As Finland enters its second century as an independent nation, the country is engaged in domestic projects, including sweeping initiatives to combat climate change, and cross-border initiatives such as the Helsinki–Tallinn tunnel. The tech industry is also going from strength to strength, with Nokia relaunching under the new ownership of former employees. Since the start of the decade, it has been a legal requirement for Finns to have access to broadband, which now extends to 93% of the population.
Century of Success
Since its independence from Russia in 1917, remote, forested, cold, sparsely populated Finland has had a hell of a century. It has propelled itself from agricultural backwater of the Russian empire to one of the world’s most prosperous nations, with great standards of living and education, low crime, a practical, deep-rooted sense of environmentalism, strong cultural output and a muscular technology industry. During the centenary in 2017, Finns toasted a remarkable success story. Commemorative projects included the reopening of the Eduskunta (Finnish Parliament House) in Helsinki, and the creation of the country's 40th national park, the sprawling wilderness of Hossa National Park.
The enormous eastern neighbour has been one of the main talking points in Finland since some time in the 12th century, when Russian power began to loom large over the land. Long experience with the Bear has stood Suomi in good stead, and the two countries have a strong relationship, with much exchange of commerce and tourism. It's a very important market for both import and export of goods and services, and any Russian counter-sanctions against the EU could cost Finland dearly. To that end, Finland, although a member of the EU, is not a member of NATO to keep onside with Russia. Nevertheless, Finns on the street are understandably nervous of a nationalistic Moscow, exacerbated by events such as the annexation of Crimea. Memories of bitter fights for freedom are too painful for national service and the army not to be taken seriously here.
Southern Finland has encountered dramatically changed weather patterns, with much milder winters. The once-unthinkable prospect of a non-white Christmas in Helsinki is now a reality. Scientists in the Arctic are producing increasingly worrying data and it seems that northern nations such as Finland may be some of the earliest to be seriously affected. Though Finland will reap corn sown by bigger nations, its people and government are very environmentally conscious. Finland's own commitment to combating climate change is strong, having set a legally binding target in 2014 of 80% emissions reduction by 2050, and ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2016. A large nuclear-power sector is backed by an increasing percentage of renewable energy, and by 2030 the country will have a ban on diesel vehicles.
Finns are rightly proud of the strong foundations of their society. Famously high tax rates mean the nation is well equipped to look after its citizenry with some of the world’s best health care and education. Despite the high excise on alcohol, Finns appreciate the reliable public transport and world-class universities, libraries and other infrastructure these same taxes afford. Like much of the world, the country is holding its breath as ageing baby boomers retire and it attempts to maintain high pensions.
In 2017 Finland became the first country in Europe to trial a basic universal income. The two-year pilot scheme provides unemployed Finns aged 25 to 58 involved in the trial with a guaranteed sum in place of their existing social benefits, which is paid even if they find work.
Once dominated by forestry, which has lessened in importance in line with the decrease in demand for paper due to digital reading habits, Finland's economy is now as much or more about technology and services. Although Finnish company Nokia initially failed to crack the smartphone market and was sold to Microsoft, it has bounced back. In 2016 the Nokia brand was bought by former Nokia employees, and next-generation Nokia phones launched in 2017.
The long-term economic outlook is positive, with a well-balanced economy built on strong foundations with a highly skilled workforce.
Ambitious plans continue to formulate in Finland today. Most ambitiously of all, planning is progressing for the construction of a 92km-long tunnel beneath the Gulf of Finland linking Helsinki with Tallinn in neighbouring Estonia. In 2016 the EU provided additional money for the project, which will see travel times reduced from the current two-hour ferry trip to a 45-minute trip by road. It's expected to be completed by 2035.