Reuters International

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finnish Health Minister Hanna Mantyla said on Tuesday she was stepping down for personal reasons just as the three-party ruling coalition seeks to pass a complicated healthcare reform which nearly led to the government's collapse last year.

Mantyla, who belongs to the co-ruling eurosceptic Finns Party, has been her party's lead negotiator on the reform, which is hoped to bring long-term savings worth 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion).

Another Finns Party member, parliamentarian Pirkko Mattila, will replace her starting from next week, the party said. Mantyla is tipped as a possible successor of Timo Soini, long-time leader of the party who is also foreign minister.

The health care reform is a cornerstone in Prime Minister Juha Sipila's plan to balance Finland's public finances and is part of a long-term savings plan of 10 billion euros.

Euro zone member Finland is struggling to return to growth after years of stagnation due to a string of problems, including a decline of Nokia's former phone business and recession in neighbouring Russia.

Finland's national debt breached the EU limit of 60 percent of gross domestic product in 2015, partly why the country lost its last AAA credit rating in June.

Soini said on Tuesday the reform was on track but challenging.

"There are no major disagreements, but coalition parties have different priorities... and nothing is ready until the whole package is ready. It is a difficult reform, as we saw last year."

Mantyla's resignation comes as support for the Finns party has been hurt by compromises it made on austerity, the migrant crisis as well as on euro zone bailouts.

The party has also raised with the idea of a 'Fixit' referendum, following Britain's 'Brexit' vote to leave the European Union, despite recent polls showing support for EU membership growing among Finns.

A poll for national broadcaster YLE last week showed 7.6 percent of respondents supported the Finns Party, down from 17.7 percent in parliament elections in 2015.

($1 = 0.8876 euros)

(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)


 Reuters International