©OECD

In 1969, when Finland became an OECD member, you were delicately balancing between the West and the East. Finland’s road to prosperity was neither obvious nor predetermined. Per capita income was almost 30% lower than in Sweden. 

©Lauri Heikkinen/Valtioneuvoston kanslia

The year 1968 was very important in many respects. There were youth revolts throughout Europe contesting the old order. In Vietnam, the war had intensified. The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia ended with a Soviet intervention.

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The global energy market is constantly evolving. Current market trends show the energy landscape is in transition towards more flexible energy systems with a rapidly increasing share of renewable energy, declining inflexible baseload generation and wider applications of storage technology.

Click to watch Finland 50th anniversary video

On a cold, dark Helsinki winter’s day in 2014, I was waiting for OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and my other colleagues in a black limousine in front of the austere parliament building. The scene could have come out of a John le Carré thriller. It was late in the day. The OECD delegation I was waiting for was meeting Alexander Stubb, then the minister for European affairs and foreign trade. One of Finland’s most europhile and tech-savvy statesmen, Mr Stubb soon became prime minister. How things had changed in 50 years.

Start-up event, Helsinki, Finland ©Jmohammad-saifullah

Most people spend their evenings kicking back with a book or whatever’s on Netflix. In Finland, they’re teaching themselves artificial intelligence (AI). In the summer of 2017, computer scientist Teemu Roos heard that the government was looking for ways to teach ordinary people the basics of artificial intelligence. It would be a continuing education initiative­—not necessarily to train people to become machine-learning engineers, but to understand how neural networks work and grasp how AI is changing the way we do things. 

©serprix.com

What do toothpaste and ice-cream have to do with a circular economy? If you live in Finland, quite a lot. CP Kelco, a multinational company with facilities in Äänekoski, Finland, recycles waste pulp from the city’s pulp and paper mill into carboxymethyl cellulose, a natural polymer used to thicken ice-cream and toothpaste.

Dustin Hoffman (left) in The Graduate, 1967 ©Alamy

“I just want to say one word to you. Are you listening? Plastics.” This infamous advice, delivered to Ben, played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film, The Graduate, foresaw a great career in plastics. 

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To mark Finland’s 50th anniversary as a member of the OECD, we have invited a range of representatives to answer the following question: What Finnish achievement would you most celebrate from the last 50 years, and what would you see as the main policy challenge for the next 50?

Marine experts in Tornio, northern Finland, drill holes on February 5, 2016 in the sea-ice and inject dye into the water to study how it flows, to model how an oil spill would behave underneath the arctic ice. ©Sam Kingsley/AFP

If you think the ice looks a little greyer in the Arctic, your eyes are not deceiving you. A five-year study by international researchers has found that diesel-engine vehicles, coal-burning factories and other such fossil-fuelled activities spew out soot, which circles around in the cold air before landing on the snow, turning it from white to sometimes black.

©astudio/Shutterstock

Digitalisation, climate change and urbanisation are changing our lives and forcing us to find new ways to move people and goods. We must cut down on carbon emissions, and make traffic safer and more efficient than before. Digital tools will help us with this. After all, small, wallet-sized devices now enable near-instant data transfer and internet connections all over the world. Mobile phone technology provides us with services we could not even have dreamt of a few years ago.

©ZygiStudio/Shutterstock.com

It was seven years ago when Arvo (not his real name) first walked into this building. Back then, it was a hostel for homeless men run by the Salvation Army and had a certain reputation. Arvo can still remember opening the door to his dormitory. There were three men sitting on their beds, their faces sullen and melancholy. This would be his new home for a while.

Relaxed learning environment at Helsinki University Library. ©Shutterstock

Finland has consistently been one of the most successful countries in global education rankings. For some, its name has become synonymous with educational excellence. While Finland is not alone in achieving world-class educational standards, what makes the country unique is that all of its schools are, effectively, elite schools: performance differences between Finnish schools account for just 5% of the total variation in student performance.

©Serprix

At some point in just about everyone’s life, we are affected by poor mental health.­ In the EU an estimated 1 in every 6 people experience a mental health problem. In Finland, which has the highest estimated incidence of mental disorders in the EU, close to 1 in 5 are affected. Mental illness has a high economic cost–the cost of treatment, social security programmes, lower employment and lost productivity add up to a total average of 4% of GDP in EU countries. In Finland it is higher still: an estimated 5.3% of GDP in 2016.

Finland prepares to join: OECD Secretary-General Thorkil Kristensen (right) welcomes Tankmar Horn, Undersecretary of State, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ©OECD Observer archive 1969

Finland marks its 50th anniversary as an OECD member country on 28 January 2019. Though not a founding member when the OECD commenced in September 1961, Finland’s interest in joining was never in doubt. However, it adopted a cautious approach.

First Artek shop in Helsinki, 1936; photo provided especially to OECD Observer by Artek. ©Artek Collection, Alvar Aalto Museum

Finland has a reputation among designers, architects and artists for being a land, a nation, a culture that produces high-quality design and architecture. It tops happiness polls and educational surveys, can produce determined sports champions, and world-class high-tech products and games software, but it also has a relatively high incidence of mental illness and has been battling down its suicide rate. A land of extremes with a wide breadth of emotions, talents and expectations?

From introducing equal inheritance rights in 1878, Finland continues to earn it's reputation as a global pioneer of gender equality.

Finland may be top of the class for education, but it shines less brightly when it comes to productivity, even if output per hour worked is 15% above the OECD average. In fact, productivity growth has slipped back since the financial crisis a decade ago.

In 1969, Finland became an official member of the OECD. Since then, this Nordic nation has transformed into an innovative, knowledge-based society. And set an example for OECD countries, and the world, with its educational system, IT prowess, and inclusive, egalitarian outlook.

Output growth is projected to remain healthy, albeit moderating after the vigorous 2016-18 upturn. Exports will continue to benefit from expanding external demand and regained competitiveness. Private consumption will be supported by rising wages and improved employment. Inflation will pick up gradually as the economy nears full capacity.

This year’s OECD Forum coincides with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, which was an important milestone to promote gender equality worldwide. Much has been achieved since 1995, but unfortunately, a lot remains to be done to close the gender gap and increase women’s participation in our economies and societies.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.5% Q2 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 1.6% September 2019 annual
Trade: -1.9% exp, -0.9% imp, Q2 2019
Unemployment: 5.1% August 2019
Last update: 6 November 2019

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