By David Carey, OECD Economics Department
After a large drop in the first half of 2020, Finland regained its pre-COVID-19 GDP level by mid-2021, which was faster than many other OECD countries (Figure 1). Policies to support incomes during and after the pandemic contributed to the powerful economic rebound. However, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has boosted inflation, slashing household spending power and consumer confidence, and weakened Finland’s main export markets. Consequently, economic growth is set to stall in 2023 but to recover in 2024 when the adverse effects of the energy shock will have passed.
Figure 1. The economy recovered quickly from the COVID-19 shock but is set to slow
Russia’s war in Ukraine has also increased the government’s budget deficit. On current policies, the budget deficit adjusted for the business cycle is set to be around 2% of GDP in 2023-24. With increases in spending related to population ageing on the horizon, the OECD projects that gross government debt will rise to 130% of GDP by 2070 (Figure 2). This increase would be considerably smaller if the deficit were constantly limited to Finland’s medium-term target of 0.5% of GDP beyond 2030. To this end, comprehensive spending reviews should be undertaken to identify consolidation measures and the incentives in the healthcare reform for counties to increase efficiency reinforced, if necessary.
Figure 2. Government debt would increase substantially under unchanged policies
Gross general government debt, % of GDP
Finland is on track to meet its gross greenhouse gas abatement targets for 2030 and 2035. However, the cost of reducing emissions is unnecessarily high. To lower these costs, the share of biofuels mandated in the transport sector should be reduced to the minimum level required by the European Union and, to compensate, the carbon price used to calculate carbon tax rates on heating fuels aligned with that used for transport fuels. Furthermore, heat production using peat, which is highly CO2 emissions intensive, should be subject to the same tax regime as other fossil fuels and policies to reverse car dependency in cities strengthened.
Finland is not on track to meet its forestry and other land-use targets. It needs to reduce forestry and land-use emissions from 2 CO2-eq. in 2021 to minus 17 and minus 21 Mt CO2-eq. by 2030 and 2035, respectively. To this end, instruments should be created to encourage the cultivation of wetted peatlands and forestry should be subject to carbon pricing.
Finland needs to reboot its innovation ecosystems, which comprise innovation partnerships between various public and private actors like universities, firms and research institutions, to lift weak productivity growth (0.5% on average over the past decade). The government’s legal commitment to boost R&D spending to 4% of GDP by 2030, from 2.9% currently, will help to strengthen innovation ecosystems. It will be important that additional spending and innovation support schemes be regularly assessed for their impact and improved continuously. Innovation support should also become more mission oriented, directing applied research toward solving the most pressing socio-economic challenges.
Another key challenge for Finland’s innovation ecosystems is the severe shortage of qualified workers with skills to develop advanced technologies or adopt successfully technologies developed elsewhere. The government has an ambitious goal of raising the tertiary attainment of young adults to 50% by 2030, from 40% today (Figure 3). To realise this goal, it should commit to a credible plan to increase tertiary study places, fund them and improve the allocation of study places across study fields to better reflect the skill needs of the labour market.
Figure 3. Tertiary educational attainment among young adults is relatively low
Percentage of 25-34-year-olds having completed tertiary education, 2021
Attracting more foreign talents is also important for alleviating skill shortages and better linking innovation activities with those in other countries. The government aims to increase annual work-based immigration by at least 50 000 by 2030. It will be important that these immigrants also find good jobs in Finland, which currently is not always the case.
OECD (2022), OECD Economic Surveys: Finland 2022, OECD Publishing, Paris,