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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Frozen Scandinavia’

Finland’s election topics: Climate change, welfare, aging

April 13, 2019

HELSINKI (AP) — Finns will be voting Sunday to fill the country’s 200-seat Eduskunta parliament after a campaign that saw debates over the country’s generous welfare model, its rapidly aging population and how far to go to fight climate change.

Here’s a look at the key issues and the main players in the election:

JUST THE FACTS

Some 4.5 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary election in Finland and will be choosing between 19 political parties and movements.

Early voting is popular. Over 1.5 million people, or 36% of eligible voters, have already cast their ballots in advance. The results of that early vote will be published as soon the polls have closed Sunday at 1700 GMT (1 p.m. EDT), and fuller preliminary results are expected a few hours later.

CLIMATE CHANGE TENSIONS

Tackling climate change is a priority in a Nordic country that has one-third of its territory above the Arctic Circle, but there are clear tensions over what path to choose.

Finland is boosting its nuclear energy production by launching a new plant next year and lawmakers last month voted to completely phase out burning coal by 2029. Many parties back actions to fight global warming, include boosting the number of electric vehicles, cutting meat consumption through taxes or switching to more vegetarian food in public places like schools.

The populist Finns Party, however, has broadened its support by appealing to those who reject such sacrifices in the name of climate change.

QUALITY OF LIFE AND OTHER ELECTION TOPICS

Finnish voters have also been debating how best to preserve the country’s health and social system, which for years has topped global quality-of-life and happiness rankings and created a world-renowned education system.

There are some divisions over proposed reforms, which are getting more urgent since the country’s population of 5.5 million is rapidly aging. One plan aims to improve efficiency and reduce public spending by offering Finnish municipalities more freedom to choose between public and private providers for social needs and health care.

FINLAND’S MAIN CONTENDERS

Finland’s center-left Social Democratic Party tops a recent poll with 19% support, according to a poll this week commissioned by Finnish public broadcaster YLE. The party would still need to find coalition partners if it ended up trying to form the next government.

Led by Antti Rinne, a former finance minister, the Social Democrats plan to raise taxes and increase spending to preserve a welfare system that is under huge strain. The party has also vowed to continue the country’s pro-European Union stance.

Other key parties include the populist Finns Party led by Jussi Halla-aho, which is focusing on voters angry at urban global elites, and the National Coalition Party led by Petteri Orpo. Those parties took second and third places in the poll with 16.3% and 15.9% support, respectively. They are trailed by the Center Party and the Greens, who have strong urban support and back moves to fight climate change.

Finland’s outgoing center-right coalition government, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipila of the Center Party, pushed through an austerity package that has helped Finland return to growth after a three-year recession.

FINLAND’S OTHER BIG POLITICAL JOB

Finland will take over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Social Democrats appear headed back into power in Denmark

June 06, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The Social Democrats emerged as Denmark’s biggest party in elections Wednesday, with preliminary results indicating gains for left-leaning parties and a big loss for populists.

If confirmed in final returns, the outcome pointed to the Social Democrats returning to power after four years as the country’s leading opposition party. The Social Democrats got about 25.9% of the votes after a campaign in which party leaders vowed a tough stance against immigration.

Mette Frederiksen, the party’s leader, said late Wednesday that the Social Democrats will try to govern as a minority rather than form a governing coalition with smaller parties. It will seek support from the right on some issues, such as immigration, and from the left on other matters, such as social welfare, she said.

Although Frederiksen won’t try to form a coalition, other left-leaning parties that increased their vote shares will likely support her effort to form a government to avoid the center-right from getting a chance. The Social Democrats and other left-of-center parties appear headed to having one more vote than a majority in the 179-seat parliament, the Folketing.

With nearly 100 percent of the votes counted, the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen showed a slight gain from four years ago. But the populist Danish People’s Party, which often voted with the center-right Liberals, was hit with a big drop in support, meaning Loekke Rasmussen can no longer muster a majority in parliament.

The Danish People’s Party’s performance was a contrast to some other European countries, where far-right populists have been on the rise. The party was the second-largest party in the outgoing parliament, but its vote share plunged to about 9% Wednesday, compared to 21.1% in 2015.

Loekke Rasmussen conceded defeat and would resign Thursday. “You have chosen that Denmark should have a new majority, that Denmark should take a new direction,” Frederiksen said told a jubilant crowd at parliament. “And you have chosen that Denmark should have a new government.”

At age 41, Frederiksen could become Denmark’s youngest-ever prime minister. “The election campaign is now over. It’s time to find solutions,” she said. Many Danish People’s Party voters have drifted to the Social Democrats, mainly because of it readopting tough views on immigration. The party advocated restricting immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s but softened its position later while in a coalition with left-wing parties.

