the list of the busiest passenger traffic ports in the world. Largely due to traffic to and from Estonia, ships in Helsinki's harbours serve some 12 million passengers a year. Helsinki is currently tied with Dover, England as the busiest passenger ports in the world.

The Port of Helsinki may be ranked the busiest passenger port in the world as soon as this or next year, says the Port of Helsinki's CEO Kimmo Mäki.

At the moment Helsinki is "essentially completely tied" with the current list-topper, Dover in the south of England, with some 12 million passengers coming through the capital city's harbours. Mäki says his data is from early this year, and that end-of-year results will reveal more.

In a May release, the Port of Helsinki announced it would be working to become the largest passenger port in Europe.

The Port of Helsinki is a company owned by the City of Helsinki. Its seaports include South Harbour, West Harbour and Katajanokka Harbour.

2.4 million people travel to and from Stockholm each year, while nearly 9 million passengers make the trip between Helsinki and Tallinn annually.

Dover, Stockholm, Tallinn and Calais are aslo among the world's busiest ports.

Finnair seeks 100+ new pilots - no experience necessary
Helsinki, August 2 (YLE)
Finnair has begun recruiting more than 100 new pilots. The national carrier is looking for both experienced pilots and people with no aviation experience.

Beginners selected in the process will be invited to enrol in a two-year course at the Finnish Aviation Academy in Pori or Finnair's 18-month Multi-Pilot License training programme in Tampere carried out with Patria Pilot Training, part of a state-owned defence contractor.

For experienced pilots, the airline will arrange co-pilot training and specific training in the types of aircraft in its fleet, now mostly Airbus jets along with a few smaller Embraer and ATR planes. Some may be able to begin working as co-pilots next year.

The recruitment comes as Finnair enjoys exceptional growth, driven by its Asian routes. It posted record profits in the second quarter, rising to 38 million euros compared to three million in the same period of last year. Turnover leapt by 11 percent to 633 million euros.

In May the flag carrier announced it was hiring 350 new flight attendants and stewards. Cabin crew training begins in September.

Posti stops regular mail deliveries on Tuesdays
Helsinki, July 25 (YLE)
Finland's national postal service Posti has announced that it has stopped delivering letters, adverts and magazines on Tuesdays - however, a few select deliveries will continue on Tuesdays. The changes come about a month after Finnish lawmakers voted to approve reforms to the Postal Act.

The company says it will discontinue Tuesday deliveries of letters, advertisements and magazines but will continue deliveries of some newspapers, packages, express mail and laboratory shipments on Tuesdays.

Posti said that Tuesdays are commonly the day of the week with the least amount of regular mail and said it was reducing deliveries in order to avoid rising distribution costs.

Newspapers still delivered on Tuesdays
Early Tuesday morning newspaper deliveries will also continue, the company said. Letters and packages that require signatures can still be picked up at Posti locations on Tuesdays as usual.

Turkka Kuusisto, Posti's Senior Vice President of Postal Services, says that distribution costs are particularly important to customers who sent large amounts of mail and packages.

"With this renewal, we can better focus our resources on days when there is more mail to deliver," Kuusisto says.

The company says that the changes are in line with the Postal Act. Last month Finnish lawmakers approved reforms to the Postal Act which allows for mail to be delivered only three days per week.

Finnish consumers discover Chinese online retailers
Helsinki, July 23 (YLE)
Finnish Customs and postal service providers were inundated with 15 million letters and packages from online Chinese retailers last year, a market that is growing by 50 percent each year.

Chinese online retailers like Wish, DX, Alibaba, LightInTheBox and AliExpress are gaining an increasing consumer base in Finland. Products originating from China have also found their way onto eBay.

Postal carrier Posti's logistics and supply chain director Kaj Kulp says volumes coming into Finland from China keep increasing, accounting for a annual growth rate of approximately 50 percent in the last two years.

"There are no signs of it slowing down, either. It just keeps on growing," he says.

Ellinor Råtts from the western coastal city of Vaasa says she orders a large variety of products from China: from makeup and clothing to mobile phone parts and home decorations. She says that not all of her purchases have been a success, however.

"You need to look carefully at the measurements under the photo if you order clothes because they are usually much smaller," she says.

Finnish power firm TVO wins second ruling in dispute with French nuclear supplier Areva
Helsinki, July 20 (YLE)
The Finnish power company TVO is celebrating a second intermediate decision in its favour from the International Chamber of Commerce in a long-running dispute with nuclear reactor contractor Areva. The companies have been locked in years-long litigation over cost overruns and delays in the delivery of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor in southwest Finland.

Finnish power company TVO said in a release Thursday that it come out on top in a partial decision by the International Chamber of Commerce in a contentious dispute with the French nuclear reactor supplier Areva.

The companies have been locked in years of litigation over cost overruns and delays in construction of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor in southwest Finland.

TVO said that the intermediate decision relates to the preparation, delivery, review and approval of project design and licensing documentation. The power consortium said that the decision for the most part corresponded to demands that it had posed in the dispute with the building consortium, Areva-Siemens.

Final decision still pending
The intermediate decision does not address the billion-euro claims tabled by both sides over the delay in the project. TVO has demanded some 2.6 billion euros to compensate for costs incurred by the delay. For its part, the French-German Areva-Siemens consortium wants TVO to fork out 3.5 billion euros representing outstanding payments and related profits.

Last November a previous interim ruling in the fractious dispute also went in favour of TVO. Another intermediate decision is expected before the Chamber hands down a final judgment on compensation for either side.

Areva-Siemens was supposed to hand over the number 3 reactor at the Olkiluoto nuclear site in 2009, but the latest forecasts indicate that it will not be production-ready before the end of 2018.

Baffled by Brexit
Helsinki, July 18 (FYLE)
Business daily Kauppalehti leads with an editorial on the bizarre Brexit talks that lasted less than an hour on Monday. It's a huge issue for commerce across the continent, including in Finland, and KL is concerned that there's a lack of clarity on what one side wants.

"The reason for the slow start to negotiations was Britain's parliamentary election in June," reads the article. "In the elections Prime Minister Theresa May sought a stronger mandate, but after catastrophic losses it is now weaker than before. That inevitably will have an effect on the negotiations. Brexit talks are affected by the Brits' unclear stand on key issues, and the government's internal disagreements."

Kauppalehti's view, which chimes with that of much of the political class in Finland, is that the EU has no choice but to take a firm stand in Brexit negotiations.

Finnair breaks June passenger record
Helsinki, July 10 (YLE)
Finnair carried more passengers in June 2017 than in any previous June in the company's history. The airline cites increased traffic to and from Asia as the main reason for its historic 1.1 million passengers during the month.

Some 1.1 million people flew on Finnair services in June, 2017 – a record for the national carrier. The increase from June last year stands at 9.1 percent.

In June, Finnair's overall capacity increased by 9.9 percent year-on-year, and traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometres grew by 13.4 percent. The latter metric is found by multiplying the number of passengers carried by the distance travelled.

Finnair capacity in Asia increased by 11.3 percent in June, and traffic grew by 17.4 percent. Flights to Hong Kong and Tokyo were added since last year, with Finnair now the biggest European airline in Japan in terms of flight frequency.

Domestic capacity decreased by 3.4 percent, which the company says is due to the shuttering of Oulu airport for a week of repairs in late June.

"Unit revenue rose in the second quarter largely on the back of a broad improvement in the passenger load factor, but yields also improved on certain routes. Performance was particularly strong compared to last year in Finnairfs core trafic between Europe and Asia. Ancillary sales and cargo also made a clearly positive contribution", says Finnair CFO Pekka Vähähyyppä in the company's release.

Japanese PM Abe lauds Santa Claus and Moomins on Finland trip
Helsinki, July 10 (YLE)
Finland's and Japan's leaders met in Helsinki on Monday, where they discussed shared values on improving women's rights, trade relations, the North Korean threat—along with Santa Claus and the Moomins. The visit was Shinzo Abe's first to a Nordic country as Japan's Prime Minister.

Niinistö mentioned the two countries' staunch support of the UN's HeForShe campaign, trade, investments and bilateral relations. EU-Japan relations are stronger than before, according to Niinistö, as shown by the recently signed trade agreement.

At a press conference Abe congratulated Finland on its centennial anniversary of independence, before moving on to warn of the threat from North Korea.

Free trade
"The international community has been challenged by North Korea's missile tests and development of new missiles, as well as events in the east and south China Seas," said Abe. "They aim to destabilise the international order."

Abe also emphasised his keenness to promote free trade, and interest in the development of the Arctic, and his happiness that Finland has sought to mark itself out as Japan's gateway to the west.

According to figures from the Customs board, Japan accounts for around two percent of Finnish exports.

Among other things, Abe said his countrymen feel close to Finns because of a shared love of Moomins and Santa Claus.

Rally diplomacy
At a lunch meeting, Niinistö went on to give a speech published on the president's official website, in which he used rally driving as an example of co-operation between Finland and Japan.

"Tommi Mäkinen, who was the World Rally Champion four times, designed and built the racing car for the Toyota Gazoo Racing stable, which Toyota has used to return to the top of the event," said Niinistö. "He did this, alongside his team, here in Finland. In addition, just a few weeks ago the Toyota Group made a major investment in the development of autonomous vehicles in Finland."

The presidential spouses, Jenni Haukio and Akie Abe, visited a cafe in the Kallio district on Monday.

The last time a Japanese Prime Minister visited Finland was Junichiro Koizumi in 2006, while Emperor Akihito made a state visit to Finland in 2000.

Market Expansion Opportunities for Finnish Companies on the Japanese Market
Helsinki, July 6 (Foreign Ministry)
The EU and Japan reached political consensus on a trade agreement on 6 July 2017. They will continue negotiations on, for example matters related to investments. For the European Union, the agreement is a major achievement because Japan is one of the worldfs biggest consumer markets and the EUfs second biggest trading partner in Asia after China.

The deal between the EU and Japan will also facilitate Finnish companiesf export to Japan, because it will lower tariffs on products and remove unnecessary barriers to trade.

hThe future agreement is very welcome because it will remove tariffs on for instance forestry products and improve the access of Finnish food exports to the Japanese markets,h says Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen.

In the negotiations, attention has been paid to ways of reducing various barriers to trade.

gJapan has already simplified licence and permit procedures related to health technology products, which is a good message to Finnish technology companies,h Mykkänen notes.

Companies will be able to take advantage of the agreement after it has been approved both in the EU and Japan.

For Finland, Japan is the biggest trading partner in Asia after China. Last year, the value of goods exports from Finland to Japan was over EUR one billion while the value of Japanese goods imports totalled EUR 673 million. In 2015, services exports to Japan amounted to about EUR 421 million and imports from Japan to EUR 77 million.

Hotel to open in Helsinki's main railway station
Helsinki, July 5 (Yle)
Next year the national rail company will move its headquarters into a former Yle building in Pasila, making way for its former office downtown to become a hotel.

State Railways VR is selling its main office at Helsinki's Central Railway Station to the real estate investment firm Exilion. Scandic Hotels plans to convert the space into a hotel, scheduled to open in 2020.

The station building itself will remain in VR's ownership. The national train company said in 2014 that it would move its headquarters out of the station due to its cramped space and antiquated infrastructure.

The following year, the VR Group announced that the new site of its HQ would be the Iso Paja ("Big Workshop") on the campus of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) in the West Pasila neighbourhood. The broadcaster moved out of its flagship building, built in 1993, to save costs.

