A permanent change of mindset is needed

Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary in the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on the economy of well-being and why this is a priority area of Finland’s Presidency of the EU Council.

Interview: Dietmar Schobel

What is the economy of well-being and what are the most important concrete measures for putting this concept into practice?

Portrait of Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary in the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
Päivi, Sillanaukee, Photo: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland

Päivi Sillanaukee: Pursuing the economy of well-being does not require new competences or new formal structures at the level of the European Union (EU), but rather coordinated and improved execution of existing powers and structures. At EU level, our aim is to promote a more balanced discussion and break sectoral silos. The European Semester is an important tool in this regard because it provides the framework for the coordination of Member States’ economic policies. Nowadays, the Semester is heavily linked to the employment and social sectors as well as health and education. According to the Finnish Presidency, what is needed is better recognition of the impact of people’s well-being on economic growth and societal stability, and a more balanced analysis of the impacts of different policy measures on well-being. Better cross-sectoral collaboration across policy fields is crucial here. Finland is also proposing to adopt the Council Conclusions on the Economy of Well-being. Besides emphasising the general measures described above, the draft council conclusion text will also include a number of specific policy measures in each policy field, for example a request for the Commission to adopt EU-wide strategies on both gender equality and mental health.

Our aim is to promote a more balanced discussion and break sectoral silos


What experiences with the concept of an economy of well-being has Finland already gained?

Päivi Sillanaukee: The concept as such is fairly new, but Finland has over 100 years of experience of investing in people through legislative and other policy measures related to provision of extensive public services, comprehensive social security, equal participation of women in society, education, etc. Characteristics of the Nordic welfare society include universal income guarantees and a broad and generous income safety net, including extensive income redistributions. Despite the challenges that the Nordic welfare model faces especially in economic downturns, the core of the system is still serving its purpose well today and has put Finland at the top of various international rankings, like the Human Capital Index and the World Happiness Report.

What role could already existing initiatives for workplace health promotion and occupational health & safety at national and European levels play within an economy of well-being?

Päivi Sillanaukee: We clearly see the potential of different initiatives to support and advocate the economy of well-being approach usefully. Finland has a long tradition of health promotion at workplaces. The demand for safer and healthier working conditions for all workers has grown in the past decade. In 2017, Finland proposed the idea of a global coalition that would generate practical solutions to common challenges through international collaboration. The coalition is now being set up in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, the impact of mental ill-health on economic productivity is particularly significant. For example, in Finland mental health disorders are the second most common reason for granting disability pensions, right after musculoskeletal disorders. The prevention of stress and other psychosocial risks in the workplace is therefore increasing in significance.

What should an economy of well-being throughout Europe look like in 2030, in a best-case scenario?

Päivi Sillanaukee: A permanent change of mindset is needed. People should be placed at the centre of decision-making. Policymakers in all sectors should acknowledge the importance of policies and schemes relating to well-being for the attainment of sustainable economic growth and stability. This calls for improved multisectoral collaboration, both at national and EU levels. The Finnish Presidency is convinced that recognising people’s well-being as a clear, long-term priority in the EU will increase the EU’s legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.