Its lawmakers voted for several laws introduced by Loekke Rasmussen’s government to tighten immigration. “This is really, really bad,” People’s Party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl said of his loss at the polls, but he said the party would not change its politics.

The Hardliner Course party didn’t cross the 2% threshold needed to enter Parliament. The New Right, another openly anti-Muslim group that also fielded candidates for the first time, will be in the legislature after getting 2.4% of the votes.

This story has been corrected to show that the name of leader of the Danish People’s Party is spelled Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

A look at the main candidates in Denmark’s election

June 04, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A look at the main candidates in Wednesday’s elections for Denmark’s 179-seat parliament.

LARS LOEKKE RASMUSSEN

Loekke Rasmussen has been in power since 2015. He presently heads a minority center-right government with his Liberal Party, the center-right Liberal Alliance and the Conservative Party.

A member of parliament since 1994, the avid cyclist and jogger also was prime minister from 2009-2011, and earlier was interior and health, and finance minister.

Described as a skilled negotiator, Loekke Rasmussen, 55, has been at the heart of several scandals about using party funds for personal use.

His government has tightened Denmark’s immigration laws several times, bowing to pressure from the populist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which isn’t part of the government but supports it with the needed seats to muster a majority.

METTE FREDERIKSEN

Frederiksen, 41, took over Denmark’s largest party, the Social Democrats, in 2015 after Helle Thorning-Schmidt lost to Loekke Rasmussen.

A member of Denmark’s Folketing, or parliament, since 2001, she comes from a working-class background. Frederiksen was minister for employment and justice in the Social Democratic-led governments of Thorning-Schmidt.

Frederiksen has insisted on forming a one-party government if her party can garner a majority. She started the election campaign with a 16-percentage point lead ahead of Loekke Rasmussen.

KRISTIAN THULESEN DAHL

He became Danish People’s Party leader in 2012 after its founder and leader Pia Kjaersgaard voluntarily stepped down.

A member of parliament since 1994, the 49-year-old Thulesen Dahl has in recent years changed his image to become folksier. He has managed to position his party and its 37 seats in parliament by supporting the center-right government in exchange for tightening Denmark’s immigration laws.

Thulesen Dahl has said his party shouldn’t be in government because it has greater influence by being outside. Polls also have shown people who traditionally voted for the Danish People’s Party are drifting to other parties, mainly to the Social Democrats.

PERNILLE VERMUND

Vermund, a 43-year-old architect, founded in 2015 the conservative New Right, which has an anti-immigration and euroskeptic agenda.

The party has been promising a stricter immigration policy in a challenge to the Danish People’s Party.

The New Right wants asylum only given to those with “a job in hand,” an end to spontaneous asylum, calls for random border controls and wants to limit Danish citizenship to people who “contribute positively” to society.

Vermund has said her party is “ready to withdraw Denmark from the EU and seek a looser connection if a satisfactory agreement for Denmark cannot be achieved.”

RASMUS PALUDAN

The 37-year-old lawyer came first to public attention when burning Islam’s holy book, the Quran. He did it across the country, often in neighborhoods with a large immigrant population under heavy police protection. Paludan said it was done to support free speech.

The burning of the Quran sometimes sparked violent clashes with counterdemonstrators. Police eventually issued bans, citing Paludan’s own safety.

In a video posted on Dec. 19 on the YouTube channel of his party which he founded in 2017, Paludan said: “The enemy is Islam and Muslims … The best thing, however, is if there are no Muslims left on our dear Earth.”

In April, a Copenhagen suburban court found Paludan guilty of racism for comments directed at the spokeswoman of an ethnic group and was given a 14-day conditional jail sentence which he has appealed.

Three years earlier, he was convicted of insulting a police officer and told the court that he sustained a head injury in a 2005 accident after which “he found it very difficult to tolerate other people’s mistakes without being very frustrated.”

In 2013, he got a five-year restraining order for harassing a fellow student and, as a lawyer, he has been defending cases where asylum-seekers had their applications rejected.

A look at what is at stake in Denmark’s general election

June 04, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Denmark is holding a general election Wednesday and unlike in other European countries, far-right populists don’t seem to be on the rise here. The center-left Danish Social Democrats, in fact, may be making a comeback after four years in opposition.

While far-right parties are making gains across Europe after the 2015 refugee crisis, Denmark’s largest party has elbowed itself back thanks to taking a tougher line on immigration. At the same time, Danish populists seem to have lost support.

A look at what is at stake in Wednesday’s elections to renew Denmark’s 179-seat Folketing, or parliament, at the end of its four-year term.

THE MAIN CONTENDERS

The Social Democrats, the main party in the so-called red bloc, and four other center-left parties face a center-right blue bloc that is losing steam. The latter is splintered into eight parties of which three are newcomers, including two openly anti-Muslim groups.