It now looks as if VR's main office will move into the building in the spring of 2018.

The iconic Central Railway Station, designed by renowned architect Eliel Saarinen, was inaugurated in 1919. However the part now housing VR's head office was completed in 1909.

Finance Ministry bullish on economy, doubles 2017 growth forecast
Helsinki, June 21 (Yle)
Finland's Finance Ministry has doubled its economic forecast for this year to 2.4 percent. During the spring, ministry economists projected that the economy would grow by a relatively modest 1.2 percent.

Published on Wednesday, the forecast noted that an upswing in economic activity that set in at the beginning of the year was responsible for the improvement in the full-year growth projections.

According to the ministry however, growth will slow down after this year, with the increase economic activity expected to come in at about 1.5 percent in 2018 and 2019.

The conditions for an expansion of exports are said to be improving, buoyed by global demand for exports and enhanced cost-competitiveness in the business sector.

"After years of negative contribution, foreign trade will begin boosting GDP growth," the ministry said in a release.

However the ministry warned that in spite of the positive impact on public revenues and reduced spending on unemployment, any improvement in public finances will still labour under the burden of an ageing population, "which automatically increases public spending." "The general government deficit will therefore fall only sluggishly over the next few years," the ministry noted.

Toyota makes an investment into Finland
Helsinki, June 19 (Good News from Finland)
Finnish MaaS Global, the developer of the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), has raised over 10 million euros in a recent funding round.

The round was led by Toyota Financial Services of Japan and its insurance partner Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Company. The investment matches both companies' aim to make mobility services a part of their business as interest in car ownership declines in big cities.

"We are very pleased to partner with MaaS Global and work together on the development of multi-modal mobility solutions," says Riki Inuzuka, CEO of Toyota Financial Services. "The vision and business model of MaaS Global marries with Toyota's strategic objective to serve the mobility needs of our current and future customers."

With the investment, MaaS Global's Whim app will scale its services to international MaaS markets. The app was recently launched in Helsinki, and this year it will also go live in the West Midlands in the UK and in the Amsterdam area in the Netherlands. In the next five years, the company intends to expand its services to all forms of transport worldwide.

"Cooperation with one of the best-known brands in the world is extremely positive news for us," notes Sampo Hietanen, founder and CEO of MaaS Global. "Toyota's global network, high-quality R&D and genuinely customer-oriented culture will give our company a strong lead as it grows towards being the largest player in its sector."

MaaS Global, being the world's first mobility operator, was established in April 2015. The Whim app enables users to plan journeys and purchase various mobility services through a single service.

World's first and only Moomin museum opens in Tampere
Helsinki, June 18 (Yle)
The exhibition boasts classic pieces by Moomin creator Tove Jansson, and rare gems on display for the first time.

Stepping into the brand new Moomin museum is like stepping into a completely different universe, complete with the soft, dreamlike atmosphere of Moominvalley.

A two-metre tall recreation of the blue Moominhouse stands proud in the centre of the exhibition. The Tampere Hall is the proud host for the world's first and only Moomin museum, which celebrated it's opening this weekend.

The museum displays nearly 400 original Moomin pieces by the creator of the beloved hippopotamuses, Tove Jansson. The exhibit also shows around 30 three dimensional pieces by her partner, graphic designer Tuulikki Pietilä.

The exhibition boasts classic pieces by Jansson, and rare gems on display in public for the first time. Each work of art has gone through hours of painstaking restoration.

Constructing the museum cost 3.6 million euros, and is expected to attract over 200,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

Norway dethrones Finland in digitalisation ranking
Helsinki, June 15 (Yle)
Norway has overtaken Finland at the top of the latest ranking of different societies' use of digital technologies, according to a Finnish study. Denmark placed third, followed by Sweden, the Netherlands and the United States.

Finland was toppled from the peak of a digitalisation index compiled by the Transport and Communications Ministry, the innovation funding agency Tekes, the technology industry lobby group Teknologiateollisuus and the e-commerce association Verkkoteollisuus.

Like in a previous survey in 2016, Nordic countries commanded the top of the table. This year, Denmark was ranked third after Norway and Finland, while Sweden was fourth. The Netherlands and the United States were fifth and sixth respectively.

The digitalisation barometer ranks 22 developed countries in terms of adoption and usage of digital technologies and looks at 36 factors. The 2017 theme focused especially on the uptake and deployment of artificial intelligence or AI. The barometer found that a large segment of Europe appears to be lagging behind in terms of AI development.

The ranking considered digitalisation at three levels: the prerequisites for digitalisation, the degree of usage and its impact. These areas were in turn assessed via three sectors: the corporate, civic and public sector.

Finland has long been a consistent achiever in terms of digitalisation; Finland placed third in requirements and usage of digitalisation, while its score for the impact of digitalisation put it in second place.

However there was more variation in how different sectors embraced digitalisation. Ranked based on corporate use of digitalisation, Finland was first, while in civic participation it was ranked fourth and second for public sector involvement.

New Hyperloop plans could include Helsinki-Tallinn connection
Helsinki, June 7 (Yle)
Elon Musk's Hyperloop project is seeking new routes for its ultra-high-speed transport system through a competitive bid, and a route between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia is one of several suggestions from the futuristic transportation group.

Hyperloop One, the group behind the funding and construction of the world's first commercial reduced-pressure transport system, has announced that it will begin surveying nine new European locations for possible Hyperloop sites.

Among the nine routes shortlisted in Amsterdam on Wednesday is a direct 90-kilometre link between Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn.

A Hyperloop spokesperson said that, once constructed, their proposed routes would connect more than 75 million people in 44 cities across 5,000 kilometres.

Other Finnish projects still moving forward
Hyperloop has already included Finland in its ambitions, with a proposed test route between Salo and Turku, in southwest Finland - as well as a Helsinki-Turku-Stockholm connection.

Salo city architect Jarmo Heimo says the city is among the five regions where Hyperloop planning has progressed the most.

"The prize that awaits the winner of this competition is the same pre-planning assistance for their project - which we already carried out on the Stockholm-Helsinki route," Heimo explains.

Peter Nisula, an expert in the Salo Hyperloop project says that the new plans will have no impact on work which has already begun elsewhere.

"These tracks will be built across Europe and the end result will be a vast network," Nisula says.

Finnish shipyards land orders for 'green' cruise ships
Helsinki, May 31 (Yle)
Japan's biggest cruise-ship operator has tapped the Helsinki Shipyard to build a ship billed as the world's greenest cruise liner. Earlier in May, Turku shipyard landed a deal to build two cruise ships that are similarly described as green cruise vessels.

The Japanese company Peace Boat has signed a letter of intent with the Arctech Helsinki Shipyard to build a vessel dubbed the Ecoship.

The final contract is to be signed in the near future, with delivery time pencilled in for the spring of 2020. The cruise liner is to feature 750 cabins with space for 2,000 passengers.

Arctech Helsinki is fully owned by the Russian state firm United Shipbuilding Corporation, which was placed on the US sanctions list imposed after Moscow's intervention in Ukraine. Neither company has been blacklisted by the EU.

The vessel is to sport cutting-edge sustainable technology including 10 masts to harness wind energy for propulsion, solar panel-covered sails and a 6,000-square-metre solar farm, a closed-loop water system to reuse, purify and re-purpose water and waste heat recovery systems intended to reclaim 80 percent of the energy normally lost in the air and water. Power will be stored in new-generation batteries and hot and ice storage tanks.

Along with wind-powered electric propulsion, the ship will also rely on traditional diesel engines.

A shipboard garden will be cultivated with organic waste and rainwater. The vessel's hull is to be covered with a non-toxic, anti-fouling hull coating that mimics fish skin.

Consumer confidence in Finland hits new record high
Helsinki, May 29 (Yle)
Consumer confidence in the country in May broke an all-time high, according to fresh figures from Statistic Finland. The figure is the highest it's been since 1995. The statistics talliers attributed the boost to consumers thinking that unemployment is on the way down, and improved possibilities for households to put away money.

The consumer confidence indicator (CCI) in May reached a record level of 24.1, compared to 21.5 a month ago, according to Statistics Finland.

Consumer confidence in May was strongest in the capital region and in northern Finland. Salaried workers were most optimistic, while pensioners and the unemployed had the gloomiest expectations about the economy, according to Statistics Finland.

However, the agency said, consumer views about their own finances weakened slightly and their expectations about the Finnish economy remained virtually unchanged compared to the previous month.

During the month of May just over half of consumers in Finland, some 52 percent, said they think Finland's economy will improve over the next year, while nine percent said the economy would likely worsen. Those same projections a year ago in May were 39 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

Twenty seven percent of consumers in May said they think their own finances would improve within a year's time, with 12 percent saying they feared their finances would worsen during that period. A year ago those figures were roughly the same; at 26 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Unemployment fears down
Just under half of consumers in Finland in May, some 47 percent, said they think unemployment would decrease during the next 12 months, while 16 percent said they thought it would increase. Some 19 percent of consumers said they thought their personal threat of unemployment had decreased over the past few months, while 14 percent said they thought the threat had increased.

Public sector employees face first 30% cut to holiday bonus
Helsinki, May 29 (Yle)
The government's heavily-promoted pact with labour unions and employers to improve Finland's market competitiveness has imposed a wage freeze and requires workers to work 24 hours more each year for the same compensation. It also temporarily cuts the holiday bonus of over half a million municipal and state workers by close to a third for three years.

Public sector workers are facing a 30 percent cut to their holiday bonus this summer, the first in a series of three. Last year the centre-right government forged a tripartite competitiveness pact that it says will boost economic growth and create jobs. Figures predict that the move will strip these workers of half a million euros in holiday bonuses by the year 2019.

For a person who has worked steadily in the same job earning about two thousand euros per month, for example, the losses will be in the hundreds of euros.

School kitchen worker Ritva Hagström from Porvoo has calculated that she'll earn 400 euros less this year.
"I had thought of buying new eyeglasses, but I guess that won't happen. It's nothing to laugh about," she says.

Nokia and Apple settle intellectual property lawsuits, become partners
Helsinki, May 23 (Yle)
Finnish communications giant Nokia and US tech behemoth Apple announced on Tuesday that they have settled all of their litigation and signed a patent license and a business cooperation agreement. The announcement saw Nokia Corporation's share price rise by more than 6.7 percent by 1:15 pm Finnish time on Tuesday.

Apple and Nokia say that they have settled their respective patent and intellectual property lawsuits and counter-lawsuits and will become business partners again. In a joint press release issued Tuesday the companies said that Nokia will provide Apple some of its network infrastructure services and products.

Details of the agreement are confidential, but the companies said Nokia will receive an up-front cash payment from Apple, with additional revenues during the term of the agreement.

The business news agency Reuters reported that analysts had expected the legal dispute to continue and were surprised by the quick resolution.

Nokia's chief legal officer in charge of patent licensing, Maria Varsellona characterised the agreement between Nokia and Apple as "meaningful."

"It moves our relationship with Apple from being adversaries in court to business partners working for the benefit of our customers," Varsellona said in the release.

The companies say that Apple plans to return Nokia's digital health products (previously branded under the name Withings) to its retail and online stores.

Steel executives accused of hiding assets before bankruptcy
Helsinki, May 16 (Yle)
Dutch and Finnish board members of a steel company face trial over financial irregularities of 35 million euros. The losses were discovered after the firm abruptly closed two factories on the south-west coast. About 400 people lost their jobs.

