Finland appoints interim defence minister to cover parental leave

3 weeks ago 60

[1/2] Finland's Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen speaks during an interview with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey, December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan/File Photo

HELSINKI, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Finland will appoint an interim defence minister on Thursday, its government said, after the serving minister announced he was taking two months off to look after his 6-month-old baby son.

Defence minister Antti Kaikkonen, 48, became Finland's first male minister to take parental leave when he took two weeks off in 2020 after the birth of his eldest son.

The change of defence minister falls in the middle of Finland's bid to join the western military alliance NATO, held back by Turkish reluctance to accept Finland's and neighbouring Sweden's memberships but Kaikkonen said Finland's safety would be "in good hands" in his absence.

"Children are small for a moment only and I want to remember that also in other ways than just from pictures," Kaikkonen wrote on Twitter when he announced the plan in December.

As Finnish law does not recognise parental leave for ministers, Kaikkonen has to resign from his position, only to be re-appointed when he returns to office in March.

In his absence, lawmaker Mikko Savola will be appointed Minister of Defence, the government said.

This marks the sixth time a minister has taken parental leave since the ruling centre-left coalition came to power in 2019, with four female ministers on maternity leaves of various lengths while in office.

The government, led by Social Democrat Sanna Marin who became the world's youngest serving Prime Minister when she took office at 34 in 2019, has sought to promote gender equality in Finland.

In 2020, the government decided to nearly double the length of paid paternal leave to almost seven months, in line with maternity leave. Around half can be given to the other parent.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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