by Kira Huju, former Chair of the Young European Movement London
Those who were hoping that the upsurge of The Finns Partyfour years ago was a fleeting outburst of euroscepticgrandstanding were in for an exhaustive disillusionment onApril 19th 2015. Based on the results of the Finnish parliamentary elections, it seems safe to state that the anti-EU, anti-immigration Finns have won themselves the status of an established big party, competing for mainstream votes on par with Finland’s traditional political elites. Despite losing some of their vote share compared to four years ago, the Finns have now secured 38 seats in the incoming Parliament –making the eurosceptic grouping the second biggest party in the country. It is unnecessarily gloomy at this point, however, to interpret the Finns’ electoral victory as an infamous canary in a pathologically nationalistic coal mine. How telling is the party’s success really of Finland’s future engagement with the European project?
The first move is to embed the eurosceptic trend into its proper political context. Out of the entire cohort of incoming MPs, a Helsingin Sanomat poll shows that an impressive 76% believe the EU to be, on balance, beneficial for their country. The Finns Party may have come out second, yet the expressly pro-European, right-of-centre National Coalition ended up only one seat shy of the Finns’, and with a de facto higher countrywide percentage share of the votes. Meanwhile, the incontestable winner of the election, the Finnish Centre Party,is characteristically pragmatic about Finland’s membership of the European Union. While its Party manifesto calls on member states to ‘shoulder their own debt burdens’ and consistently emphasises the principle of subsidiarity, the Centre party is a member of the liberal ALDE alliance in the European Parliament, and can hardly be labelled as anything but chronically moderate in its stances.
Despite Finland’s apparent move toward a more conservative and nationalistic political constellation, a streak of progressive cosmopolitanism can also be read into the election results: increasing its seat share from 10 to 15 in the 200-seat Finnish parliament, the Green Party’s historically unsurpassed success signals the existence of a confidently growing grouping for whom the need for closer European cooperation on environmental, economic and social policy is a foregone conclusion.
Whether this streak gets a showing in government, however, is much less of an obvious point. While four years ago the Finns Party refused to join the government – whose hypothetical future stances on Greek bailouts the party singled out as a deal-breaker – it is unlikely that the party will be able or even inclined to evade government responsibility this time around. Since the Finns’ Weltanschauung is a picture-perfect reverse image of the ethos of Finland’s progressive factions,the inclusion of the eurosceptics might well repel small incumbent and previous government parties, such as the Greens or the Swedish People’s Party, from entering anygovernment coalition in the making.
The second point is the need to adopt an artlessly Finnish response to the election results: no fervour or undue displays of emotion, but a polite suggestion to wait and see what the coalition-building negotiations bring in their trail. As far as Finland’s European policies are concerned, any spectators of negotiation maneuvering should be on the look-out for how the portfolios for foreign affairs are assigned. While it is customary for the election winner to offer its closest competitor control over the Ministry of Finance, the Finns leader Timo Soini has regularly signalled his preference for becoming Finland’s next Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Should this scenario play out in real life, it may be halfway legitimate to propose metaphors of canaries in coal mines after all. If the Finns’ policy of fear mongering is translated into Finnish foreign policy, the EU may be faced with a more inward-looking, reluctant partner whose future visions are built more on opportunistic soundbites than a coherent vision for the continent. While falling way short of advocating a Fixit (an awkwardly phrased version of a potential Brexit – the UK leaving the EU), the Finns leader is no great friend of the European Union. Yet Mr. Soini’s opposition to the European Financial Stability Fund, a common European army or increased EU budgets are not part of some grand anti-European strategy. Even the most cursory reading of the Party’s manifesto lays bare that the Finns’ qualms with the EU are nowhere near as fundamental as the existential questions being asked about the European project in countries like the United Kingdom, or even in neighbouring Sweden. In fact, Finland’s Eurosceptic in Charge has lately come out with statements about the undesirability of falling out of line when it comes to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.
In addition, the plot of coalition negotiations is dictated by the partners that the Centre Party chooses for itself in addition to the Finns. If incoming Prime Minister Sipilä decides to push the Social Democrats into the opposition, it will need to strike a deal with the pro-European National Coalition. This might well imply that the man previously paraded as Europe’s most pro-EU Prime Minister, Alexander Stubb, returns to his previous post as Foreign Minister. This would secure an unbroken presence of Finnish leadership at the heart of European decision-making. Meanwhile, former European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn, as a popular incoming MP for the Centre Party, is tipped to become the new Minister of Labour or Economic Affairs – leaving him with little say over European affairs. For now, the Finnish impulse is to patiently await the outcome of coalition negotiations, which are predicted to last for the next four weeks or so.
While April 9th 2015 will not go down in European history as an exemplary day for intergovernmental cooperation, the Finns may well turn out to be much more of a traditional populist paper tiger than some native, true-finn breed of predatory animal. The quintessential pillars of Finnish debate– courteous consensus seeking and a passionate love of non-confrontation – have been known to extend into the sphere of European politics in the past.Author : European Movement UK