Two Dutchmen and one Finn will go on trial next autumn in one of Finland's biggest white-collar criminal cases in recent decades. The main trial will begin at the District Court of South-West Finland on October 10.

The former board members of FNsteel are accused of concealing some 35 million euros' worth of assets before the company declared bankruptcy in mid-2012.

At that point the Dutch-owned company shut its steel mills at Koverhar in the south-western municipality of Hanko and at Dalsbruk in nearby Kimitoön. Altogether nearly 400 lost their jobs in the economically-struggling area.

Another factory in the area owned by a subsidiary, FNsteel Dalwire in Dalsbruk, is also expected to close soon. It launched redundancy talks in late April.

Prosecutors allege that over a period of 10 months, management transferred products from the Finnish facilities to other subsidiaries of the company for no perceptible business reason and without recompense.

They say the aim was to move assets out of reach of Finnish creditors before announcing the bankruptcy, which came as a complete surprise to employees and local authorities.

Report: Nokia brand doubles in value, still tops in Finland
Helsinki, May 16 (Yle)
Nokia is in a class of its own compared to other recognised Finnish brands, says a new report from the UK-based business valuation firm Brand Finance.

Telecommunications company Nokia maintains its lead as the most valuable brand in Finland, according to a new brand value ranking from the UK firm Brand Finance. Lift and escalator maker Kone comes in second, and the Kesko chain of retail stores has jumped from fourth place to third.

"Some people might be surprised at Nokia's achievement, taking into account the company's struggle on the smartphone front. The brand's recovery is really quite a success story," says Brand Finance's marketing and communications executive Maria Temporal.

The British firm estimated the Nokia brand is worth 4.4 billion euros, up from 2.8 billion one year ago. This improvement is still just a pale reflection of Nokia in its heyday, however, as in 2008 the mobile phone giant's brand was worth 22.5 billion euros, the ninth largest in the world at the time.

Kone's brand was valued at 1.5 billion euros (up from last year's 1.2 billion euros), while the rest of Finnish brands to make the list were valued in the hundreds of millions of euros.

The only new entrant in the Finnish top ten was Nokian Tyres, a brand that is valued by the British firm at 300 million euros.

Business lobby: Women increase board seats at stock-listed firms
Helsinki, May 11 (Yle)
Women now account for more board positions in stock-listed companies than ever before. According to the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, women now occupy 27 percent of board seats in all companies listed on the local stock exchange, up from 25 percent last year.

A fresh report on women's representation in the corporate sector finds that a record-high 27 percent of board positions on stock listed companies in Finland are occupied by women.

The study released by the Finnish Chamber of Commerce indicates that women also account for 33 percent of board positions on large listed companies. However women are not as well-represented in smaller companies.

The trend is clearly upwards: nearly a decade ago in 2008, women held just 12 percent of board positions on stock-listed companies.

Customs: Monthly exports top 5 billion euros for first time in years
Helsinki, May 8 (Yle)
Finnish Customs figures show that the country's exports are doing better than they have since 2014. The head economist of Finland's only housing-specialised credit institution says that although small growth was expected in the export sector, the speed of the uptick came as a surprise.

Finland's goods exports were worth 5.2 billion euros for the month of March, preliminary Finnish Customs data shows. The figure represents 17 percent growth compared with the same time last year.

The value of exports per month has not been this high since October, 2014.

Customs says that exports in all the major goods categories grew in March, with electronic equipment, steel and refined oil products seeing the most progress.

Exports to the United States, China, Russia and the Netherlands have developed most.

"Surprise hike"
Head economist Juhana Brotherus of credit institution Hypo, the parent company of the Mortgage Society of Finland, says that an increase was expected, but not quite this fast.

"The year started off slow in 2016, so we were waiting for growth. But the speed at which it actually came has surprised us positively," Brotherus writes in the Hypo release.

Brotherus says that there are other positive signs in the air, too, with the coming months looking optimistic.

"The Russian market is booming, manufacturing orders are streaming in and confidence among exporting companies has stayed high."

The economist also reminds readers that the Customs figures do not include service exports, meaning that the true state of Finland's exports may be even rosier.

Finnish fashion boom sends exports soaring
Helsinki, May 7 (Yle)
Hot right now: Finnish designers. Clothes exports increased by 15% from the year before, and are all the rage in both the East and the West.

Finnish fashion is booming around the world, reveal recent export figures. Garment producers reported a 15% increase in exports last year compared to the year before, according to a report by Finland's Textile and Fashion Union.

Finnish textile producers saw their turnover increase by a tenth between last November and December. Domestic sales got a 10% boost while export figures rose by 12%.

Total exports in 2016 amounted to 650 million euros, with industry turnover grossing a total of four billion euros. Finnish designs seem to be especially in vogue in neighbouring Sweden, which ousted Russia from its number one spot in exports last year.

The Textile and Fashion Union estimates that the recipe for the Finnish fashion fad is relatively simple.

Finnish designers ride the wave of natural and clear-cut Scandinavian aesthetic, while designing bright, colourful pieces especially Asian consumers can't seem to get enough of.

Lastly, Finland's popularity all boils down to functionality. Thanks to the country's cool climate, Finns have mastered the craft of creating clothes designed for cold conditions.

Not a bad way to heat up the fashion scene.

Minister Orpo torpedoes new Finns Party minister Terho's talk of leaving the euro
Helsinki, April 29 (Yle)
Finance Minister Petteri Orpo says newly-appointed Finns Party minister Sampo Terho's talk of leaving the European Union's common currency is incompatible with a spot in the government's three-party coalition. Appearing on Yle's morning programme Saturday, Orpo also said Finland is doing everything it can to attract the Nordic's largest bank chain, Nordea, to move its headquarters to Helsinki.

Finland's Finance Minister Petteri Orpo sat for an interview Saturday morning on Yle's morning talk show. Among other things, he weighed on recent campaign-trail comments from populist Finns Party MP Sampo Terho.

"A member of the Finnish government can't be saying this like this, this is clear. Finland is an active member of the European Union, in line with our government programme and our best interests. We belong to the eurozone," said Orpo, who is also chair of Finland's centre-right National Coalition Party, also a government coalition member.

He says the government can't have a difference of opinion on Finland's EU membership, so he expects new ministers representing the Eurosceptic Finns Party to commit to the government's appointed EU policy.

"I expect all government ministers to stand behind this policy, so any talk of Fixit or leaving the euro should stay somewhere else," he said.

Cabinet aims to boost employment, exports and security in next 2 years
Helsinki, April 26 (Yle)
The Finnish government has unveiled measures it says will raise the employment rate while maintaining fiscal discipline and beefing up security. The blueprint comes as the three-party coalition marks the midway point of its four-year legislative term. At least some new jobs will be opening up in the cabinet itself.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila's three-party coalition government announced a raft of ambitious plans for the second half of its legislative term late Tuesday. Cabinet members had just emerged from a two-day midterm conference weighing the efficacy of measures imposed since they took office in late May, 2015.

According to the premier, the main target is cutting unemployment, primarily by reducing incentives to remain outside of the workforce.

One of the prime ways of tackling this, according to the government's proposal, would be lowering fees for early childhood learning and hiring more staff for daycare centres, Sipilä told reporters late in the evening at his official residence, Kesäranta.

Daycare costs would be waived altogether for some 7,000 low-income families, while others would see fees drop. The maximum monthly fee is now 290 euros a month per child.

Jobseekers to be "activated"
The cabinet has set an ambitious target of 72 percent employment, up from last year's average of 68.7 percent.

To do so, it aims to encourage people to move to where work is available through various incentives. TE employment offices will get an extra 50 million euros to help "activate" unemployed people, while there will be slightly tighter restrictions on jobless benefits for those who are not categorised as "actively" looking for work.

If the plan is approved by Parliament, there will also be better unemployment and sick-leave benefits for the self-employed, and clearer rules on so-called "zero-hour contracts" that do not guarantee any minimum number of working hours. Other steps are aimed at helping entrepreneurs who declare bankruptcy.

Finnish business leaders upbeat about Russian market upswing
Helsinki, April 25 (Yle)
Finnish Customs reports a turn for the better in Finnish-Russian trade after a long slump, and a survey of 300 Finnish companies shows optimism for business-boosting growth in the eastern neighbour.r.

Finnish Customs announces that both Finnish exports into Russia and Russian imports into Finland have picked up speed over the past few months.

Business lobbyists the Finnish-Russian Chamber of Commerce (FRCC), conducted a recent survey of 300 of its member companies and found that 63 percent predicted that Russia's economic outlook will improve in the next six months. Last autumn that figure was just 27 percent.

Growth in Finnish-Russian business has already been reported by some 54 percent of respondents, and only one in ten say times are still tough.

More than half (57 percent) of export companies also say they believe their luck will change in the next half year. Expectations in the import industry are less rosy, with 37 percent of companies expecting growth.

The investment market has been slower to react to the seeming positive news and has remained much the same compared with last autumn. Russia's economic instability, the exchange rate of the rouble and the country's political atmosphere are all dissuading investors from optimism, the report finds.

Protectionism in Russia continues to hamper trade. These measures include favouring Russian products over imports and labour restrictions on work such as industrial assembly.

Aalto-2: Finland's first satellite launched into orbit
Helsinki, April 19 (Yle)
After years of preparation and delays, Finland's first satellite was successfully launched into space on Tuesday. Roughly the size of a one-litre milk carton, the Aalto-2 nano satellite, along with 37 similar devices and tonnes of gear, was shot into space aboard the Cygnus spacecraft from the US state of Florida.

Weather conditions at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday were ideal for the launch of the Cygnus automated cargo spacecraft. Powered by the Atlas V rocket, the Cygnus was loaded with 38 nano satellites and tonnes of gear, including Finland's first-ever satellite, the Aalto-2.

Although small, the Aalto-2 is equipped with a spectrometer, a compact radiation monitor and an electrostatic plasma brake, which is a variant on the electric solar wind sail, a new space propulsion method invented in Finland.

The team of researchers and students designed the Aalto-2, which is a little bigger than a one-litre milk carton, to be used in space and space tech research.

Cygnus, loaded with more than three tonnes of gear, was successfully launched at 6:12 pm Finnish time on Tuesday.

Helsinki as a hub?
Helsinki, April 19 (Yle)
Business daily Kauppalehti covers a campaign by Helsinki Business Hub and AmCham Finland, the American Chamber of Commerce, to bring the regional headquarters of multinational firms to Finland.

The campaign is running this year and aims to show firms that the Finnish capital is cheaper than Stockholm, Copenhagen or Berlin. Lower taxes, lower salaries and affordable rents are the main attractions of setting up shop in Helsinki.

There is at least plenty of room for improvement, as Finland is currently home to just 19 regional HQs, and twelve of those are for Finnish companies. In Stockholm there are 127 and in Copenhagen 60.

Capital region companies hiring
Helsinki, April 18 (Yle)
Every third company in and around Helsinki is set to increase its workforce in the next three months, according to a business index published by financial paper Kauppalehti.

The so-called KL index surveys companies to estimate how they will perform over the next three months, including in the areas of production, domestic and export orders and staffing. The index also rates how companies have developed these and other business areas in the past year.

