The Finnish Effect - What Finland’s elections can tell us about the Future of European Politics
2015 promises to be a year of change. With elections fast approaching in Finland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Poland and Ireland voters seem to want to reject the status quo. While everyone is talking about the Greek debt negotiations and the rise of Podemos in Spain, in the North of Europe, an important election has skipped many people’s radar.
Finland, Europe’s tough fiscal hawk, is likely to face a change of government after Sunday’s election. The change is likely to come about due to a slowing Finnish economy and what Prime Minister Alexander Stubb called a “lost decade” with recession entering into its third consecutive year, unemployment growing and competitiveness declining. Thus similar to other struggling economies in Europe, Finland is experiencing economic hardships which in the eyes of nearly all parties can only be resolved through harsh labour market reforms and fiscal austerity. In contrast, however, to the trend in the South where such policies led to public discontent and a steep increase in popular support for anti-EU parties, Finland is experiencing a revival of the established parties, while the Finnish anti-EU party, the Finns, however, is falling behind their landslide successes from the previous election in 2011.
Watch out – The Finns are coming…
Despite the decline in popularity of his anti-establishment party, Timo Soini, the Finn´s leader, might well end up on top as the winner of the Finnish election-dilemma as part of a coalition in a government led by the Central Party. To be more specific, in the event of an “equal” split of votes between the four largest parties (all four are polled to receive around 15%-25% of the votes), a coalition of three will need to be formed. While, the current governing parties have already turned down the idea of working together again, that would leave the Finns as the most likely alternative to become the third partner in a Central Party-led government.
Mr Juha Sipilä, the Central Party’s leader and likely to become Finland’s new Prime Minister currently leading with 24.9% of the votes, is not opposed to the idea so long as its partners agree with his political agenda. Not to mention that the current Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has reiterated that the Finns are much better than the reputation preceding them abroad, showing that he would also be open to support them as a coalition partner. As a result, anti-EU forces might find themselves in the Finnish government, despite the fact that voters are rallying around the established parties and support for reactionary parties is fading.
… to Europe!
A coalition including the Central Party and the Finns is expected to be less pro-European as the current government. Mr Sipilä, though successful in business, is not renowned for his international experience and although his party might consider itself pro-European difficult compromises will need to be made with the Finns, who are opposing new bailout programmes, the Euro and further deepening of European relations.
In Brussels the event of a coalition between the Central Party, the conservative National Coalition Party and the Finns will mainly impact Finland’s position and negotiation leeway in the Council. Mr Sipilä’s hands in negotiations will be more tied than Mr Stubb’s or Mr Katainen’s have been. On the one hand he would have to demonstrate his support for a deeper EU to its European partners – to whom Finland will grow more and more economically dependent the longer sanctions against Russia prevail. On the other, he would have to reassure his coalition partner Finland is maintaining high levels of sovereignty and remaining critical towards the Eurozone. In particular on the latter, however, Mr Sipilä demonstrate strength by continuing to back strict rules and austerity measures – policies that all Finnish parties support both for their own country and for Europe. Finland is therefore expected to remain “Europe’s fiscal hawk”. Moreover more than before Finland will be likely to defend EU disintegration positions and align itself to the UK defending sovereign interest and the principle of subsidiarity.
Anglo-Finnish cooperation is already well established in the European Parliament, where the Finns have joined the British-led European Conservatives and Reformists Group demonstrating a conservative yet mainstream political agenda. As the elections are likely to make Prime Minister Stubb’s party a junior coalition partner, we neither expect that the outcome will neither affect the focus of the National Coalition as part of the EPP nor workings of the Finnish Vice-President of the Commission Jyrki Katainen nor drastically change the focus of his political agenda in Europe.
All in all, the Finnish elections may not change the tone in Brussels tremendously on their own, but they will provide insights on how anti-establishment parties are likely to affect national politics and therefore affect London’s, Copenhagen’s, Berlin’s and Madrid’s positioning in Brussels.
Is Europe Finnish(ed)?
The Finnish “case study” is helpful in understanding and dealing with the fast growing support for anti-establishment movements across the Continent. In the North, Sweden, Denmark and Norway are watching closely as growing support for their respective populist parties is making it harder for their mainstream parties to continue ignoring them. While Norway is currently being led by a coalition of conservatives and the populist Progress party, the Sweden Democrats came third in the September 2014 elections in Sweden and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party is gaining influence and support before the upcoming elections in autumn.
In the Centre of Europe, the Finns’ positioning and agenda seem familiar to a still domestically unwelcome anti-Euro party in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Bernd Lucke, the party’s leader, will eye developments in the North closely to assess whether the Finnish outcome might be a valuable example on how he could achieve his power aspirations in Germany.
In the South, Spain is also experiencing a similar trend with new anti-establishment parties, even though its popularity appears to be fading the closer we get to parliamentary elections in December. Podemos could grasp a large part of the votes, leaving no party with a majority to form a government.
Although anti-establishment parties are experiencing a slow in their popularity across Europe, all eyes will remain on them. The success of Podemos, Syriza, the Finns, the UK Independence Party and others will furthermore force the establishment to make concessions and re-orientate their position on a great variety of issues such as European integration, social, economic and fiscal policies.
While the traditional separation of power between centre-right and centre-left parties will continue to dominate Europe, anti-establishment parties are likely to make this election year way more thrilling and unpredictable than previous ones. Let’s see what happens!
We will keep you up-to-date with all our coverage of this election year with upcoming analysis of the UK and the consequences of a possible Brexit as well as following the election developments in Denmark, Portugal, Poland and Spain.
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