Halonen shakes up bank appointments
President Tarja Halonen surprised everyone by appointing Dr Sinikka Salo to the board of the Bank of Finland, passing over the two candidates recommended by the government to fill the two vacant posts on the central bank's governing board. The government earlier nominated Finance Ministry official Johnny Åkerholm and Mauri Pekkarinen of the Centre Party (Keskusta) for the vacancies, but both men withdrew their names after the Salo appointment. Dr Salo is currently an economist at the European Central Bank.
President Halonen said that she is exploring the possibilities of enlarging the central bank's board, though many wonder- how many board members does the bank really need as a member of the European Monetary Union (EMU)? The board is composed of four members.
Finns striking gold in market
A report from the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration suggested that the ranks of investors growing wealthy from the stock market have boomed over past years. The report said that in June of this year there were about 18,400 individuals that are millionaires from stock value, compared to only about 3300 five years ago. The number of individuals with over FIM (Finnish markka) 5 million (USD 739,692) in stocks also grew by tenfold in the same period, to 4000.
However, the report also indicates a growing divide between the rich and poor, as 85 per cent of the population do not own stocks and about 0.5 per cent of the population hold some 70 per cent of all shares.
President worried about racial tensions
President Tarja Halonen voiced continual concern over racial tensions in the town of Vantaa, highlighted by several violent incidents between Finns and Somali refugees in past weeks. Fights and other assaults, including a stabbing, highlighted the dangerous situation as victims on both sides ended up in hospital or jail.
Antti Seppälä, Finland's ombudsman for aliens' affairs, said that the situation must be dealt with before it gets "out of hand." Vantaa city officials have been brokering talks between the two sides to calm down the charged situation. An advisory council on ethnic relations is also looking into ways to promote better ethnic relations, and an action plan should reach the government in October. In the meantime, the situation in Vantaa appears to have calmed.
Parliament speaker warns EU candidates on minorities, borders
During her Latvian visit, Eduskunta speaker Riitta Uosukainen stressed that EU candidate states must resolve their problems concerning minorities and the status of national borders. Speaking to the Latvian Saeima, Uosukainen said, "The enlargement should be carried out so that it would not destroy the results achieved through 40 years of the consolidation process in Europe." The speech served as a warning from one of Latvia's strongest EU supporting countries, as Latvia is still on a long road to integrating its Russian-speaking population and Russia is reluctant on pursuing a border agreement using the former as the main argument.
However, perhaps more to Latvia's liking, Uosukainen also focused on the rights of small states in the EU. Speaking from Finland's own experience as a smaller EU member, Uosukainen stressed the importance of languages used by small nations—such as Finnish—to be recognised as an official EU language.
A stainless merger
Finland's metals and mining giant, Outokumpu, announced that it will merge its stainless steel producing subsidiary with Swedish-British Avesta Sheffield, creating the second largest stainless steel producer in the world. The stock-swap deal still needs to be approved by regulators in both countries, as well as the Competitions Directorate of the European Commission. The merged company, to be named AvestaPolarit, will be 55 per cent owned by Outokumpu. Analysts say that post-merger restructuring could result in the closure of a British facility.
Four medals and counting...
As of time of writing, Finland has brought home four Olympic medals: two gold, one silver and one bronze. Arsi Harju was the first to win a medal for Finland, taking gold in the men's shot put. Juha Hirvi was next with a silver in the men's 50m three-position shooting contest. The team of Thomas Johanson and Jyrki Järvi took gold in the open sailing 49er competition following that. The most recent one was a strong result by Marko Yli-Hannuksela in the welterweight (76kg) Graeco-Roman wrestling, as he defeated David Manukyan of Ukraine for the bronze.
Are Finns more danger-prone?
Statisticians say that Finns are the most danger-prone nation in the EU, with an estimated one million accidents a year—in a country of five million people. The statistics show a high number of fatalities from alcohol poisoning, suicides and violence, with middle-age men the most prone. Statisticians also stress that Finland's accident rate is close to that of Central and East European countries.
Much of the blame seem to be on alcohol and despite the icy winter, most accidents occur in the summer. Insurance officials estimate that half of the drowning cases are attributed to drink, as well as many fatalities from fires and poisoning. Sports and DIY (Do It Yourself) are also major culprits.
Mel Huang, 2 October 2000
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