Capital region companies in the Taloustutkimus report say that they will either be keeping their staff as is or hiring more in late spring to early summer. The figures appear to be breaking records, with the index rising above 60 percent in many categories, indicating clear growth compared to the previous year.

"Finland's situation is slowly improving," says consulting firm boss Anne Raudaskoski in KL. "The EU's circular economy package and the money it channeled have raised spirits."

Finns Party loses out as Greens rise in local elections
Helsinki, April 9 (Yle)
The populist Finns Party has seen its support drop in local elections on Sunday, with the party polling just 8.3 percent in initial results forecasts. That's well down on the 17.7 percent and the 12.3 percent it drew in the 2015 parliamentary election and the 2012 local elections respectively. Yle's election forecast put the National Coalition Party in the lead, with the Greens posting the biggest gains.

Preliminary results in Finland's local elections suggest the co-ruling Finns Party has lost a big chunk of support since the last parliamentary election in 2015, when the party polled 17.7 percent of the vote. The party is struggling to match the 12.3 percent it recorded in the last local elections in 2012, with nearly half of the expected votes counted.

The populist Finns Party has seen a string of upset victories in Finnish elections, with the party jumping from 4 percent support in 2007 to 19 percent in the 2011 parliamentary elections. That success was won on the back of strident criticism of EU bailouts for Greece and Portugal, and criticism of Finnish immigration policy, as well as sharp words for elites perceived as cosmopolitan and out of touch.

Yle: Secret orders for media coverage of Chinese presidential visit to Finland
Helsinki, March 28 (Yle)
As Chinese President Xi Xinping arrives in Finland for a state visit on Tuesday, Yle's correspondent in Beijing revealed a set of detailed guidelines issued by the Chinese government for reporting on the trip. As Mika Mäkeläinen reports, Chinese media have dubbed such decrees "Ministry of Truth instructions".

Chinese media representatives have been given a set of detailed guidelines about how to report on President Xi Jinping's official state visit to Finland from Tuesday to Wednesday. Yle Beijing correspondent Mika Mäkeläinen got his hands on a copy of the instructions sent to Chinese journalists from one of China's best-known media organisations.

"Publish this article as is in a visible location on your website and mobile applications as well as your special websites and keep it visible until 2.00pm on 5.4," the order reads.

The guidelines originally referenced an article publicised on Chinese Central Television CCTV, which used a prominent graphic to highlight President Xi's visit to Finland and the United States.

The article mentioned that Xi Jinping's visit to Finland is his first trip to the Nordics during his term in office. It also emphasised that the visit will deepen ties between China and Finland.

President Xi and his wife arrived in Finland on Tuesday evening and will be hosted by President Sauli Niinistö and his wife, Jenni Haukio. The heads will discuss bilateral relations and will also sign a joint statement at 11.30am on Wednesday. President Xi is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and Speaker of Parliament Maria Lohela.

New 'Business Finland' superagency to offer one-stop service for export firms
Helsinki, March 28 (Yle)
The Finnish government is combining Finpro and Tekes to produce a new body aimed at jump-starting sluggish exports.

Two major state-funded agencies are to merge in an effort to better promote Finnish companies abroad. Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, will join Finpro, the former Finnish Foreign Trade Association. It already includes Export Finland, Visit Finland and Invest in Finland.

The new mega-agency so far has a working title of Business Finland.

"Their shared service path will carry on from the development of products, services and business models all the way through bringing innovations to market without breaking the chain anywhere along the line," Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä said on Tuesday.

Ambassadors to become 'country managers'
This means dismantling redundancy between the two organisation's duties and freeing up operations abroad, he said.

One concrete change will be a stronger role for the Foreign Ministry in boosting the internationalisation of Finnish firms. Heads of missions, including ambassadors, will be more active as country managers in this regard.

"The purpose of the change is to improve the services provided for customers – growth-oriented companies aiming at internationalisation. The customer will in future be served by one organisation instead of two," said Lintilä.

Lintilä and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen unveiled plans for the streamlining of innovation funding and export promotion on Tuesday, a day after the reorganisation was approved by the cabinet. It aims to double exports by small and medium-sized enterprises by 2020.

The new model is inspired by similar mergers in Estonia, Norway and Iceland.

Business Finland is to start operations at the beginning of 2018 with a staff of about 600.

PM Sipilä "content" with Rome declaration – includes Finnish EU goals
Helsinki, March 25 (Yle)
All remaining 27 European Union countries signed an official vote of confidence in the union that leaders put their names to on Saturday, the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Finland's Prime Minister says he is happy with the contents of the declaration.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä says he is content with the declaration signed in Rome on Saturday wherein the remaining 27 EU member states committed to adhering to the union's principles for the next decade.

EU leaders signed the declaration in Rome, in the very same room where 60 years previously the Treaty of Rome was signed, creating the European Economic Community (EEC), a precursor to the European Union.

Sipilä says that the three-page-long declaration includes many goals important to Finland, such as developing internal markets and defense cooperation. The declaration states that the EU will commit to "strengthening its joint defense" and better integrating its military industry.

It is likely that not all member states will go along with all of the targets presented in the declaration spanning 10 years.

"It's OK for members to go at different paces, it isn't a threat to the unity of the EU," Sipilä told reporters after the signing ceremony.

Sipilä underlined the EU's victories such as freedom of movement and a joint currency. Unemployment within the union has also decreased to the lowest level in nine years.

"Many things are taken for granted, but they have not always been a given," Sipilä says.

President Niinistö hints at bid for second term
Helsinki, March 20 (Yle)
Candidates to have officially placed their bids for the presidency are Matti Vanhanen of the Centre Party, Pekka Haavisto of the Green League and Merja Kyllönen of the Left Alliance.

President Sauli Niinistö will announce whether he will run for a second term as president later this spring. Niinistö and his partner Jenni Haukio are currently in Kuopio on a tour around all of Finland's counties.

Niinistö stated he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, President Tarja Halonen. Halonen announced her plans for running for a second term in May 2005.

Current world events will have an impact on Finland and require action, President Niinistö says.

"A lame duck situation or a president busy with an election campaign would not be ideal. That's why it's good to have a few meetings first before announcing anything," he continues.

Candidates to have officially placed their bids for the presidency are Matti Vanhanen of the Centre Party, Pekka Haavisto of the Green League and Merja Kyllönen of the Left Alliance.

The presidential elections will be held on 28 January 2018.

Finland in Space
Helsinki, March 20 (Yle)
Finland's highest-circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat reports on the Aalto-2 – the first ever proper Finnish satellite – gearing up for its ascent into the thermosphere.

If all goes well, on Saturday morning (Finnish time) Aalto-2 will be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the same site where the Apollo missions took to the moon, the paper writes. The dozens-strong team of Aalto University science students has worked on the satellite for more than five years, headed by professor Jaan Praks, who has worked on Estonia's space programme as well.

"We're hoping the booster rocket won't explode on ignition, and that the satellite will function in its new environment," an electrical engineering student from the team says in HS.

The satellite and all its components have undergone rigorous tests before being shipped to the USA. Aalto-2 weighs 2 kg and costs the university 20,000 euros to launch, which includes a hefty discount thanks to the satellite's involvement in a broader Belgian space study.

Aalto-2 will orbit the Earth at about 7 km/sec, which is about ten times faster than a bullet from an assault rifle. It takes the satellite an hour and a half to orbit the whole planet. The probe's purpose, writes HS, is to observe and record charged particles in the thermosphere, at a height of some 100-500 km.

EK chief: Average salaries in Finland are too high
Helsinki, March 9 (Yle)
More than half a year since labour groups agreed to decreases in benefits and extended working hours for many unionised workers, the head of the business organisation the Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) - and CEO of a major telecom company - says he thinks average salaries in Finland are still too high. In reaction, two opposition MPs publicly denounced the comments.

According to newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, EK's president Veli-Matti Mattila said the average salaries of Finnish workers are still some 10 to 15 percent too high. He said further restraint in salaries and several new competitiveness pacts are needed.

Last summer, among other concessions, labour organisations agreed to extend working hours, salary freezes and decreased vacation benefits of workers. At the same time, employees also took on higher fees for social services.

But those concessions were not adequate, according to Mattila, who said that compared to countries like Sweden and Germany, salaries are too high in Finland. Mattila's comments were published in HS on Saturday.

A global R&D centre for remotely controlled and autonomous ships in Turku
Helsinki, March 9 (Tekes)
Rolls-Royce will establish its Marine R&D Centre for Remote Control & Autonomous Ships and Artificial Intelligence in Turku, Finland. The centre will be opened this year. Rolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce's strategic partners will be the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) and Tampere University of Technology (TUT), together with numerous SMEs and startups specialising in novel technologies.

Remotely controlled and autonomous ships represent a fundamental change in shipping over the next decade and are driving the digital transformation in the sector.

"Finland is the home of top ICT expertise and a strong maritime cluster. That is why Rolls-Royce has decided to establish the centre in Turku", says SVP Sauli Eloranta of Rolls-Royce.

Rolls Royce's Centre of Excellence for autonomous shipping collaborates with the Autonomous Shipping Alliance, an ecosystem bringing together global forerunners and agile ICT start-ups. The aim of the Alliance is to provide the world's first autonomous maritime products, services and a flourishing ecosystem by 2025. Rolls Royce is already a partner in the Alliance.

Rolls Royce's decision to focus autonomous shipping R&D in Finland is motivating Tekes to increase its investments in enabling technologies, such as artificial intelligence and communication technologies, and companies that create leading knowhow and synergies with autonomous shipping.

Finnair cancels 100-plus flights as union talks drag on
Helsinki, March 9 (Yle)
National air carrier Finnair will cancel more than 100 flights on Friday, as contentious labour negotiations drag on between airport ground staff and their employer. The airline says the strike, due to begin at 3 pm Friday, will mainly affect domestic and European flights.

The national airline said that it will be forced to cancel upwards of 100 flights from Friday, as a direct result of planned strike action Friday by ground services staff who are locked in an industrial dispute with their employer, Airpro, over labour agreements governing their working conditions.

Finnair said that cancellations will affect all domestic flights, a large number of European flights and one long-haul service.

National labour mediator Minna Helle is overseeing talks between the unions representing both sides – the Aviation Union (IAU) and Palta. However she indicated late Wednesday that so far, the situation does not look good and no solution was still in sight.

On Thursday she said that the strike is likely to begin at 3.00pm Friday and should last until 7.00pm.

While Finnair is not directly involved in the labour negotiations, its customers will be affected as critical ground services will either be limited or entirely unavailable. Passengers planning to travel Friday have been advised to check with the airline to confirm their flight information.

Wood construction returning to cities
Helsinki, March 8 (Yle)
Record amounts of wooden apartment buildings are to be built in the coming years in Finland, top daily Helsingin Sanomat reports. During the next two years twice as many wooden flats will be built than have been constructed in the last 20 years.

Not only that, but capital Helsinki is actually set to gain a whole block of wooden tenements, called – what else – "Wood City". The move comes at a time when Finnish builders have all but forgotten the secrets of wooden high-rise building.

"Finland has been lagging behind Western Europe in terms of wooden building," says Stora Enso project worker Sami Typpö. He is overseeing the delivery of wood materials in Jätkäsaari, a peninsular neighbourhood of Helsinki that is set to be the site of a brand new wooden apartment block.

Wood is an extremely common material in Finnish detached houses and villas. The boom-to-be in wooden construction is specifically about apartment buildings. Helsinki deputy mayor Anni Sinnemäki of the Greens says that wooden construction is sensible ecologically, it uses domestic lumber and has widespread appeal to people in general.

