The Minister for Economic Affairs, Mr. Lintilä, met with the press today to present and discuss regional development policies:
- The current EU Cohesion Policy is the basis of Finland’s main development program. It is more stable than past efforts to develop a national program that changes with each election.
- There are many regional development program projects that are being chased by the member states, but Finland is following the above policy which happens to be the same one for regional development as Germany and France.
Our universities and applied universities will be the biggest beneficiaries of this funding to help Finland maintain its competitive position in the global markets. A new study for finding the most appropriate policies for developing the regions is to be started this year, with the aim to optimise how Cohesion Funding should be used as the main source of development financing. This should help improve how the expected annual payments of €200 million p.a. shall be allocated.
- Growth is is broad-based and covers the whole country. Economic development has been spread fairly evenly throughout the whole country with tourism being the fastest growing economic sector in the North, Lapland and in the east.
In the north and middle parts of the country the mining sector has seen tremendous progress with a fully holistic approach including know how and cost efficient production capacity in energy, smelting as well a new production facilities for cobalt batteries concentrated in the middle of the country. The lessons learned from the failure of the zinc mine called Talvivaara have been learnt and new projects are applying these lessons. The new owners are now optimising production systems and new raw materials like cobalt and uranium are being produced.
The government is also considering trying to establish certification for cobalt that is used in batteries to support export sales. Safe and sustainable mining practices are implemented in Finland but not in Nigeria and Venezuela.
- The same eco-systems also exist for the forestry/bio-economy projects in the same regions where the latest the latest investments in newest plants are expected to exceed €1.4 billion, along with many other similar projects in this region.
- Further south, there is a huge demand for skilled labor for the medical/healthcare sectors, shipping, metal sector and IT specialists. Labor mobility is too weak and this will now be supported with an increase of allowable tax deductions for a second home of €450 a month.
- The Ministry has also allocated another €24 million for extra funding to help less educated young men find jobs in their regions. They are the largest problem group characterised as having weaker levels of education after leaving school at 16 year of age. Since the birth rate is so low, there is an urgent need for having more trained foreign immigrants come to Finland.
- The minister regretted that the trade unions are not supportive of various support measures for getting more immigrants employed. The minister said that talks were still ongoing with the trade unions an dthese talks were being held in a positive spirit. He is in favour of many solutions that are still not accepted by the unions but he never-the-less is hopeful that more useful solution cam be found based on Swedish’s positive experience. Another problem is also within the government’s own bureaucracy where barriers have been identified.
- He noted with pleasure the the trade unions were also now proposing to establish their own employment agencies in the new Counties. he mentioned both Palma and Pro as examples.
- The Minister is also responsible for government owned companies of which there are 64. This is an area that has been favourable – he mentioned that the combined market values of these companies has increased by over €5 billion since the last election. Fortum and Neste account for the largest part of this increase
He is particularly pleased with Terrafame that is mining nickel and zinc, cobalt and, later, uranium. The cobalt will be used to produce batteries in Finland as facilities there alongside BASF in Harjavalta.
Finland is the only major producer of cobalt in Europe apart from Russia, producing about 2500 t in 2016 which is about 3% of global production. The known reserves here contain over 445,000 tons of cobalt which far exceeds the current annual global cobalt production and provides raw material for decades to come.
There is currently no industrial scale lithium mining in Europe. However, Finnish company Keliber Oy is planning to start battery grade lithium production in 2020 in Kaustinen, western Finland, aiming to produce 9,000 tpa lithium carbonate with 400,000 tpa ore feed. There are also other potential lithium deposits in Finland subject to further exploration.
- Finally he mentioned that it could soon be useful to consider selling off some of these shares and increase investment through the newly created company VAKE Oy in the IT and digital sector. Thinking ahead is always important, but with just 12 months to go before the next election there is not much time to break the ice.