What kind of year has 2020 been? It has certainly been a difficult one, one that has taught us many lessons and caused us to stop and think.
The pandemic year has been a time of collective efforts, and yet it has looked different for each one of us. Some have lost loved ones, others have lost their jobs, and many have had to give up things that are familiar and important to them. This year has been harder for some than for others, but it has made us all stop and take stock.
This year, we were forced to make decisions we did not want to make. We had to close schools and libraries, place restrictions on movement, gatherings and business activities, suspend hobbies and implement measures that affected many other aspects of everyday life. These decisions were not made lightly; they were made because they were necessary in order to protect people’s health and lives. At the same time, we tried to mitigate the damage by directing support to people, businesses and municipalities.
When it comes to managing the health and economic effects of COVID-19, Finland has fared better than many other countries. Vaccinations have begun, and we can once again see light ahead of us. Although we are moving towards better times, we still need to show restraint, act responsibly and follow the recommendations and guidelines put in place by the authorities. The pandemic is not over yet, and it will take some time to achieve sufficient vaccination coverage throughout the population. With this in mind, we must work remotely if possible, avoid gatherings, ensure good hand, respiratory and cough hygiene, wear masks and get tested for COVID-19 immediately if we experience symptoms. Through our efforts, we can help to ensure that society is safe for everyone and that we will make it through this crisis together.
Restraint will also be necessary once the pandemic is over. When we rebuild our societies and economies, we cannot simply go back to our old habits and ways of working. We must build our future on a more sustainable foundation and aim for a balance between humans and nature. Climate change, biodiversity loss and the unsustainable use of natural resources are the greatest challenges facing humanity. We must give up some of our old ways so that our children and our children’s children can live good and dignified lives. At the same time, we can create new business, jobs and wellbeing.
Finland is currently drawing up its own recovery plan as part of the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. Our plan, the Sustainable Growth Programme for Finland, will focus on achieving a fast-track recovery while also advancing the structural reform of the economy and the public services reform that will be necessary in the long term.
The programme will focus on 1) education, research and innovation activities; 2) a green transition; 3) securing Finland’s international competitiveness; 4) strengthening sustainable infrastructure and the digital transformation; 5) ensuring the functioning of the labour market, services for the unemployed and the development of working life; and 6) improving access to health and social services and increasing their cost-effectiveness.
The recovery of the European economy from the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis is a critical issue for Finland. Finland’s success alone will not be enough to get us through the pandemic – we all need to succeed together. Similarly, we need to work together to restore the European economy in addition to taking measures at the national level. We need to look beyond ourselves. The recovery of Europe is in our interest.
Although 2020 has been dominated by the COVID-19 crisis, we have been resolute in our progress on the reforms agreed on in the Government Programme. We have increased the smallest pensions and basic security, dismantled the activation model, restored the right of all children to full-time early childhood education and care, reduced group sizes in child care, increased resources for all levels of education, decided on extending compulsory education and made secondary education genuinely free of charge, introduced a statutory minimum staffing level in care services, submitted the healthcare and social welfare reform package to Parliament, agreed on the main points of the family leave reform, invested considerably in road, rail and transport infrastructure, decided on the energy taxation reform, made progress on the Nordic labour market service model and implemented the first structural measures to boost employment.
In 2021, we must continue these efforts to make our society more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. We will take action and make changes in a way that keeps all people and regions on board. When building something new, it is also important to recognise the things that work. Finnish society has once again shown its strength in the face of difficulties. We have a well-functioning healthcare system, trustworthy authorities and a stable democracy, skilled and competent teachers, advanced digital capabilities, the ability to adapt quickly to unexpected situations and mutual trust in society, all of which has helped us to cope amidst the crisis. We Finns are known for our guts, perseverance and tenacity.
This decade may have begun in a way that we could not have anticipated last year, but we can still turn it into a decade of solutions. This will take courage and the ability to work together and withstand uncertainty. The same things that this year has required from all of us.
I wish you all a peaceful, safe and better New Year!