Nordics' biggest lithium ion battery helping hydropower in Järvenpää
Helsinki, March 2 (Yle)
Lithium ion battery technology is making headlines in Finland again, this time due to energy company Fortum's rollout of the Nordic's largest lithium ion battery. The company says the 'Batman' battery station - which went online this week at the firm's power plant in Järvenpää - can deliver an even flow of electricity to customers during peak usage levels, helping to prevent power outages.

The battery array - called the 'Batcave' and housed in a shipping container - is the largest of its kind in the Nordic countries.

The battery supply enables power levels to remain steady during peak electricity consumption spikes and - compared to older methods - reduces the risk of power outages.

At the Järvenpää plant, the technology is used in tandem with hydropower, according to the Batcave project's manager, Roosa Nieminen.

The mechanical parts of hydropower generators tend to wear out and a big lithium ion battery station - charged with solar and wind power - is able to provide extra power to the grid as needed.

The two-megawatt (2MW/1MWh) Batcave's primary role, she says, is to providerapid adjustment. When the battery's output capacity is reached, hydropower is then switched on. The Batcave's capacity is roughly equal to that of 100,000 cellphone batteries.

Nieminen says that in light of the global growth of solar and wind energy markets, Fortum hopes to expand the Batcave's technology worldwide - particularly in places that do not use hydropower.

The price of lithium ion batteries is dropping fast, according to Nieminen. She says that as demand for the technology grows prices will likely continue to drop.

Air cabin crew strikes cancelled; ground services walkouts still loom
Helsinki, February 28 (Yle)
Ground operations at Finnish airports may still be disrupted on two days next week despite Tuesday's resolution of another labour dispute in the aviation sector.

A threatened strike by airplane cabin crew has been cancelled, but a labour dispute with aviation ground crew has not been resolved. The flight attendants' walkout would have begun next weekend.

The Trade Union Pro and the Service Sector Employers' group Palta on Tuesday approved a compromise proposal put forth by state labour conciliator Minna Helle.

The strike by cabin crew working for Airpro would have affected leisure flights by the Thomas Cook and Tui Fly travel agencies on March 5-6 and March 12-13.

"We're pleased with the overall solution, which includes an ongoing negotiation process to further improve the terms and conditions of employment for cabin crew during this contract period," said Else-Mai Kirvesniemi of Pro in a statement.

Security and baggage disruptions possible next week

Meanwhile a dispute between Palta and the Finnish Aviation Union (IAU) remains unresolved. The two parties return to the bargaining table on Wednesday.

The IAU is threatening two strikes by Airpro's security checking and baggage handling staff, with the first next Monday morning, March 6, and the second on the following Friday evening, March 10.

Legendary Nokia phone gets a reboot
Helsinki, February 27 (Yle)
Four new Nokia-branded cell phone models were unveiled on Sunday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The star of the show was the revamped version of one of the company's most widely known mobile phones, the Nokia 3310. All the models will be produced by a licensee, HMD Global.

Nokia's hardware manufacturer HMD Global announced a total of four new phone models on Sunday at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress. One of the newcomers is actually a reboot of the classic and purportedly "indestructible" model 3310.

A Nokia smart phone comeback has been a subject of hope and speculation for years following its fall from mobile grace in 2014.

The popularity and sturdiness of the 3310 is legendary. The internet is still brimming with memes, articles and other references to one of the world's most recognisable and beloved cell phones.

Also making a triumphant return is one of the model's favourite features, the simple yet addictive Snake game.

Experts gathering at the convention even say that including the revamped classic in the launch package was a good move, as the three new models – Nokia 6, 5 and 3 -- took a back seat to the nostalgia-inducing news.

Environment Minister: Finland carbon neutral by 2045
Helsinki, February 16 (Yle)
Environment Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen says that Nordic countries should be world leaders in climate policy. He says Finland could reach its Paris Climate Agreement goals well ahead of schedule and be carbon-neutral by the year 2045. Environmental organisations and the Green Party disagree with the proposal.

Last November, governments throughout the world signed on to the Paris climate accord to try and get a grip on their carbon emissions. The agreement was ratified by 132 countries, Finland among them.

Now, Environment Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen claims the government could reach its target of becoming carbon neutral even earlier than the agreement estimates.

Tiilikainen holds that Finland could meet the goals by the year 2045, meaning that the country would have a quarter of a century to achieve its goal after the Paris Agreement's country-specific measures are set to begin in 2020.

"Sweden has a similar schedule," the minister says. "The Nordic countries could well develop their carbon neutrality together."

Technically carbon neutrality means cutting CO2 emissions so that they are absorbed by the country's abundant natural forests.

Green Party chair Ville Niinistö doesn't buy the government's line. His party has criticised the government's climate-change-averting measures for being halting at best – and says logging could even endanger Finland's forests' role as a major carbon 'sink'.

"The government's plans to fell some 80 million cubic metres of trees every year represent not just steps but leaps backward in Finnish climate policy," Niinistö says. "They endanger natural diversity, weaken the natural states of valuable forests, gnaw away at nature tourism and the recreational use of natural spaces."

Tiilikainen defends the tree-felling plan for its assumed positive effects on employment and export gains, and says the decreased carbon sinks can be replenished in time.

Figures from the Finnish Environment Institute and the Natural Resources Institute suggest that logging will effectively nullify Finland's emissions cuts – Paris agreement or no Paris agreement.

Start-up aims to attract 100,000 foreign students to Finland
Helsinki, February 16 (Yle)
A new start-up service named Finn-Ed Hub plans to entice 100,000 foreign students to Finland to study in three-year university programmes. Former Rovio marketing director Peter Vesterbacka has signed on as one of the project's official advisors.

Finn-Ed Hub intends to collect all of the country's universities into one online service that will encourage foreigners to come to Finland to study. The financial newspaper Kauppalehti reports on Tuesday that the start-up has a goal to attract 100,000 degree students to Finland.

The paper writes that Finn-Ed Hub will market Finnish higher education in Asia on social media channels. The plan is to advertise on the Chinese chat service WeChat, for example, which boasts 800 million users.

Finn-Ed Hub is managed by a firm called Study Advisory that was founded in 2015 and works out of Tampere and Hong Kong.

Peter Vesterbacka of Angry Birds gaming company Rovio fame has also agreed to be the start-up's advisor.

Vesterbacka has been a strong proponent of Finnish education, and supports several efforts to market it. He says that the potential money that huge numbers of foreign students could pay in study fees and living expenses would surpass the costs of running Finland's institutes of higher education every year.

Vesterbacka told the paper that Finn-Ed Hub will help to build the groundwork for future internationalisation.

"We need to boldly tell people what a great place Finland is, and make Finland the best place to study in the world," he said.

First Mercedes SUV rolls off the line in Uusikaupunki
Helsinki, February 16 (Yle)
Valmet Automotive on Thursday began series production of the Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV at its Uusikaupunki plant. The company has announced plans to recruit over 1,000 new car builders this year.

At an event marking the production of the first vehicle, Valmet Automotive CEO Ilpo Korhonen described the GLC project is the most ambitious for his company ever.

Mercedes-Benz Cars and Valmet Automotive began a partnership with an A-Class manufacturing contract in 2013.

Besides investment, the production of the Mercedes-Benz GLC requires the hiring of a considerable number of new employees. Valmet Automotive will recruit over 1,000 new workers this year. Under a campaign already underway, the company is recruiting 500 new car builders for its Uusikaupunki plant.

Feasibility study for Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel to wrap up this year
Helsinki, February 13 (Yle)
A brace of consulting companies has begun to look into the feasibility of a planned undersea tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn. The firms will examine the project's impact, profitability and technical feasibility and are expected to turn in their findings later this year.

A group of consulting firms has been assembled to examine whether or not the much talked-about rail tunnel between the Finnish and Estonian capitals can be more than just a pipe dream, or if officials should instead seek to further develop marine links between both cities.

The proposed rail line would connect Finland with the Rail Baltic segment of the European Union's trans-European Transport Network strategy, which seeks to plug gaps in member states' transport networks. The Rail Baltic line runs from Tallinn to Riga, Kaunas and northeast Poland.

Some of the companies involved have been charged with drawing up cost-benefit analyses and impact assessments for both the rail and marine options. The five companies looking at this aspect of the project are Ramboll Finland, Sito, Strafica, Urban Research TA (Kaupunkitutkimus TA) and Pöyry Finland.

Three other firms – Sweco, WSP and the Swiss-based Amberg Engineering – will probe how the undersea tunnel can be technically implemented and try to determine the price tag for construction, maintenance and rail traffic. They will also sketch out the project's main features, including location of routes, stations and rolling stock depots as well as safety.

3-D printers, growth incubators, insectsc VTT researchers weigh future foods
Helsinki, February 8 (Yle)
Consumer choices are shaping the future of food. As the planet's population soars beyond the current 7.4 billion, humanity must make more efficient use of raw materials to ensure sufficient food supply. This will include reducing waste.

Scientists at the state-owned VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are grappling with these issues. They point out that centralised food production, long-distance deliveries and storage all result in waste at various points of the food chain.

Futurologists predict that food will increasingly be produced to order directly from the point of purchase. There are already harbingers of this change, such as robots that churn out customised ice cream servings and machines that make pizzas from scratch based on customer orders.

The use of 3D printers in food production is also under constant development. Eventually such printers may be standard home kitchen equipment.

Government buys naturally diverse historical island from forestry giant UPM
Helsinki, February 8 (Yle)
Forestry company UPM has sold the island of Ärjänsaari in Kainuu to the Finnish government. The island has abundant nature and an exciting history. The island can still be used by the public, and will later be turned into an official nature reserve.

The Kainuu Centre for Economic Development has purchased a 270-hectare island in Kajaani for the Finnish government from forestry firm UPM. The island has been on sale since last summer.

Kari Pääkkönen, chief of the Kainuu Centre for Economic Development, calls the sale significant. The island is coveted for many reasons, including its natural diversity.

"Ärjänsaari is an exceptional location in relation to other parcels of land," he says. "There are structures on the island in varying conditions, many of them protected sites. The island has also been used for various purposes whose impact on local nature had to be assessed."

The government intends to eventually make the island an official nature reserve.

Ärjänsaari island has a colourful past. It has served as grazing grounds and a ritual site for Laplanders, a pirate base in the 1860s and a leisure location since as early as the 1720s. There are five buildings on the island which are historically significant and protected under the Antiquities Act.

Ärjänsaari is part of the EU's Natura 2000 natural territory programme and a national beach protection initiative.

PM vows no more cuts – Government to outline needed new growth measures
Helsinki, February 5 (Yle)
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä promised on Sunday that his coalition government will no longer be making broad cuts to public funding. Sipilä has broken spending promises in the past, and now says that the "impossible must be made possible".

"After these 4 billion-euro cuts we won't be needing any more, but we still need other measures to increase and innovate economic growth," Sipilä said.

It is these other measures that government will sit down to discuss on Monday and Tuesday.

"We decided to clear our schedules and get all our probes started that we want begun before the mid-term policy talks," Sipilä went on.

The government is being spurred to intense talks by the Economic Policy Council, a report from which shows that Sipilä's coalition will not reach its own economic stabilisation targets under current measures.

The Prime Minister said that reaching 72 percent employment is no longer his main concern, but that developing employment in a better direction is.