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen’s three-party coalition isn’t campaigning together, and none wants to rely on support from the anti-immigration newcomers. At the same time, the populist Danish People’s Party that has been supporting the minority government sees shrinking support in polls.

Denmark’s 4.2 million voters can pick from 13 parties. The red bloc could get up to 55% of the vote, according to polls.

THE KEY ISSUES

Immigration, climate and environment along with welfare, where there have been cuts in recent years.

LIKELY OUTCOMES

Whatever the result is, it likely will end with a minority government.

The Social Democrats want to form a one-party government headed by its leader, Mette Frederiksen, and will seek support on the right when it comes to immigration issues and on the left for matters like social welfare, said Nicolai Wammen, the party’s No. 2 official.

“There is a limit as to how many people we can take in and preserve (Denmark’s) welfare state,” Wammen said.

Many Danish People’s Party voters have drifted to the Social Democrats, mainly because of its stricter stance on immigration policy. It’s a position they already had in the 1980s and 1990s, but which they later watered down in a coalition with left-wing parties. They also have voted for several of the center-right government’s tightening of immigration laws.

The 2015 migration crisis, in which mostly Muslim asylum-seekers sought shelter in European countries, was “an eye-opener” for the Social Democrats, said Kasper Moeller Hansen, a political analyst with Copenhagen University, to explain why the party has shifted back to a firm line. He added it “triggered a change in their view on immigration.”

THE CENTER RIGHT

Loekke Rasmussen is heading a coalition with his Liberal Party, the smaller center-right Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives. But it depends on the Danish People’s Party to muster a 91-seat majority in parliament. They have been pressing for tightening Denmark’s immigration laws several times.

Laws range from a ban on garments covering the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa to require newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewelry and gold to help pay for their stays or requiring anyone who becomes a Danish citizen to shake hands at the naturalization ceremony.

Last year, Denmark made international headlines when it was decided to send rejected asylum-seekers or those with a criminal record awaiting expulsion to an island that once housed a defunct laboratory for contagious animal diseases.

Wammen said if they win, they have no plans to reverse any of the laws on immigration.

THE POPULISTS

In last month’s European Parliament elections, populists and anti-immigration parties made significant gains across the continent.

That trend didn’t happen in Denmark where the Danish People’s Party suffered a major blow when losing three of its four seats in the 751-seat European assembly.

Voters have turned away from the party because of fraud scandals involving European Parliament funds, domestic backpedaling but also criticism that it is no longer a protest party and doesn’t give enough attention to climate change and environmental protection.

In 2015, the party had its best-ever result in a national election when the euroskeptics grabbed more than 21% to become the second-largest party in the Scandinavian country of 5.8 million.

This time around, the party could see its support cut in half, according to polls.

THE NEW FAR-RIGHT

In recent months, Hardliner Course and New Right have been challenging the Danish People’s Party, claiming its immigration line is too soft.

Hardliner Course leader Rasmus Paludan has burned Islam’s holy book, the Quran, sometimes in public and under heavy police protection.

The 37-year-old lawyer has said in online videos that “the best thing is if there are no Muslims left on our dear Earth.”

“Only massive returns of Muslims can solve the problems that Denmark faces,” a party flier said.

More moderate is Pernille Vermund, 43, who founded the conservative, pro-business New Right in 2017 which calls for a stop to spontaneous asylum, limit Danish citizenship to people who “contribute positively” to society and calls for Denmark to leave the European Union which the Scandinavian country joined in 1973.

These parties, plus the third newcomer, headed by fraud-convicted businessman Klaus Riskjaer Pedersen, hover around the 2% threshold to win parliamentary seats.

Swedish bid hopes Latvia link key to 2026 Olympics host vote

June 23, 2019

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The head of Sweden’s 2026 Winter Olympics bid believes having Latvia on the hosting ticket can sway Monday’s vote for the perceived underdog against Milan-Cortina. The Stockholm-Are plan to stage ice sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia avoids building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

Using the sliding track at Sigulda “adds enormous value” to the two-nation bid, Stockholm-Are chief executive Richard Brisius told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It will be very important for delivering the new transformative games that we want to do,” Brisius said.

The International Olympic Committee wants the 2026 Winter Games to help end skepticism about the cost of bidding and hosting the games, after potential bids in Canada, Switzerland and Austria dropped out due to local opposition.

Brisius argued the Latvian element in Sweden’s bid is the best example of living up to the IOC’s promise to be flexible with candidates aiming to be cost-efficient. “Are the IOC members ready for that? We are offering that,” the Stockholm-Are official said in a challenge to around 85 IOC voters.

“If we can do this, and we show that this is the way to do it, it will open up for more bid cities in the future,” Brisius said. “I would not say we are the underdog — I think we are the future.” One member of Sweden’s delegation who is more than happy with the underdog label is retired high jumper Stefan Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013.

