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Finnish PM says reform talks going well, denies report of rift

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Finnish PM says reform talks going well, denies report of rift

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HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s prime minister said on Wednesday talks between coalition parties on delayed health and local government reforms were going well, dismissing a newspaper report that he was preparing for the collapse of the government. The reforms – a cornerstone of plans to balance public finances and boost the economy – have been held up by years of political in-fighting and hit a wall in June when a parliament committee said parts of them broke the constitution. Disagreements over details almost brought the government down in 2015. A lawmaker from Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party said earlier on Wednesday that talks to re-draw the plans had stalled again. Signs of tensions were compounded by a report in Ilta-Sanomat newspaper that Sipila had approached the opposition Social Democrats to see if they would join the government if the current coalition broke up. Sipila denied the newspaper report and said the government was on track to present its plans to parliament next week. The Social Democrats were not immediately available for comment. “This has proceeded well, we will get it completed on time and in a good spirit,” Sipila told reporters. He did not directly respond to Centre Party lawmaker Hannakaisa Heikkinen who said the talks had reached a dead end, blaming coalition partner the NCP party. “NCP is not listening to anyone, not healthcare specialists, not constitution specialists… The negotiations are a farce,” she wrote on Facebook. The complex set of reforms, spanning health care and regional administration, is meant to save 3 billion euros ($3.52 billion) a year in the long term. The reform will establish 18 new counties and shift responsibility for the provision of services to new health care regions, from more than 300 local governments at present. The pro-business NCP has been eager to open up more business prospects for private service providers. NCP chairman, finance minister Petteri Orpo told newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that there had been difficulties during the week but things were going better now. The coalition also includes the nationalist Blue Reform group.

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens)
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