New EU roaming cap starts mid-June
Helsinki, February 1 (Yle)
The European Parliament and member countries have reached an agreement regarding a ceiling on tariffs between different operators. New EU roaming rules step into effect on June 15, which means the cost of making and receiving calls abroad within the EU will no longer be subject to extra charges.

According to the new deal reached by the European Parliament and member countries, from June 15th forward operators can no longer charge additional fees for mobile phone usage in EU countries other than the one that the device is registered in.

National telecoms regulators from EU member states must ensure that mobile phone operators comply with the new rules on data roaming and the lower prices of voice calls.

Trump and Finland
Helsinki, February 1 (Yle)
Donald Trump's activities dominate the headlines, worldwide this week, whether his administration is banning immigrants, stoking trade disputes or appointing a new judge to the US Supreme Court. Ilta-Sanomat takes a different tack on Wednesday, however, asking how Finland might benefit from the new president's reign.

The main answer from the experts asked by IS seems to be infrastructure spending. If Trump makes good on his promises to invest to stimulate the economy, there will be a big injection of cash into vital infrastructure, and Finnish firms might well get a slice of the pie. You might wonder how sending that cash overseas squares with Trump's nativist trade rhetoric, and even the American Chamber of Commerce acknowledges the juxtaposition.

"Although it is 'America first', in Finland there could be competitive knowhow that makes it into these projects," said AmCham CEO Kristiina Helenius.

Helenius also presents the somewhat forlorn hope that Trump's pro-Russian stances and ambiguous attitude towards the Baltic states might help prod EU states towards closer co-operation, rather than weakening the block.

The article makes no mention of Finland's large Somali community, members of which could fall foul of Trump's travel ban.

On the opposite page IS carries an assessment of Trump from noted psychiatrist Claes Andersson: he's a narcissist.

"Yes, I'm of the opinion that Donald Trump behaves narcissistically and he doesn't care about the consequences of his actions," Andersson told the paper.

The paper contacted the psychiatrist's society's chair to ask his opinion, and reports that while offering a diagnosis for public figures is inappropriate, he also understands Andersson's move given the global situation.

Ministry: Vaasa not the only possible location for Tesla Gigafactory in Finland
Helsinki, January 25 (Yle)
Late last year Vaasa officials announced they want to bring a planned European Tesla Motors Gigafactory to the region. Economy Minister Mika Lintilä says the government will be working with Vaasa to ensure the west coast city is seen as a strong contender for the venture.

For the past month, officials in the western coastal city of Vaasa have been working to attract Tesla Motors to establish Europe's first Gigafactory in Ostrobothnia.

The factory would produce lithium-based batteries for Tesla's electric cars and solar batteries.

In their pitches to the public, Vaasa officials noted the abundance of energy tech firms in the area and the city's proximity to one of the richest lithium mines in Europe.

While those reasons could well be motivating factors for Tesla to decide to move to the area, it's hardly a done deal.

"Business hit a wall" – Car dealers propose tax rebates
Helsinki, January 19 (Yle)
Sales at car dealerships came to a near standstill Thursday following a proposal by Transport Minister Anne Berner that includes eliminating the current tax on new cars. Industry representatives are calling for the government to pledge a future rebate to buyers, if in fact the tax is no longer levied.

Beginning Wednesday, but most clearly on Thursday, sales at car dealerships came close to a complete halt. The reason was that one feature of a broad transportation sector reform being proposed by Transport Minister Anne Berner is that the tax on new cars would be replaced by an annual customer fee forroad use, averaging 500-600 euros a year.

Yle contacted a number of car dealers, but only a few were willing to comment on the surprise development that suddenly hit their businesses.

"Think of a customer who is just buying, or has already ordered a new car," said CEO Heikki Hämäläinen of the Suur-Savo cooperative. "In the past, the expectation of even small cuts in car taxes has impacted consumer behaviour. Now we're talking about thousands of euros."

Speculation about lower taxes for vehicles also put the damper on the used car market.

"Business hit a wall already on Wednesday. Phoning colleagues all around Finland, it's the same everywhere," reports JP Inkeröinen, the owner-operator of his own dealership in Savonlinna.

The people have spoken - rye bread is the national food
Helsinki, January 19 (Yle)
Finns were asked to name their picks for Finland's official national food and the results are in: the winner is rye bread. Karelian stew came in a very close second place, and fried fish and mashed potatoes was third.

Nearly 50,000 people were given the chance to vote for what they think of as the most typical, "national" food of Finland last autumn. Just over a quarter (25.7%) chose the dark hearty bread as the food most typical of the Finnish diet. It is a regular item on shopping lists - 70% of Finns buy rye bread on a weekly basis.

A close runner-up (24.7% of the vote) was Karelian stew, a combination of pork and beef, seasoned with salt and black peppercorns, often prepared with the addition of carrots, onion and root vegetables. Karelian pasties, fried fish and mashed potatoes, and pea soup were all highly ranked.

In addition to the dishes already mentioned, the final list included cured fish, fish soup, liver casserole, bilberry pie, the Easter delicacy mämmi (sweetened malt porridge), pizza and a fermented milk product known as viili.

The jury's task was to ensure that the finalists represented a wide range of the national food culture in terms of ingredients, preparation, and even stories. The jury's own favourite was fish soup.

The national food jury has now suggested that the 28th of February, which is Finnish Culture Day (also known as Kalevala Day), should also be named as a day of food culture.

Leaked transport plan would replace new car tax with road usage fee
Helsinki, January 18 (Yle)
Yle has obtained an advance copy of a government white paper calling for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's road traffic system. Transport Minister Anne Berner is to present the report on Thursday morning. If the plan goes through, it would bring significant changes for motorists. The current tax on new cars would be replaced by an annual customer fee, averaging 500-600 euros a year. Drivers could pay for road use by the week, month or year.

The document calls for an ambitious, rapid timetable, with key political decisions to be made during the April budget framework talks. A bill would be presented to Parliament when it returns from summer recess in September, with key provisions to take effect from the start of 2018. These would include a handover of road administration from the Finnish Transport Agency to a new transport network company. The new state firm would sell drivers the right to use the nation's roads for a certain period of time.

If the plan goes through, it would bring significant changes for motorists. The current tax on new cars would be replaced by an annual customer fee, averaging 500-600 euros a year. Drivers could pay for road use by the week, month or year.

Rovaniemi airport lands record number of airline passengers in 2016
Helsinki, January 11 (Yle)
The Rovaniemi airport in northern Finland saw a tourism highpoint in 2016, when it received a record number of airline passengers. According to airports operator Finavia, some 490,000 visitors used the airfield last year, an increase of two percent on 2015.

According to Finavia, the number of international travelers using the Rovaniemi airport rose 22.3 percent on the previous year, while domestic visitors inched down by 1.7 percent.

As one of the main hubs feeding air traffic to and from central Europe and the East, the Helsinki-Vantaa airport also saw a surge in travelers in 2016. Last year a record 17.2 million used the airport, up 4.6 percent from the previous year.

Traffic to Lapland via Helsinki
Helsinki-Vantaa also served as an important transit point for international travelers heading to northern Finland.

"The strong growth in domestic travel comes from passengers on international routes transiting to Lapland. Direct connections from Europe to Lapland also boosted accessibility and passenger numbers to a new level," Finavia director Joni Sundelin said in a statement Tuesday.

The total number of international travelers arriving at the Lapland airport – either directly or via Helsinki – increased by over 22 percent altogether.

Study: Alcohol reform would boost consumption
Helsinki, January 11 (Yle)
If passed by Parliament, the Finnish government's proposed alcohol reform could have a great impact on consumer purchasing habits. According to a new report, the reform would lead to significantly lower prices for strong beer, a decrease in the amount of alcohol brought to Finland from Estonia by Finnish travellers, and an increase in alcohol consumption.

Stores in Finland would be able to sell drinks containing up to 5.2 percent alcohol such as strong beer. The current limit for retail grocery sales is 4.7 percent alcohol.

That difference may sound insignificant, but a new Taloustutkimus Research survey commissioned by the Finnish Grocery Trade Association says the consequences could be great. It claims that retail prices for strong beers and ciders will drop by 40 percent. The survey also says that this will lead to an increase in alcohol sales, but owing to taxation differences beer containing 3.5 to 4.7 percent will become a more affordable option.

The reform will also make it less financially enticing for travellers to buy alcohol in neighbouring Estonia and cart it back to Finland.

Pasi Holm, research director for pollster Taloustutkimus, argues that when the price of strong beer drops in Finland, the price difference between Finland and Estonia will be halved, making it pointless to buy alcohol in Estonia and bring it back to Finland.

According to the report, alcohol consumption will increase by a mere half a percent. However, the National Institute of Health and Welfare has predicted a 6 percent increase in alcohol consumption should the reform go through.

Parliament will consider the law change in the spring.

Central bank: Finland has pulled out of recession
Helsinki, December 13 (Yle)
"We're leaving the recession behind; Finland has moved onto a growth track," Bank of Finland Governor Erkki Liikanen tells Yle.

The Bank of Finland says the Finnish economy is no longer in recession. The central bank declared on Tuesday that the economy has returned to growth, thanks to private consumption and investment. It forecasts slow GDP growth of 1.3 percent in 2017 and 1.2 percent the following two years.

Those figures are up slightly from its previous prognosis in June, when it projected growth of 1.1 percent next year and one percent for 2018.

Behind the eurozone curve
Finland still lags behind the other eurozone countries, though, partly because of the impact of the Russian recession and trade sanctions. The Finnish economy has been in the doldrums since the global financial crisis of 2007-08.

The central bank says growth will be fuelled by private consumption and the government's so-called competitiveness pact. But it also points to problems that will hamper the recovery, including an inability to match up and mesh jobseekers with open positions, the persistence of long-term unemployment and marginalisation among young adults.

"According to our forecast, we're now leaving the recession behind us and Finland has moved onto a growth track," Bank of Finland Governor Erkki Liikanen told Yle.

"And there is growth not only in domestic consumption but also in investments and to some degree also heavy industry. This is definitely the positive news," he added.

Nordea raises economic growth forecast for Finland
Helsinki, December 8 (Yle)
Finland's economy is set to grow a little quicker than previously thought, according to the banking concern Nordea. In its final Economic Outlook of the year, the company has some less positive news as well: Finland's exporters are not yet showing signs of a sustained revival.

Finland's economy is set to grow by one percent next year, according to Nordea's latest forecast. The firm's Economic Outlook, which was published on Wednesday, shows an upgraded forecast for the economy following several positive announcements in recent weeks.

In recent weeks it's been announced that a car plant in Uusikaupunki is to ramp up production of a new Mercedes model, and the Turku Meyer shipyard won a major contract, among other major investment decisions.

The bank warns, however, that the uptick in exports is not yet the basis for a sustained boost to the economy.

"It has been a while since the Finnish economic data were as positive as they are now," reads the Nordea statement. "The drivers of domestic demand – construction investment and private consumption – are the unchallenged engines of the economy, but slower growth is in the cards for both drivers already in 2017. On the bright side, passenger cars alone provide a healthy but temporary boost to goods exports next year."

In 2018 Finnish GDP growth will drop back to 0.8 percent, according to Nordea's forecast, while the firm says that in 2017 there will be a boost to exports not seen since 2011.