The 43-year-old Holm, who won Olympic gold in 2004, even drew comparisons with Sweden’s victory over Italy in the qualifying playoff for the 2018 World Cup. “Sweden is always the best when we’re the underdog,” Holm said after a bilateral meeting at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. “In the team sports we could beat Italy in football and we’re always the underdog against Italy, the same against Canada in ice hockey or whatever.

“So I think we’re in a good place.” Sweden has never hosted the Winter Games. It made numerous bids between 1984 and 2004, while it was also briefly in the race for 2022. “We are a stable country politically speaking, economically speaking,” said Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013. “We have never held the games before and we really, really want it. We are a sports loving people especially when it comes to winter sport so hopefully it’s our turn this time.”

IOC members are famously discreet about their voting intentions ahead of a hosting vote, and more than one-third of this electorate is voting for the first time. A total of 35 members have joined since the last contested vote in July 2015 when Beijing edged Almaty to get the 2022 Winter Games.

“I meet people who are very keen to find out what is best for the (Olympic) movement,” Brisius said of the newer recruits. Two of those 35 are Italian — bobsled federation president Ivo Ferriani and Italian Olympic committee head Giovanni Malago — and so cannot vote Monday.

Malago is confident that the support for the Italian bid, from the government and the general population, will see it edge out Sweden. That support is a contrast to recent Italian bids — three years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city’s mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city’s candidacy for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.

“We have never received a critic. From any parties,” Malago said of the current bid. “The government and the opposition support this bid. I think it is a unique case not only in Italy but also in the world.”

The IOC president traditionally does not vote, though in an expected close race the winner is likely to be the candidate most favored by Thomas Bach’s office.

F-35s for Turkey on hold as U.S. approves sales for Australia, Norway

By Allen Cone

APRIL 2, 2019

April 2 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin was awarded a $151.3 million contract to sell 15 F-35 Lightning II aircraft to Australia and six to Norway.

The contract for the 21 planes comes in the wake of the United States halting delivery of equipment related to the F-35 jet to Turkey because of the nation’s decision to purchase the Russian-made S-400 missile system. As a NATO partner in the development of the fighter jet, Turkey makes parts of the fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays and was expecting the first of the $90 million jets to arrive in November.

The sale to Australia and Norway, which was a modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition, was announced Monday by the Defense Department.

Work is expected to be completed in December 2022 in U.S. and foreign plants. Thirty-percent will be performed in the company’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas; 25 percent in El Segundo, Calif.; 20 percent in Warton, United Kingdom; 10 percent in Orlando, Fla.; and 5 percent each on Nashua, N.H.; Nagoya, Japan, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Australia will pay $108.2 million and Norway $43.1 million under a cooperative agreement. The international partner funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Australia received its first F-35s last December, and Norway received them in November 2017.

Australia and Norway are among six NATO countries that have received the planes, including the United States, Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. Two other nations that also participated in the aircraft’s development — Canada, Denmark and Turkey — are scheduled to receive the F-35.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2019/04/02/F-35s-for-Turkey-on-hold-as-US-approves-sales-for-Australia-Norway/3891554217447/.

Beluga whale with Russian harness raises alarm in Norway

April 29, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A beluga whale found with a tight harness that appeared to be Russian made has raised the alarm of Norwegian officials and prompted speculation that the animal may have come from a Russian military facility.

Joergen Ree Wiig of the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries says “Equipment St. Petersburg” is written on the harness strap, which features a mount for an action camera. He said Monday fishermen in Arctic Norway last week reported the tame white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around. On Friday, fisherman Joar Hesten, aided by the Ree Wiig, jumped into the frigid water to remove the harness.

Ree Wiig said “people in Norway’s military have shown great interest” in the harness. Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, northern Norway, believes “it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk” is involved. Russia has major military facilities in and around Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of Russia.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the mammal was being trained for, or whether it was supposed to be part of any Russian military activity in the region. Rikardsen said he had checked with scholars in Russia and Norway and said they have not reported any program or experiments using beluga whales.

“This is a tame animal that is used to get food served so that is why it has made contacts with the fishermen,” he said. “The question is now whether it can survive by finding food by itself. We have seen cases where other whales that have been in Russian captivity doing fine.”

Hesten told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the whale began to rub itself again his boat when he first spotted it. Russia does not have a history of using whales for military purposes but the Soviet Union had a full-fledged training program for dolphins.

The Soviet Union used a base in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula during the Cold War to train the mammals for military purposes such as searching for mines or other objects and planting explosives. The facility in Crimea was closed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, though unnamed reports shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea indicated that it had reopened.

The Russian Defense Ministry published a public tender in 2016 to purchase five dolphins for a training program. The tender did not explain what tasks the dolphins were supposed to perform, but indicated they were supposed to have good teeth. It was taken offline shortly after publication.

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