When it comes to attracting foreign direct investment, Finland continues to fall further behind its Nordic neighbors. Last year, out of U.S. investments – the largest investor to the region – Norway attracted 46% and Sweden 37% but Finland only 2%.
In the current economic climate there is an urgent need for solutions that will help to attract international companies and investors. That’s why Amcham, on behalf of its members, supports the creation of an independent Ombudsman for Investor Affairs during the term of the next government.
The solution was among the topics of the Election Debate: Driving jobs and growth, featuring:
Olli Rehn, Centre Party (Kesk.)
Maria Lohela, Finns Party (PS)
Elina Lepomäki, National Coalition Party (Kok.)
Matti Niemi, Social Democratic Party (SDP)
Marcus Rantala, Swedish People’s Party (RKP)
Moderated by Amcham Finland’s own C.E.O., Kristiina Helenius. Here’s the highlights of debate held at Kämp Hotel for the benefit of the international business community.
An Ombudsman for Investor Affairs would help to attract FDI by addressing permitting delays, transparency, and situations where foreign companies are given unfavorable treatment. At the same time, it would make it clear that Finland is serious about attracting investment from abroad, and achieving its high potential. The panelists gave their broad support the idea.
Olli Rehn of the Centre Party acknowledged the bureaucratic delays and said greater predictability is needed. Highlighting the problem of public sector fragmentation, he called for a “one-stop shop” for foreign companies. “We need either an ombudsman or a special adviser to the prime minister who would deal with foreign direct investment and take it seriously.”
Marcus Rantala of the Swedish People’s Party said the idea has his party’s full support, asking: “if it helps companies come to Finland, why not?” Maria Lohela of the Finns Party shared his opinion, noting that “we need to listen to business!”
Coming together on the issue, Elina Lepomäki of the National Coalition Party and Matti Niemi of the Social Democrats said wider structural reforms are needed to address barriers to investment. Elina suggested a 10-year plan to make Finland the best business environment in Europe, while Matti wants a total rethink on FDI. “We need a one-stop shop,” he said, referring to public sector overlap and disconnect. “We need this kind of approach for foreign companies if we want them to invest in Finland.”
Read more about Amcham’s vision for an Ombudsman for Investor Affairs here.
ATTRACTING AND RETAINING FOREIGN TALENT
There’s no denying it: Finland needs more skilled workers. The country receives around 18,000 immigrants a year, a figure that needs to double to prevent the economy from declining, according to a recent report by the Finnish think-tank EVA (read more here.).
Foreign students play a key role. Earlier this year, the current government decided not to introduce tuition fees for non-EU students, ensuring that Finland will maintain its fresh competitive edge. The challenge, however, is in keeping them here once they graduate – another topic of discussion at the debate.
Currently, international graduates must apply for a six-month residence permit for job seekers, which is granted only once. If and when they find a job, they must apply all over again, and the permit expires the same day as their contract – meaning they will be under pressure from day one. As a result, Amcham Finland would like to see it extended for two-years, starting from graduation day.
Elina Lepomäki (Kok.) noted that obtaining a work permit is a very slow process despite a high functioning legal system and suggested graduates receive a work permit on the day they graduate.
Marcus Rantala (RKP) agrees that the timeframe is unrealistic. “It’s very tricky for business to get the workforce they need,” he said, warning that Finland risks losing specialist workers to other markets.
Maria Lohela (PS) added that, in general, there’s a need to attract highly-skilled international workers and the system should be digitized to speed it up.
Olli Rehn (Kesk.), and Matti Niemi, SDP, say the availability consideration (saatavuusharkinta) is another barrier, particularly for startups. All panelists agreed that this barrier should be removed for skilled workers in order to reduce unnecessary delays.
JOBS AND GROWTH
It is great to hear all parties agree on the need for smart solutions to unlock Finland’s potential as an attractive destination for FDI and foreign talent. Amcham Finland wishes all of the candidates well, and looks forward to working with the next government!