The long-term outlook for Finland's economy, according to Nordea, depends on further economic reforms or a major investment programme.

Trump to President Niinistö: "Finns are great people"
Helsinki, December 8 (Yle)
President Sauli Niinistö's first discussion with US President-elect Donald Trump went well, according to a short statement released on the Finnish President's official website. Topics included bilateral relations, Russia and the Arctic, according to the Finnish statement.

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö spoke with US President-elect Donald Trump by phone on Thursday, according to a statement on the Finnish Presidential office website.

The statement says they held a discussion that touched on bilateral relations, Russia and the handover of the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which is currently held by the United States and will switch to Finland next spring.

The presidents also discussed Finland's centenary independence celebrations, which are due to take place next year. Trump asked Niinistö to convey greetings to the citizens of Finland, who he described as 'great people', according to the statement.

The Finnish statement did not specify who instigated the call or how it was arranged.

Niinistö then thanked Trump on Twitter, saying "Thank You @realDonaldTrump for a great discussion! Until next time!".

Defence contractors unleash massive lobbying campaigns to win fighter jet deal
Helsinki, November 22 (Yle)
International defence contractors have enlisted the help of PR firms, embassy personnel and ex-military and senior state officials in the run-up to the largest-ever defence investment in Finnish history. Finland is slated to replace its aging Hornet fighter jet fleet by the year 2025. Several manufacturers from different countries are already pouring money into campaigning, even though the final decision on the over 10-billion-euro deal won't be reached for another five years.

The race is on to supply Finland's next fighter jet fleet. Image: Ilmavoimat Finland's upcoming tender process to choose a new fleet of fighter jets to defend the country won't just pit the planes' manufacturers against each other, as it will also draw the PR firms and experts the vying contractors have hired into the fray.

Finnish communications agency Kaiku Helsinki has agreed to assist the Eurofighter jet manufacturer BAE Systems, while the global public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies's Finland branch will lend a hand in F-35 fighter's US manufacturer Lockheed Martin's promotional work. Miltton, the communications agency with the highest turnover in Finland, has signed on to promote the makers of the Gripe NG jets, Sweden's Saab.

The PR firms will help the fighter jet manufacturers convince Finnish decision-makers of their aircrafts' superior features. The lobbying effort has already begun in earnest, as the teams have already approached MPs, defence administration members, the press and leaders in Finland's defence industry.

There's gold in them fells
Helsinki, November 22 (Yle)
Finland, the European Union's leading producer of gold, is attracting mining companies from around the world. They are now prospecting for the precious metal in southern Finland as well as Lapland.

Finland is gradually emerging as a significant producer of gold. Europe's largest gold mine is located at Kittilä in the fells of Finnish Lapland, and now a potential new mine in Häme is stirring interest among mineral companies.

A quantity of the coveted soft metal has recently been confirmed at the Satulinmäki claim in Tammela, near Somero in the south-west. The Geological Survey of Finland initially detected it, and now Australian mining company Avalon Minerals and Canada's Nortec Minerals have carried out drilling tests this autumn and are comparing the data with that from the state agency.

"Because we've matched those results, we're encouraged," Avalon CEO Malcolm Norris told Yle. "There is some gold there. We've seen the gold, because it's visible in some places. We're encouraged, but it is still early days."

Avalon isn't the only foreign firm interested in Finland's gold: other companies from Sweden, Canada and Australia are also hot on the trail.

Pekka Suomela, president of the mining industry association, says that Finland is the EU's largest gold producer, with an output of 8,000 kilos last year. Some 5,500 kilos of that comes from the EU's largest goldmine in Kittilä, Finnish Lapland.

One-vote margin sees Guggenheim Helsinki inch forward
Helsinki, November 21 (Yle)
Helsinki city board members voted by a narrow margin of 8 - 7 to move ahead with a new proposal to erect a Guggenheim museum at the city's South Harbour. Four years ago a similar vote stopped the project in its tracks.

Hopes of constructing a Guggenheim Museum in Helsinki were revived on Monday with city board members voting by the narrowest of margins -- 8 – 7 – to greenlight a new proposal to move ahead with the controversial project.

The museum proposal received broad political support from the National Coalition Party, the Greens, the Swedish Peoples' Party and the Centre.

Board members who rejected the motion to move forward with the museum project represented the Social Democratic Party, the Left Alliance and the Finns Party, as well as one Green member.

In spite of Monday's board endorsement of the plan, the city council will have the final say on the project. The 85-member council will convene to decide on the fate of the venture on November 30.

Soini: Europe should strike a deal with Trump
Helsinki, November 14 (Yle)
Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini told Yle that he does not believe that the election of Donald Trump will bring major changes to the relationship between the United States and Europe. He does think, though, that the EU should continue to actively engage with the US while waiting for Trump to take office in January.

European Union foreign ministers gathered in Brussels Sunday to discuss the implications of Trump's victory in the US presidential election.

"I said there, out loud, that since Trump is a dealmaker, then we should show [him] that Europe is a good deal. It's no more complicated than that," Timo Soini told Yle on Sunday evening.

The EU's foreign ministers are holding a formal gathering on Monday. Sunday's talks took place during a dinner in Brussels.

"This was a discussion, not a crisis meeting," Soini added.

According to Foreign Minister Soini, the EU should stress to the Americans that there is a natural partnership between the US and the European Union focused on free trade, security and common values.

Taxman sets police on Finns coming clean on undeclared overseas income
Helsinki, November 14 (Yle)
Finns alarmed by cracks in the previously iron-clad Swiss banking secrecy have come forward to volunteer information about undeclared overseas income to Finnish tax authorities. They were hoping for immunity from fines or criminal sanctions but dozens now face police investigations.

The Finnish Tax Administration has requested police investigations into 28 cases of tax fraud involving individuals who have voluntarily come forward to declare untaxed assets held overseas in foreign banks in places such as Switzerland.

The cases are linked to previously-proposed "active repentance" legislation tabled by Juha Sipilä's government roughly one year ago. However the draft bill was one of the ill-fated proposals hastily withdrawn by the greenhorn administration in the face of fierce public criticism.

The taxman called for the police probes into cases of suspected and aggravated tax fraud after processing up to hundreds of tax cases involving individuals voluntarily declaring their untaxed income in the hope of avoiding criminal sanctions.

Some of the cases date back to the beginning of 2015, suggesting that tax officials have taken nearly two years to decide on placing them in the hands of police.

According to information obtained by Yle, the unpaid taxes in question amount to tens of thousands of euros per suspect, representing investment income in the millions.

Usually individuals found guilty of committing tax fraud face fines or a maximum of two years in prison. The penalty in cases of aggravated tax fraud ranges from a minimum of four months in prison to a maximum sentence of four years.

Finland to shift biofuel and electric vehicle usage into high gear
Helsinki, November 6 (Yle)
To meet its commitments under the UN's Paris Agreement, Finland must briskly step up its adoption of electric cars and biofuels, government ministers tell Yle. That could lead to major investments and job creation.

The government aims to cut Finland's use of fossil fuels for transport in half by 2030. This is part of the country's efforts to combat climate change as part of EU climate policy and the Paris Agreement, which came into effect on Friday. Road transport is responsible for about a fifth of Finland's greenhouse gas emissions.

The government's main tool for weaning the nation off fossil fuel is the biofuel distribution requirement. It obliges fuel distributors to mix a certain proportion of renewable biofuel into fossil-based fuels.

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government agenda calls for renewable fuels to account for 40 percent of transport usage by 2030. Basically that means that fuel content would be 23.5 percent renewable by then.

Yle has learned from various sources that the government will now have to significantly raise that target, perhaps by as much as 10 percentage points, to around 33 percent.

If this is realised then overall renewable fuel usage would exceed the government programme target of 50 percent. Last year biofuel made up an average of 13 percent of the transport fuel pumped in Finland, so this would be a major leap forward. The intended hike is partly being driven by tougher EU requirements, which in Finland particularly affect transport.

Supercell founders among biggest earners of 2015
Helsinki, November 1 (Yle)
Clan leaders at the hugely successful Finnish gaming firm Supercell have seen their pay packets grow dramatically since 2015. Six of Finland's 10 biggest earners in 2015 work for studio as gamemakers eclipsed traditional industrials in terms of their earning power.

It's no secret that top executives at moneymaking game companies earn well. Tax and earnings data released by the Finnish Tax Administration Tuesday in Finland's annual orgy of rubber-necking show that clan chiefs at the country's most successful game firm Supercell are among last year's top income earners – and Supercellers have six of the ten largest pay packets.

Supercell founders Ilkka Paananen and Mikko Kodisoja both had generous payslips, earning 12.3 million and 10.7 million euros respectively. Meanwhile game designer Lasse Louhento posted a respectable 7.3 million euros in earnings in 2015. All saw their incomes rise substantially over 2015 figures to surpass even the top earners last year.

Last year Louhento claimed the honour of earning the highest taxable income in the country – at just over six million euros.

Other Supercell top executives also featured on 2015's list of top earners – they included Jouni Utriainen (4.2 million euros), Visa Forsten (3.6 million euros) and Nicholas Derome (3.6 million euros).

Otherwise, authorities estimated that the average salary in Finland in 2015 leveled out at about 41,000 euros. Extensive vacant retail space lurks amidst Helsinki region construction boom
Helsinki, October 13 (Yle)
Construction crews across the capital region are building hundreds of thousands of square metres of new shopping centres. But property management firms say that new capacity is roughly equal to the amount of existing, unused retail space sitting empty.

The Tripla shopping centre in Helsinki's Pasila district, which its creators have dubbed "the city's new centre" and the Redi mall in Kalasatama, are just a couple of new projects which will add some 150,000 square metres of new retail space to the metropolitan area in the not-too-distant future.

At the same time, at the beginning of July of this year there was some 145,000 square meters of available retail space sitting vacant in the capital area.

Most of that space is located in Vantaa, a city with more than five percent of its retail space left unused.

Hanna Kaleva, CEO of real estate analysis firm KTI Kiinteistötieto said that for the past three years they've increasingly noticed retailers giving up their shops in the area.

Finnair increases frequencies to Tokyo with the A350 for summer 2017
Helsinki, October 10 (Finnair)
Finnair continues to grow its Asian traffic, and hasannounced it will add capacity and frequencies to the Tokyo and Hong Kong routes with the A350 for the summer 2017 season.

Finnair will increase its current flight schedule between Helsinki and Tokyo with four additional weekly flights to Narita airport. Finnair currently operates daily to Narita with the A330. The additional flights, which will be flown with the new Airbus A350 aircraft, will be operated between June 5 and October 27. With these additions, Finnair and its partner Japan Airlines will offer 18 weekly connections from Helsinki to Tokyo's Narita Airport. The additional Tokyo frequencies will be operated as a joint business operation with Japan Airlines, British Airways and Iberia. Finnair also flies non-stop to Fukuoka during the summer 2017 season (from 27 April to end of October), with a total of 35 weekly flights to Japan.

Finance Ministry mulls further corporate tax cuts
Helsinki, October 13 (Yle)
The Finnish government is considering a further reduction in corporate tax rates. Three years ago, the previous administration attempted to boost business competitiveness by dropping the rate from 24.5 percent to 20 percent. Although the move would take a big bite out of government's tax take, it hopes that a dynamic effect on the corporate sector will make up for the losses.

Finland may be moving to further reduce corporate tax rates. The move comes as the European Union looks to roll back the current system of tailored tax breaks for large multination. According to the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy Etla, the slashing corporate taxes would erode government's tax revenues, but it is hoped that a resulting "dynamic effect" on the business sector will compensate.

Finland currently has the lowest corporate tax rate among Nordic countries, having reduced the levy from 24.5 percent to 20 percent 2013. Among EU countries only Ireland and Switzerland have lower tax rates at 12.5 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Now a working group put together by the Finance Ministry is once more looking at revising the corporate tax rate in accordance with the current government agenda. The group is expected to put out its recommendations at the end of January.

Working group chair and director general of the ministry's tax department said she couldn't comment on the committee's work at this stage, but Yle has learned that the main points focus on relieving taxation on investments in research and development as well as skills development.

Business Insider: Finnish passports ranked 3rd in visa-free "travelling power"
Helsinki, September 26 (Yle)
Business Insider Nordic published a list of the top 13 countries whose nationals are most free to travel to foreign countries without visas. Finnish passports ranked third, right after Swedish ones. The passports with the most "travelling power" belong to Germans.

According to Business Insider Nordic, people with German and Swedish passports have the most travelling power - the highest number of countries the passport permits them to enter without additional visas. German and Swedish passport holders can travel to some 158 countries without the need of a visa.

Close behind on the list are passports from Finland, France, Switzerland, Spain and the UK, which opens gates to 157 countries.

Norwegian and Danish passports allow for travel to 156 countries visa-free, along with South Korea Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.

US passport holders can travel to 155 countries without a visa, Japanese travellers are able to enter 154 countries and Canadian passport holders are allowed visa-free entry to 154 countries.

Metsä Fibre plant to meet new demand, make electricity
Helsinki, September 25 (Yle)
In an increasingly paper-free world some may have thought that the Finnish paper products industry's days were numbered. But the people behind Metsä Fibre's new pulp facility that's under construction in Äänekoski say demand for their products is increasing - and that the facility will produce the equivalent of 2.5 percent of Finland's energy. The company Metsä Fibre is investing heavily in a new facility in the town of Äänekoski which - when completed - will produce not only wood by-products but also generate the equivalent to 2.5 percent of Finland's energy needs.

Two-thirds of the construction of Metsä Fibres' giant complex in Äänekoski is already complete. The new facility will give the company a needed boost to meet increased worldwide demand for pulp materials, but also other materials.

"Pulp is our main product, because global demand for it goes up about one to one and a half percent every year," Camilla Wikström, the construction project's chief says.

In its promotion Metsä Group is trying to underscore the modern, innovative technologies at the new plant. Rather than using the more outdated term 'pulp mill,' Metsä is calling the new fibre facility a bio-product plant.

Pine oil, turpentine and biogas
"We also produce pine oil, turpentine and sulphuric acid for our own production - as well as a large amount of energy," Wikström says. "It will become an important part of our operations. For example, we make biogas out of the sludge from pulp production which can be used in vehicles."

Even though their primary - and profitable - product will continue to be pulp at the new plant, the production of energy at the plant will be significant.

The construction site has about 2,000 workers from more than 600 companies. According to Metsä Fibre the facility should be operational by the third quarter of next year.

Demand rising for pulp and cardboard
Metsä Group is not alone in believing the forestry industry still has a future in Finland's economy. Several other firms are investing heavily in facilities around the country because the market for pulp and cardboard products is growing.

"As a result of changed market conditions the industry was forced to rethink. Now we're at a stage when it's time to invest again," von Weymarn says.

"As we read newspapers less and because of digitalisation, the paper industry is losing ground," Wikström says. "But sales of cardboard, tissue, toilet and kitchen paper is stable and demand is increasing."

The new investments will also require more wood - and the trees that wood comes from.

Metsä Fibre says it will nearly triple the amount of wood it currently uses. And even though some of the trees used are imported, most of the wood will come from forests within a 150 kilometre radius of the Äänekoski plant.

Finance Ministry: No major turnaround in sight, growth just 1 percent in 2017
Helsinki, September 15 (Yle)
On Thursday Finland's Ministry of Finance released its autumn economic outlook, which forecasts little change in the country's beleaguered economy. Ministry officials pegged growth this year at 1.1 percent, down from a previous estimate of 1.4 percent earlier in the summer.

While the Finnish economy won't remain at a standstill, it won't economic output spring forward either. According to the Finance Ministry's autumn economic outlook released Thursday afternoon, GDP will increase by just 1.1 percent this year. Just a few months ago during the summer ministry analysts had put forward a slightly more optimistic estimate of 1.4 percent growth for the year.

Nor are there any signs growth is likely to pick in the near future, either. The Finance Ministry has projected that economic growth will remain in the region of one percent in the next two years as well. Ministry gurus said that the economic situation will remain weak in the near future and that GDP will remain some three percent below 2008 levels.

Domestic consumption to drive demand
With exports still struggling to take off domestic demand will have to provide the impetus for economic growth, the ministry noted. However the experts pointed out that households should not be expected to be solely responsible for the country's economic growth prospects for very long. Imminent tax hikes, rising costs and growing inflation coupled with stagnant wages will all play a part in eroding purchasing power, they added.

At the same time, government presented its budget estimates for next year. They showed government expenditure at 55.2 billion euros, with revenues pegged at 49.7 billion. Government has said it will borrow the 5.5 billion euros required to cover the resulting deficit.

All this adds up to public finances that will remain firmly in deficit, with overall government debt projected to increase to 111 billion euros by the end of 2017. Tax breaks and tax hikes
According to the finance ministry's calculations, the recently-sealed labour market-wide competitiveness pact will have a major impact on government outlays as well as income. Spending is expected to shrink as the government slashes employers' statutory contributions and working hours get longer. However the tax reliefs tacked on to the deal as well as the transfer of social insurance costs will eat into government inflows. Altogether the competitiveness deal is expected to account for just 900 million euros in government spending in the 2017 budget.

Additionally government recently committed to shaving a little off income taxes, amounting to a loss of 515 million euros in tax revenues. Taxes on inheritances and gifts are also to decline. On the other side of the coin, taxes on fuels and cigarette products will increase, adding to the state's tax take. Otherwise spending cuts will target areas such as earnings-based unemployment benefits, student financial aid and funding for universities.

Spending on asylum seekers next year will come in at 180 million euros less than the current year's costs, based on the assumption that Finland can expect to see 10,000 fewer asylum seekers next year than it did this year.

Finnish tax authorities to receive information about overseas bank accounts
Helsinki, September 5 (Yle)
Finnish tax authorities are set to broaden their collecting net on a global scale. The Tax Administration will soon have access to information about taxpayers' foreign bank accounts.

To date, 101 countries have agreed to release bank account information to tax authorities in other countries. Switzerland, Luxembourg, Britain, Germany, and the Cayman Islands are now on the OECD's Automatic Exchange Portal list.

In practice, the change will affect this year's account information, although the actual receipt of information officially starts in 2017, with some countries slated to join the exchange in 2018.

In August 2016, 101 countries endorsed the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Automatic Exchange of Information portal. The OECD has published a list of participating countries.

On the list are several tax havens and countries known for shielding the secrecy of their clients' banking information such as Panama, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Britain, and Germany. According to a 2015 investigation carried out by the Tax Justice Network, a Belgium-based non-profit advocacy group, those countries were among the top 20 nations which facilitate tax evasion.

Report: Russia now a greater threat to Finland
Helsinki, August 30 (Yle)
Russia represents a greater threat to Finland, according to a new report out on Tuesday. The Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs says that Finnish decision-makers have to be alert to Russia's use of energy policy in geo-politics, and the lack of western-style market mechanisms in Russia.

The Finnish Institute for Foreign Affairs (UPI) says that Russia's new posture in foreign affairs means Finland needs better crisis readiness.

Energy policy is a concern, according to the report, with Russian and Finnish interpretations of the Fennovoima nuclear power project diverging significantly - Russian policy in several countries has been to try and create dependencies.

The Fennovoima nuclear power plant to be constructed in Pyhajoki on Finland's west coast will be built by a consortium in which the Russian state-owned nuclear contractor Rosatom is both a part-owner and the main supplier of the facility.

Russian intelligence
As an example, the report quotes from the Finnish Intelligence Police's annual review, which stated that a key goal of Russian intelligence in 2015 was to influence Finnish energy policy, and says that attempts to influence Finnish policy are likely to continue.

The report's conclusion suggests that there are several risks emanating from Russia, and the key policy response from Finland should be to invest in and improve the country's resilience to withstand turbulence in many different spheres away.

Key recommendations
The UPI report makes several suggestions for Finnish policy makers, including:

  • Finnish operators should avoid major strategic investments in Russia for the time being because of economic uncertainty in the country.
  • Finland should maintain bilateral relations with Russia but keep EU partners informed at all times. Finland could otherwise be in a risky position.
  • Finland should signal to Russia it wants to maintain close economic and cultural links, but at the same time make it clear that Russia's actions in breaking international agreements are not acceptable.
  • Finnish decision-makers should understand how dependent relationships figure in Russian policy. Finland should take care to ensure that EU policy on Russia is united and based on realistic analysis, and should make clear to Russia that Finnish officials do not operate under political instruction.
  • Finland has to invest in quick, credible official communications. Confirmed attempts to influence decision-making should be publicly disclosed, and minority groups—particularly Russian-speakers—should be well integrated into Finnish society.
  • Finland should continue close military co-operation with western partners at all levels, as well as preparing for operations in so-called 'grey areas' different from traditional military conflicts.
  • Finland can't prepare for internal tensions in Russia, but should try to continue co-operation with environmental, regional and Finno-Ugric bodies anyway.
Norwegian to start London-Rovaniemi flights
Helsinki, August 17 (Yle)
Lapland's tourist industry received a boost on Wednesday when Norwegian announced it would start direct flights between Rovaniemi and London Gatwick during the winter season. British tourists will find it easier to get to Lapland this winter after Norwegian announced a new route from London Gatwick to Rovaniemi. The first flight will run on 19 December, and there will be two services a week on Mondays and Fridays.

"Those travelling from London will now find it significantly easier to visit Santa's home town of Rovaniemi, which is an exotic destination for Brits," said Norwegian's commercial director Thomas Ramdahl in a statement.

The Lapland town includes 'Santa's grotto', which includes a post office that handles letters addressed to Father Christmas. It is the biggest urban centre in Finnish Lapland, with a population of just over 60,000, and is located just 10 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle.

Norwegian currently runs daily services between Helsinki and London. In 2015 the firm says it carried nearly 26 million passengers worldwide.

Men's wages 800 euros a month higher than women's in private sector
Helsinki, August 16 (Yle)
New figures from Statistics Finland show a wide disparity in the salary packets of men and women in the private sector. In 2015, the data agency found that men earned an average of 3,970 euros per month and women made an average of 3,150 euros.

That brings the average pay for women to 79 percent of the pay of the average man. That's up from 76 percent ten years ago.

Median pay - that is, the salary that is in the middle of all salaries arranged from lowest to highest—is lower at 3,170 euros. Men's median pay in 2015 was 3,590 euros and women's was 2,812 euros. The median salary minimises the influence of the biggest salaries on the average number, and therefore better reflects the wages most people earn. Overall, the mean salary in private sector workplaces was 3,574 euros for a full-time job. The lowest-earning tenth of workers make an average of 2,130 euros and the highest-earning 10 percent makes 5,500 euros on average.


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